DURHAM, N.C. — What we know now, for sure, is what we might have suspected before tipoff Saturday afternoon on Cameron Indoor Stadium: There are no limits to what the men’s basketball team from Virginia can accomplish this spring. That guarantees nothing, of course, and there could be a night when a shot doesn’t fall or a call goes the wrong way. But man, watch these Cavaliers play defense as if their dinner and dessert depended on it, and it doesn’t take much to dream a bit.
The last time Virginia won at Cameron Indoor Stadium, precisely zero of the current Cavs had been born, and Coach Tony Bennett was finishing out the last of his three on-again, off-again seasons as an NBA guard. That was 1995.
And now we have this: a Virginia team that came to Duke with a better record (19-1 vs. 18-2) and a higher ranking (second vs. fourth), and still was an underdog.
Presenting Cavaliers 65, Blue Devils 63.
“As everybody will tell you,” Bennett said, “it’s one conference game in the middle part of the year.”
No, Tony. Not everyone will tell you that. I won’t tell you that. What I’ll tell you: If your team can win at this place against this team, it can win on any court against anybody — in any month, be it March or (yikes) April. Your team can be a joy to watch, too, and this was not a win at Georgia Tech or Wake Forest. This Duke team has lottery-style talent falling out of its shorts.
“My guys played their hearts out,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
And Virginia still won.
So we can, and should, chalk this up to Bennett’s coaching, because in preparation, in execution, in in-game adjustments, he is clearly a star. He has a habit, whether it’s on a made bucket or a missed shot, to point to the defensive end of the court, to make sure his team gets back.
But by this point, in his ninth season in Charlottesville, that is the Cavaliers’ way of life. It is their oxygen. In Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils boast at least four players who could score 20 in a given game. Duke’s average output before facing Virginia: 91.7 points per game, best in the country.
And yet on Saturday at halftime, Duke had managed just 22 points, had committed eight turnovers, had clanked all seven of its three-pointers.
“We weren’t perfect defensively,” Bennett said, and he’s right. But that also gives you a sense of what the standards are.
About talent: Duke, by this point in the program’s arc, is the same as Kentucky. Players come for a couple semesters, then they depart for the NBA regardless of whether they hung a banner or laid an egg. Allen is a senior, but…