Tobey's return could be huge for Cavaliers
Virginia has welcomed back 6-foot-11 forward Mike Tobey. Duke is still waiting for the return of 6-11 forward Ryan Kelly. That could be the difference Thursday night in Charlottesville when Virginia faces No. 2 Duke in a game with NCAA tournament implications.
As Virginia (19-8, 9-5) teeters on the selection bubble, a win over Duke (24-3, 11-3) would be the missing piece in a confounding resume that includes nice wins at home over Tennessee and N.C. State and on the road against Maryland and Wisconsin but no blockbuster victory. A win over Duke also would help erase the stain of an 0-3 mark against CAA teams.
In his four seasons as coach at Virginia, Tony Bennett has beaten every team in the ACC except for Duke. But this is the first time the Blue Devils will not have the services of Kelly. Before the senior went out with a troublesome foot injury, Duke won its first 15 games. Since then the Devils have gone 9-3, with three of the wins coming by five or fewer points.
|Duke at Virginia|
|When » Thursday, 9 p.m.|
|Where » John Paul Jones Arena,|
|TV » ESPN|
Kelly, who averages 13.4 points and 5.4 rebounds and shoots 52.1 percent from beyond the arc, gives Duke a unique scorer whose high-post presence opens the lane for Mason Plumlee. With Kelly still in the lineup in early January, Plumlee was the top choice in an ESPN straw poll for national player of the year. But last week, the 6-10 senior had slipped to fourth place.
"Ryan plays a position where, when he does get the ball, the decision he makes with it is usually the best one," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He's a very intelligent player, and he spreads the court."
Krzyzewski said this week he hoped Kelly would be available for Duke's final home game Tuesday against Virginia Tech as the Blue Devils prepare for an important season finale at rival North Carolina and then the postseason.
"We've taken a good amount of time to make sure he's in a position, a really good position," Krzyzewski said. "You don't want to rush things."
At Virginia, Tobey returned Sunday after missing five games with mononucleosis. In an 82-54 victory over Georgia Tech, Tobey had seven points and four rebounds in 15 promising minutes. Before being felled by the illness, Tobey had become a growing force with his soft touch and vast repertoire of low-post shots, delivered with either hand.
"He seemed like he got a little better in the second half, obviously a little rusty still," Bennett said. "It's all about monitoring his time."
In addition to dealing with Tobey, Duke's challenge Thursday will be to halt the 15-game home winning streak of Virginia, its longest since the Ralph Sampson era (1979-83). Krzyzewski also is concerned with Virginia junior Joe Harris (16.6 ppg).
"Harris is really one of the better players in the country," Krzyzewski said. "He reminds me of [Kyle] Singler as far as their toughness. They play every play. He's terrific. He's one of the favorite players that I watch, not just in our conference but around the country."