Colleges

JOE SULLIVAN | COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Virginia is definitely No. 1 — defensively

Clemson forward Aamir Simms (25) loses the ball as Virginia guard Devon Hall (0) and forward Isaiah Wilkins (21) defend during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Charlottesville, Va., Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
steve helber/AP
Clemson’s Aamir Simms is double-teamed by Virginia’s Devon Hall (left) and Isaiah Wilkins.

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Virginia was not supposed to be this good — that is, ranked in the top five. The Cavaliers were supposed to be good, just not this good.

The Cavaliers have done it in the usual way, the way coach Tony Bennett demands: with tough defense and precise half-court basketball. In their win over Clemson this week, you could see the defensive vise tightening and the Tigers slowly surrendering in what turned into a 61-36 victory.

Deflections are not an official statistic, but I’m going to declare that Virginia leads the nation in them. Its defense is constantly disrupting opponents. The Cavaliers lead the nation in points allowed per game at 51.6; No. 2 is Cincinnati at 56.6, a huge gap.

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The Cavaliers are No. 2 in field goal percentage defense (36.4) yet second in fewest fouls per game. They are seventh in 3-point defense (29.1) and turnover margin (5.1).

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Duke is the next team that has to deal with this (Saturday, CBS, 2 p.m.), and it will be fascinating to see how Southeastern Kentucky’s hot-shot freshmen deal with the relentless pressure.

On the plus side for SEK, it’s a home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and I’m not sure Virginia has an individual who can successfully defend center Marvin Bagley. SEK needs to take advantage near the basket to win.

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Other games I’d like to see this weekend:

FRIDAY

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Harvard at Yale: The Crimson are 2-0 in the Ivy League. They have a chance to salvage this season, and it starts here. The biggest part of that would be the return of star guard Bryce Aiken from a knee injury. He will be a game-time decision.

SATURDAY

Texas Tech at South Carolina: This is part of the Big 12-SEC challenge. South Carolina is surging a bit, winning four of five. A victory here might bring it back into the NCAA conversation.

UMass at Fordham: A good chance for the Minutemen to get back on the winning track.

Oklahoma at Alabama: Another Big 12-SEC challenge, with Okie’s Player of the Year candidate, Trae Young, facing Bama’s top freshman, Collin Sexton.

SUNDAY

Villanova at Marquette: I’d be hesitant to pick anyone to beat Villanova right now, but this has a chance to be entertaining, as Marquette bombs away from behind the 3-point line.

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Purdue at Indiana: One of the great rivalries. Is an upset possible? Probably not; Purdue is playing too well. I once watched one of these in an Indianapolis bar during Super Bowl week; great fun.

Joe Sullivan can be reached at joseph.sullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeSullivan