NO. 5 DUKE (18-3, 5-1 ACC) AT VIRGINIA TECH (12-9, 1-5 ACC)
Time/TV: 7 p.m./ESPN
Location: Cassell Coliseum
Duke 2 (No. 1 ACC)
Virginia Tech 83 (No. 7 ACC)
Line: Duke -4.5 (O/U 142)
Duke Players to Watch: F Mason Plumlee, 6-10 Jr. (12 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 61.8% FG); G Austin Rivers, 6-4 Fr. (14.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2 apg); F Ryan Kelly, 6-11 Jr. (12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 47.2% 3s). Plumlee has been at his best of late. He had a season-high 23 points and added 12 rebounds in last Wednesday’s 74-61 win over Maryland and followed it with 15 points and a career-best 17 rebounds against St. John’s on Saturday.
Virginia Tech Players to Watch: F Erick Green, 6-7 So. (15.9 ppg, 3.2 apg, 1.5 spg); F Dorian Finney-Smith, 6-8 Fr. (5.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.1 apg); F Jarell Eddie, 6-7 So. (9.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 49.3% 3s). Eddie has his first career double-double with 12 points and 14 rebounds in the Hokies’ 70-68 loss to BYU last Wednesday. He followed that performance with 11 points and three boards in Saturday’s 73-69 loss at Maryland. Eddie is on pace to set the Hokies’ record with his 49.3 3-point percentage.
Storylines: Duke has rebounded since a Jan. 21 home loss to Florida State – its only defeat in the ACC – to win back-to-back games over Maryland and St. John’s. The Blue Devils are 5-1 in the ACC, tied with the Seminoles and only a half-game back of league-leader North Carolina. The Hokies, on the other hand, have lost six of their last seven and have a long way to go just to get on the NCAA bubble.
Keys: Virginia Tech won the last meeting against then-No. 1 Duke, 64-60 Feb. 26 last year in Blacksburg. Green, who scored 29 points in two outings against Duke last season, scored 12 in the win, including a big 3 to cap a 13-4 run that gave the Hokies their largest lead at 29-22. Duke is one of nine teams in the country with five players averaging at least 11 points per game in league play. Green has scored in double-figures in his last 22 games, dating back to last season. Senior guard Dorenzo Hudson has come off the Hokies’ bench the last four games and has averaged 14 points per game in doing so. After its win over Virginia last week, the Hokies are 12-33 against ranked teams since joining the ACC in 2004. Although the Blue Devils won their last game – 83-76 over St. John’s – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he considered it a loss after his team nearly lost a 20-point second-half lead. Seth Curry, who is Duke’s third-leading scorer at 12.2 per game, has struggled in his last six games. He is shooting 37.5 percent from the floor and 20.7 from the 3-point line. However, he still leads the Devils in assists (2.6) and steals (1.5). The Hokies shot 42.9 percent from the field in a home loss to BYU after missing their first 15 shots overall and then made just 24 of 61 shots in the loss to Maryland. Virginia Tech is shooting over 50 percent from the field in the second half of this season’s home games. Virginia Tech has the best perimeter defense in the country statistically, allowing its opponents to shoot just 25.9 percent from the 3-point line. It will need to be great on Thursday against a Duke team that leads the ACC and is 17th in the nation at 39.9 percent from beyond the 3-point line. Duke has won 45 straight games in which it has scored at least 80 points. The Blue Devils are second in the ACC, scoring 80.3 points per game; Virginia Tech is third in scoring defense, allowing just 61.1 points. The Hokies lead the ACC and are 26th in America at 74.5 percent from the foul line. Hudson ranks 42nd in the nation at 85.9 percent and Green is 50th at 85.3. Duke shoots just 70.2 percent, but much of that is due to Mason’s Plumlee’s 47.5 percent. Plumlee, who leads the ACC with nine double-doubles including both games last week, has gotten to the line a team-best 120 times. Duke leads the league with a 48.9 shooting percentage. That is 13th best in college basketball. Rivers was named ACC Freshman of the Week last week. It is the fourth time he has received the honor. Duke has the No. 1 “strength of schedule” according to the most recent RPI data. Virginia Tech’s nine losses this season have come by an average of 5.7 points, including 5.4 points in its five ACC losses. The Devils are 3-2 in true road games this season, but they have won their last three and are 3-0 on the road in conference games. They are 8-2 overall in games away from home this year. Virginia Tech is 8-4 at Cassell Coliseum, but it has lost its last three at home. Duke leads the all-time series 37-8 and has won 15 of the last 18 in the series. The Blue Devils have held Virginia Tech to below 70 points eight straight times. The Hokies are averaging 61.4 per game in the span.
The Bottom Line: Duke has proven it has little trouble winning road games against the bottom half of the ACC.
The Pick: Duke 80, Virginia Tech 69
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 53-29