Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
The Virginia Tech Hokies (17-10, 7-6 ACC), depending on who you ask, may be in the NCAA Tournament thanks to their win at Clemson Wednesday night. But this much is certain for Seth Greenberg’s team: a win over #7 Duke (23-5, 7-4) Saturday would erase any doubt. How did the Hokies get into this predicament? Before the win over the Tigers they lost five of seven, including losses at fellow bubble dwellers Boston College and Maryland, and a loss at rival Virginia. Outside of the losses to the Terrapins (83-73) and Cavaliers (75-61), there has been only one other ACC game involving Virginia Tech that has not been decided by ten points or less. That was the first meeting between the Blue Devils and Hokies, won at Cameron by Duke 69-44.
Down just eight (39-31) at halftime, Virginia Tech was harassed into their worst offensive half of the season, scoring just thirteen points in the second stanza. Given the fact that Tech’s second-half field goal percentage (33.3%) wasn’t far off from what they shot in the first half (38.7%), you can’t blame marksmanship for the beating. Ten turnovers to just three assists in the second half and Virginia Tech also managed to attempt thirteen fewer shots. A performance like that Saturday will get them beat decisively again. The lone Hokie to shoot reasonably well from the field on that day was guard Malcolm Delaney (18.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 3.8 apg), and he combines with senior A.D. Vassallo (18.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg) to make up one of the ACC’s best backcourts.
Both are capable shooters from the perimeter, but their desire to get to the basket as well should make them a tougher guard for Duke. Since the first meeting Vassallo has failed to reach double figures just once, and that was in a blowout of Richmond back on January 14th. Both Vassallo and Delaney attempt just under half their shots from behind the arc, driving on occasion when not getting the ball inside to Allen. The sophomore forward from Washington, D.C. can be a bit of an enigma, but for the Hokies’ sake hopefully he saw just how important he is to the team in that loss at Virginia. Sidelined due to a one-finger salute in a loss at Maryland, Allen had a front-row seat to a game that saw Virginia more than hold their own inside with him in street clothes. With Duke lacking a quality big man who can bang with him, Allen needs to rule the paint.
Duke has undergone a transformation since that first meeting as well, essentially removing the “true” point guard from the starting lineup. Nolan Smith, who is out for this game due to a concussion, was removed in favor of freshman Elliot Williams and the freshman from Memphis has made his presence known. Playing thirty-plus minutes in each of the Blue Devils’ last three games, Williams has averaged 12.3 points per game and has been sensational on the defensive end. It was his pressure in the backcourt that spurred a decisive 28-4 first-half run in their 101-91 win over Wake Forest (the Deacons may have closed to within two points, but they couldn’t get over the hump due to how much work they used to get back into the game).
With the playmaking abilities of Jon Scheyer (13.8 ppg, 2.9 apg), Gerald Henderson (16.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Kyle Singler (16.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.6 apg; averages 17.5 ppg vs. Virginia Tech) Coach Krzyzewski had the luxury of removing the point guard from the starting lineup. As a matter of fact the above trio is also leading the team in assists. Henderson has been far more assertive offensively over the past three games, shooting just under fifty percent (48.8%) from the field and attempting thirty-one free throws. If Virginia Tech can keep him out of the lane they’ve got a shot, but that’s a task easier said than done.
Similar to the first meeting, turnovers will play a major role in which team walks away with the win. Duke may have turned the ball over seventeen times back in January, but the ACC’s best when it comes to turnover margin (+ 4.11) was able to counter that with sixteen assists. Virginia Tech finished with seven assists to eighteen turnovers, and they’re practically even (360 assists, 367 turnovers) when it comes to assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Blue Devils will overplay for ninety-four feet, placing pressure squarely on the shoulders of primary ball handlers such as Delaney and Hank Thorns. What could get Duke into trouble is a defense that allows opponents to shoot 42.7% from the field (10th in the ACC). If the Hokies can take advantage of that in front of a raucous crowd look out. But at the end of the day, this is a different Duke team from the one that lost to North Carolina and Boston College two weeks ago.
Winner: Duke Margin: 3-7 pts.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Virginia Tech's had their share of moments this season, but I don't see another coming against Duke on Saturday. The Hokies starting five isn't terribly outmatched, but ultimately Duke has just too much depth.
Early Prediction: Duke