Virginia Tech Hokies (18-8, 8-5) vs. Duke Blue Devils (26-2, 12-1)
There's no hyperbole when talking about how big this game is for the Hokies' season. A win against the No. 1-ranked Blue Devils would almost assuredly punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. A loss would represent another in a long line of missed opportunities for the Hokies since their last appearance in the tournament in 2007.
This is a winnable game for Tech. Duke is far from being the unbeatable juggernaut it was at times portrayed to be during the offseason. But the Hokies still have to take advantage of some favorable matchups and play with poise if they want to pull the upset.
First, we'll look at the efficiency numbers, taken from Ken Pomeroy. These numbers are from conference play only and I put the Hokies' offensive numbers side-by-side with Duke's defensive numbers and vice versa.
|Points on 3P:||25.2||9||20.6||11||29.9||4||30.2||5||27.4|
|Points on 2P:||52.6||6||60.4||2||52.3||7||50.4||8||51.6|
|Points on FT:||22.2||2||18.9||7||17.7||9||19.4||7||21.0|
Virginia Tech on Offense
The most intriguing matchup will come when the Hokies are on offense. In ACC play, Tech has been the best in the league in effective field goal percentage (fgm + .5*3pm/fga) while Duke has the best effective field goal defense. What's helped the Hokies in this category has been their three-point shooting.
While the Hokies are sometimes prone to settling for threes early in the shot clock, they are shooting over 38 percent from behind the arc in ACC play. When they've lost, they've struggled to hit threes, shooting just under 33 percent in their five conference losses.
Where the Hokies have to excel Saturday is getting to the line. They have the best free throw percentage in ACC play, get to the line at a higher rate than any other team in ACC play and get the second-highest percentage of their points at the line. When they don't get to the line is when they get in trouble.
In their five ACC losses, just 14.9 percent of their points come from the free throw line and their free throw rate (fta/fga) falls all the way to 21.9 from their conference average of 39.2. The good news is Duke is only sixth in the conference at defensive field goal rate, so the trips to the line could be there for the Hokies.
The key will be Malcolm Delaney and Erick Green against Duke's backcourt. Duke plays very good perimeter defense and open looks will be at a premium for the Hokies. If Delaney and Green are able to penetrate off the dribble to either get to the line or find open shooters, Tech's should be in good shape. It's just a question of whether or not those opportunities will be there against Nolan Smith, Seth Curry and the rest of Duke's guards. Both are in the top five in the ACC in steals in conference play.
Virginia Tech on Defense
Smith is going to get his points, but the key for the Hokies on defense is not to let his friends have good games as well. Look at the shooting percentages on two-point shots for Virginia Tech's defense and Duke's offense. Tech is in the bottom third in the league in 2P% defensively while Duke is the best in the league offensively.
The key on defense will be Jeff Allen, Victor Davila and Terrell Bell against the Duke forwards. Singler presents a matchup problem for a lot of teams because of his outside shooting ability, but I think Bell will do a good job on him, at least as good a job as most defenders can do.
The Blue Devils are a good outside scoring team, but don't rely on it as much in ACC play you'd think. They're in the middle of the pack in the league in three-point percentage, three-point attempt rate and percentage of points on threes.
In fact, by far the highest percentage of points on threes came in their lone ACC loss against Florida State, when over 50 percent of their 61 points came from behind the arc. Instead, the Hokies need good post defense, good transition defense and much better perimeter defense than they've shown recently. If Delaney and Green don't play well, we're going to see Smith and Curry driving to the basket the entire game and then we'll be in big trouble.
While Tech has played a lot of zone this year, I'm not sure if it will work against Duke. The Blue Devils are too good from behind the arc and too good on the offensive glass not to man-up against them.
Virginia Tech's Chances
There are some matchups for the Hokies to take advantage of, but where Duke has a colossal advantage is depth. Tech can't afford to make this a fast-paced game, so you're probably going to see them try to make this an ugly game, like they usually do against better teams.
If the game is completely unwatchable, it's advantage Tech.
Foul trouble will also be key for the Hokies. Allen and Davila got into foul trouble against Wake Forest early and it didn't matter. Do the same against Duke and the game's over. Duke doesn't have the same foul advantage on the road as they have had at home this year, as Carolina March points out. This year, Duke's foul advantage at home in ACC play is +18 in seven games and +4 in six road games.
But the most important thing overall for the Hokies is keeping their composure. This is something Tech just isn't very good at in my opinion and a lot of it can be attributed to the team taking on the personality of the coach. Greenberg isn't the most composed guy when games get to their critical moments and the same can be said for the team as well. They can't let a call or a missed shot affect the next trip down the floor.
You know the Hokies are going to come out and play at a high intensity level in this game. If they can keep that intensity while at the same time staying composed and playing smart basketball, they could very well win this game and punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
A Quick Note
ESPN College GameDay is in town, with the broadcast scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EST Saturday at Cassell. Doors open at 8:30. State Farm is donating a dollar to the Virginia Tech athletics department for every fan in attendance so if you're able to wake up that early, head over to the broadcast to help earn Tech some cash.
For the Duke perspective on the game, check out Duke Basketball Report.
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