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The Matchup: Virginia Tech vs #14 Duke

Two 2-0 (!) ACC squads pitted against each other. On Monday, the Hokies took down an ACC giant in UVA. Can they do it again against Duke, away from home?

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off an impressive win over #4 Virginia, the Hokies must travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium in North Carolina to take on another top 15 team in Duke. Monday’s win showed that Virginia Tech could compete (and win) against a top tier team at home, but playing on the road against Duke may be an even more daunting task. Since 2009, Duke has only lost four home games.

Although the Blue Devils lost Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow to the NBA, they still are managing to put points up in bunches. Their 88.5 PPG ranks third in the nation, and their opponents haven’t all been scrubs either. Grayson Allen leads the way for the Blue Devils. The talented sophomore from Jacksonville has been a tremendous scorer this year, averaging over 20 PPG. His distribution has also been solid as Allen averages over 3 APG too. He’s quick, athletic, and knows how to finish around the rim. He’s also not afraid to shoot, to the point where he’s almost trigger-happy. Unfortunately for the Hokies, he’s good enough to where he can make contested shots. He shoots 41.3% from downtown, and is an 87% free throw shooter. You can see his shooting and scoring ability in this 32-point display against the Hoyas:

The Hokies have shown the ability to handle scoring guards such as Allen. Cat Barber and Malcolm Brogdon have struggled at times against the Virginia Tech defense. Seth Allen in particular has improved his one-on-one defense since pre-conference play, allowing the Hokies to play more man defense. One game Allen struggled was against Kentucky, where his shot-first mentality got him and the entire team in trouble. Allen was 2-for-11 in that game, and his ineffectiveness was a big reason they lost. However, Duke wouldn’t be Duke with just one scoring presence.

Brandon Ingram, the #3 recruit in the entire country, has been excellent this season as well. The first thing that stands out about him is his length. He’s listed at 6-9, but reportedly has a 7-3 wingspan. He can shoot the three ball as well, knocking them down at a respectable 37.5% with a smooth-looking jumpshot. He can consistently take opposing defenders to the rim, because at 6-9, smaller wing players don’t have a hope of blocking his shots. But on the other end, Ingram can get to shots and passes that players don’t anticipate him getting to, leading to easy opportunities in transition for the Blue Devils in general. Due to his length and smooth style of play, he’s already drawn pro comparisons to 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant. And did I mention he’s one hell of an athlete?

In addition to wing players Ingram and Allen, Marshall Plumlee is excellent down low. He’s often the recipient of great feeds from Grayson Allen where he just has to go up and throw it down over what usually is a smaller defender. At 7-0, he has a knack for pulling in offensive rebounds. Plumlee also leads the Blue Devils in blocks with 28. His rim protection and value as a finisher and rebounder on the offensive end make him a nice complement to Allen and Ingram. Other than Plumlee, Duke features guard Matt Jones, who is essentially a pure three-point shooter. Jones shoots 42.4% from deep on about six attempts a game, which gives Duke another option to space the floor. Amile Jefferson is averaging a double-double a game, leading his squad in rebounding and is a viable scoring option down low. Luke Kennard is only a freshman, but he provides a spark when Allen needs a breather, averaging about 12 PPG.

Stopping the Blue Devils all starts with containing Grayson Allen. The Hokies also must be wary of Brandon Ingram if Allen gets ball pressure, because that will most likely be Allen’s security blanket. And on top of that, the Hokies must have enough numbers in the paint to rebound the ball after a miss and not let a deadly and talented Duke offense get second chances. It may be the toughest task the Hokies will deal with the entire season.

Because Duke’s offense is so good, they don’t allow for many transition opportunities for opponents, which takes a lot of stress off the defense. Virginia Tech was able to create turnovers and force UVA into bad shots, and lived off those transition buckets. Although they won’t be able to have as many open floors, the Hokies still must continue to attack the basket and penetrate, which is what they’ve done best this year. Seth Allen has picked up his play in recent weeks, and he has the talent and quickness to beat Grayson Allen or Matt Jones off the dribble. However, Krzyzweski and his staff will key in on Seth, so I don’t anticipate him having his best game.

As a result, the Hokies’ offensive success will most likely be reliant on Seth Allen’s assist numbers. Allen has been good in the pick-and-roll game in the past two games, and with his timing and vision, he’s been able to pick out the open man consistently. Marshall Plumlee has length, but he isn’t the most fleet-footed athlete. Putting him in defensive situations with a much quicker Zach LeDay or Kerry Blackshear Jr. could break down Duke’s defense effectively.

On the perimeter, whoever Brandon Ingram picks up will have a tough day. If Chris Clarke or Ahmed Hill were healthy, it would take a lot of pressure off the Hokies’ wings. In their place, I imagine Jalen Hudson will get plenty of looks outside. He was matched up against first-rounder Justise Winslow last year and scored 23 points. He’ll be in a similar situation this year and he has to be able to take some pressure off Seth Allen. Well-timed cuts will be his best friend on Saturday afternoon.

Overall, Duke is average defensively, giving up 70 PPG. But they expend a lot of energy on the offensive end and like to get out and run. That means there will be opportunities for LeDay, Blackshear Jr., and Satchel Pierce (I think he plays a lot this game) to attack the offensive glass. Unfortunately, they’ll have to battle Plumlee, Ingram, and Jefferson for those boards, but the Hokies have the personnel to be able to do so. Attacking the basket will be instrumental in creating second shot opportunities and points for the Hokies.

It’s not often that a team loses three first-round talents one year and regains a lot of that talent back the next year. But Duke has done exactly that. They have a ton of threats on the offensive end, and after playing their hearts out the last two games, we’ll see if the Hokies have something in the tank for this tilt. It will take even more effort to contain an athletic, talented, and deep team in Duke.

Prediction:

They’ve already upset the #4 team in the country, so logically the #14 team should be much easier, right? Is it strange to think Duke has more talent on their team than UVA? The answer to those questions is no. I think Duke has two too many threats for the Hokies to worry about on defense. Last year, they had offensive success scoring 86 points. They probably don’t score as much this year, but this Hokies team seems dead set on proving everyone wrong. Even though Virginia Tech has played tough defense, Duke is on an offensive tear right now.

Both conference games I’ve picked close losses for Virginia Tech, and they’ve turned out to be close wins. Prove me wrong again, Buzz.

Hokies lose 84-74.

The game will be streamed live on ESPN3 at 12:00 PM EST on Saturday.