The Virginia Tech Hokies are set to play in their first ACC Tournament championship game since entering the conference back in 2004. The Hokies face top-seed Duke Saturday night in a rematch from December.
In that December meeting, the Blue Devils won, 76-65, but it was even closer than the final score indicates. The Hokies led at halftime, 36-32, before Duke’s size and depth wore Virginia Tech down in the final 20 minutes. Tech scored the first four points of the second half to take an eight-point lead, but the Blue Devils would outscore the Hokies 13-0 over the next five-and-a-half minutes to take a five-point lead. Duke would never relinquish that lead.
So, why is Saturday’s championship game any different?
As we saw on Friday night, the Hokies are a different team right now. Virginia Tech goes eight deep, and all eight of those players are significant contributors. Since head coach Mike Young started using Darius Maddox and Sean Pedulla more, it has not only energized the team, but the starting guards are also playing much better.
The ACC Tournament has been a coming-out party for Maddox and Pedulla. Maddox led the Hokies with 20 points in the win over UNC, while Pedulla gives the Hokies another ballhandler who can make big shots.
Starting point guard Storm Murphy is also a much different player from the one in Durham. The step up in competition was noticeable for Murphy early in the ACC schedule, but from late January until now, you see the player Young remembered from Wofford.
Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts remain consistent performers for Tech. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey paid Mutts the ultimate compliment after VT’s win over the Fighting Irish in the quarterfinals, per David Cunningham of Tech Sideline.
Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey: “Justyn Mutts is a one-man show [defensively].” #Hokies— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) March 11, 2022
Aluma has scored in double figures in 10 out of Virginia Tech’s last 11 games.
While it took the Hokies a game-winner from Maddox in overtime, to defeat Clemson in the first game, they’ve handled Notre Dame and UNC with relative ease. The Blue Devils struggled with Syracuse in the quarterfinals before putting them away in the second half. Duke defeated Miami 80-76 in a competitive game in the semifinals.
The Blue Devils, as usual, are loaded with talent. Paolo Banchero is the leading scorer, but Duke has five players averaging at least 10 points per game. Center Mark Williams is a big-time defensive presence in the middle. Young schemed around UNC’s frontcourt, but Duke presents another challenge.
According to DraftKings, the Blue Devils are six-point favorites over the Hokies. Can the Hokies pull off the upset considering this will be their fourth game in four days? It hasn’t happened often, but don’t count out this Virginia Tech team.
How to watch
TV: ESPN 8:30 p.m. ET
Streaming: ESPN App, WatchESPN.com
Live Stats: ESPN.com
Arena: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
DraftKings Line: Duke -6, O/U 136
(Odds/lines subject to change. Visit DraftKings for more information.)