When: Tuesday, March 5
Where: Durham, NC
Duke beat Virginia Tech 88-56 in Blacksburg last month. Virginia Tech has won two of three games since then, but the Blue Devils brought back a key piece of their lineup and are a much better team now than they were two weeks ago.
Right now, Duke is projected to be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That would be interesting, considering they probably won’t be the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament. No matter their seeding, this is a big team that can shoot the basketball. Tonight is also Senior Night for Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee, so you can expect the Blue Devils to be on top of their game.
The Duke rotation will be almost exactly the same as it was when they visited Blacksburg, with one big exception. Ryan Kelly is back, and he makes the Blue Devils a much better team. Miami can attest to that.
G Quinn Cook (6-1, 175, So.): Cook is averaging 12.5 points and 5.4 assists per game. He’s not particularly big, but he’s been playing major minutes since his freshman season. He’s shooting 42% from three-point range.
G Seth Curry (6-2, 185, r-Sr.): Curry is shooting 43.3% from three-point range. He averages 16.9 points per game, which is second on the team. He had 22 points against the Hokies in the first meeting, 19 of which came in the first half. Tech must do a better job off screens this time around, otherwise Curry will bury them all night.
G Rasheed Sulaimon (6-4, 185, Fr.): Sulaimon averages 12 points per game, and he does it with solid outside shooting at 38.6%. He’s one of the ACC’s best freshmen. He had 17 points and five rebounds in the first meeting.
F Ryan Kelly (6-11, 230, Sr.): Kelly came back in grand style against Miami, dropping 36 points on the Canes. He’s a skilled big man who shoots it really well from the outside. He is 32-of-57 (56.1%) from three-point range this year. He missed 13 games, but Duke appears to be a much stronger team with him back in the lineup.
F Mason Plumlee (6-10, 235, Sr.): Plumlee averages 17.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. He is a relentless player on the glass, and he also has 47 blocks and 28 steals. He’s a major candidate for ACC Player of the Year. He had 13 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks against the Hokies in Blacksburg.
F Josh Hairston (6-7, 240, Jr.): Hairston chose Duke over Virginia Tech coming out of high school. He averages just 2.8 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, but he’s an energy player who comes up with 50-50 balls. He had 11 points against the Hokies last month in one of the best games of his career.
F Amile Jefferson (6-8, 195, Fr.): Jefferson is a talented young player. He’s Duke’s top frontcourt reserve, averaging 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Jefferson is an athletic forward who can make plays around the rim. He obviously needs to add size to be an effective power forward, but the talent level is clearly there.
G Tyler Thornton (6-1, 190, Jr.): Thornton isn’t a scorer, averaging just 3.2 points per game. However, he’s very good defensively, and Coach K trusts him to make the right decisions on the court. He can knock down the open three-pointer, though he’s not going to attempt that shot very often. He had six points and five assists last week against the Hokies.
F Alex Murphy (6-8, 220, r-Fr.): Murphy is the last man in the rotation for Duke. He averages just 6.7 minutes per game. However, he scored eight points in 11 minutes against Virginia Tech in February.
That’s a scary lineup. Mason Plumlee is an outstanding player down low, and Duke’s other four starters are all outstanding three-point shooters. This is a team that can beat you from all three levels offensively, and they are also tough on the defensive end.
More Progression from Barksdale
One of the few bright spots from the first meeting with Duke was C.J. Barksdale’s 14-point, 8-rebound performance. He’s been on a roll ever since:
Duke: 14 points, 8 rebounds
FSU: 17 points, 9 rebounds
Miami: 12 points, 7 rebounds
Clemson: 14 points, 8 rebounds
That’s an average of 14.3 points and eight rebounds per game. He’s also 20-of-28 (71.4%) from the field in that span, and 17-of-19 (89.5%) from the free throw line. If a big man does that all year in the ACC, then he’s probably a second team All-ACC player at the end of the season. Barksdale is shooting the ball well from the elbow, he’s gotten a couple of steals for breakaway scores, his defense has improved, and he’s rebounding very well. He’s starting to look like the Top 100 player that chose Virginia Tech over Alabama, Florida, Virginia, Maryland and others.
Cadarian Raines played very well down the stretch last season, but Barksdale’s last four games have been better than what Raines managed to do a year ago. If Barksdale keeps it up, the Hokies will have two quality players in the frontcourt next year, and the success of their season will come down to improvement from Robert Brown and Jarell Eddie, as well as finding a point guard.