Following a disappointing 13-point loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team gets an even tougher test on Sunday night when they travel to Tobacco Road to take on the #1 Duke Blue Devils. The Hokies lost to Duke 100-65 in Durham last year, but returned the favor by winning 67-65 in Blacksburg.
The Blue Devils are the consensus pick to win the national championship this season. They return a lot of talented players, including All-Americans J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. Their freshman class was rated as one of the best in the nation and includes highly touted players such as Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus. No team in the nation gets as much recognition as the Blue Devils, who play 14 regular season games on ESPN and six more on ESPN2.
J.J. Redick is the man the Hokies must contain. He is without a doubt the best three-point shooter in the nation. Redick is hitting 48.6% of his three-pointers this year, and 51.1% overall from the field. He is averaging 23.5 points per game. Duke is moving him around more this season, using him as the third guard or small forward. Greg Paulus and Sean Dockery will likely start alongside Redick in the backcourt.
Paulus was a highly touted point guard and quarterback who could have played football or basketball in college. He elected to play for Coach K at Duke, and he has played well through the first six games of his college career. Paulus isn’t a big scorer, averaging just 6.3 points per game. But he has shot the ball well from three-point range (54.5%, 6-of-11) and the free throw line (90.9%, 10-of-11). He leads the team in assists with 25 and has 16 turnovers.
Sean Dockery, the experienced senior, protects the ball better than any member of Duke’s backcourt. He has 21 assists and just seven turnovers through the first six games. He isn’t a big scorer (5.2 ppg) and hasn’t shot the ball well this season (38.2% overall, 21.4% three-pointers). He is on the court because he can distribute the ball and make good decisions.
Duke received an early season blow when sophomore guard DeMarcus Nelson fractured his ankle. He recently had surgery to repair the fracture and will miss 6-8 weeks. Nelson’s absence hurts the Blue Devils on the defensive end. He is a very good on-the-ball defender and had recorded nine steals in just four games.
On the inside, the Hokies will have to deal with Shelden Williams. Williams is big (6-9, 250) and is his team’s second biggest offensive threat, averaging 17.8 points per game. He also averages a team best 8.5 rebounds per game and has 21 blocked shots. Despite being a post player, he is second on the team in steals with eight. Williams will go head-to-head with Coleman Collins (6-9, 235). Collins had 14 points and 18 rebounds against Williams in Blacksburg last season.
The biggest matchup concern for Virginia Tech might be starting power forward Josh McRoberts. McRoberts (6-10, 230) is a highly touted freshman who is averaging 7.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He is a good finisher around the basket, shooting at a 61.8% clip. The Hokies will have to use Deron Washington (6-7, 195) on McRoberts. Washington is a superb athlete who is playing out of position at power forward, and McRoberts could be a tough matchup for him. Watch McRoberts if he gets to the free throw line, as he has only hit two of his nine attempts from the charity stripe this year (22.2%). So if McRoberts gets free under the basket, the Hokies need to foul him hard and not let him hit the easy layup, because he will probably not be able to earn it at the line.
Duke is not a very deep team. With Nelson out with an injury, only six players get significant minutes. Only seven players have played in all six games, and one of those, Martynas Pocius, averages just 6.7 minutes per game. Their main player off the bench will be Lee Melchionni. Melchionni (6-6, 205) will play at small forward, and J.J. Redick will move back to shooting guard. This move gives Duke their biggest lineup, and also their best three-point shooting lineup if Paulus is on the court as well.
Duke can also go small by putting Melchionni at power forward. This can be considered a four guard lineup, with Shelden Williams still in the middle. Melchionni is a major part of Duke’s team, a bigger part than most give him credit for. He is third on the team in scoring (8 ppg) and third in rebounding (4.3 rpg) despite playing just 23.5 minutes per game. If he were to ever go down with an injury, Duke’s bench would be really short.
To win this game, Tech must come to play from the opening minute. They have to play with defensive intensity from the opening tip. If they play the first 20 minutes like they did in Columbus against Ohio State, they will get run off the court. Tech’s guards have to stay up tight on Sean Dockery and Greg Paulus. By playing tight, pressure defense the Hokies can mess up the timing of screens for J.J. Redick.
That being said, Redick is a great player who will get his fair share of points no matter how you defend him. Duke will likely not put up 100 points on Tech like they did last year in Durham, but the Hokies need to execute on the offensive end as well. They will probably have to score 75 points or more to have any chance to win in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
It would also be a big help if they could get Duke in foul trouble because of the Blue Devils’ short bench. However the chances of that happening in Durham are slim. Shelden Williams fouled out in Wednesday night’s game against Indiana, and that isn’t likely to happen two games in a row.
I think the Hokies will play 40 minutes in this game. Who doesn’t get fired up when playing Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium? Look for Tech to come out and attack the Duke guards. If they can disrupt the flow of the Blue Devils’ offense, they have a chance to make it a game.