2005-06 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. #2 Duke

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Virginia Tech (10-8, 0-5 ACC) at #2 Duke (17-1, 5-0 ACC)

Thursday, January 26th, 2006, 7:00 pm

TV: ESPN

Special Preview Items:

Five games into their sophomore season in the ACC, the Virginia Tech men’s
basketball team finds itself at 0-5 in league play and dead last in the
conference. This is the way things were supposed to be last year when the Hokies
finished 8-8 in the ACC and near the top of the conference standings. Nothing
has gone right for Tech this year. They’ve suffered injuries, illnesses, dunks
are popping back out of the nets, and countless other things have gone wrong.
Last year it was the Hokies who won a lot of close games, and the karma is
coming full circle this season. But on Thursday night, VT has a chance to get
things turned around in a big way when #2 Duke visits Blacksburg.

With the Hokies beating Duke last season, and playing them so tough in Durham
back in December, it’s clearly obvious that Virginia Tech has the recipe to
defeat the Blue Devils. Duke is a fundamentally sound basketball team with a
tremendous inside presence in Shelden Williams and a great outside shooter in
J.J. Redick. That is enough to get a team a lot of wins, but the Blue Devils are
not a complete team. There is an obvious lack of quickness and athleticism on
the Duke roster, and the Hokies have been quick to take advantage of that the
past two games.

Duke is not as deep as one would assume a team ranked #1 for most of the
season would be. Duke’s five starters have all played 31 minutes or more the
last three games. That stat goes back four games for four of the starters, and
even further for three of them. There are major bench concerns for the Blue
Devils, who are a little banged up right now, as are the Hokies.

Josh McRoberts was a starter at power forward earlier in the season, but he
has been benched in favor of Lee Melchionni. Melchionni (6-6, 205) is a wing
forward, so it looks like the Blue Devils have decided to go with a smaller
lineup. They will spread the floor and get the ball inside to Shelden Williams,
who will either take the shot or look to kick it back out to an open man if he
is double teamed.

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, Melchionni was banged up in the loss to
Georgetown on Saturday with an ankle injury. He is expected to play on Thursday
night, but he will not be 100%. This is a favorable matchup for Tech power
forward Deron Washington, who can use his much superior quickness and
athleticism to his advantage. Washington would already have a major advantage in
athleticism, and Melchionni’s ankle injury will only make it worse for Duke.

Duke will also likely be without guard DeMarcus Nelson, their best perimeter
defender. Nelson is an excellent on-ball defender who has missed most of the
season with injuries, and he did not play against the Hokies back in December.

Because Melchionni will likely be in the starting lineup, Duke does not hold
the size advantage over the Hokies that most teams possess.

VT
Starting Lineup
Duke
Starting Lineup

G

Jamon Gordon

6-3
200
G

Greg Paulus

6-1
185

G

Zabian Dowdell

6-3
200
G

Sean Dockery

6-2
185

F

Wynton Witherspoon

6-7
185
F

J.J. Redick

6-4
190

F

Deron Washington

6-7
195
F

Lee Melchionni

6-6
205

C

Coleman Collins

6-9
235
C

Shelden Williams

6-9
250

The Blue Devils have a slight weight advantage on the inside, but the VT guards
are bigger than the Duke backcourt, and the Hokies are taller than Duke at four
of the five positions. Look for Tech to try to get their hands in the passing
lanes and force turnovers, and look for them to have some success.

With no size disadvantage, as well as superior athleticism, VT has been able
to have a rebounding advantage on the Blue Devils in the last two meetings. The
Hokies outrebounded Duke 45-27 in Cassell Coliseum last season and 34-30 earlier
this season. Even in the 100-65 loss to Duke at Cameron last season, the Blue
Devils only held a 42-37 advantage on the boards. Duke is next-to-last in the
ACC with a rebounding margin of -1.1. In ACC play only, Duke has a rebounding
margin of -5.4.

One disadvantage the Hokies could have is the sprained ankle Jamon Gordon
suffered at the start of the second half against Maryland. However, Gordon
returned to the game with under ten minutes left and scored nine points down the
stretch. Gordon’s ability to penetrate into the lane is a big part of Virginia
Tech’s chances to defeat Duke, so his injury is a concern. Also, look for
another player to draw the responsibility of guarding J.J. Redick. Markus Sailes,
6-5, 210, will likely spend a lot of time with Redick when Sailes comes off the
bench.

From a statistics standpoint, the most compelling matchup in this game is
between Coleman Collins and Shelden Williams. They both had monster games back
in December, with Collins scoring 25 points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Williams had 21 points and 19 rebounds. In Virginia Tech’s 67-65 victory in
Cassell Coliseum last year, Collins had 14 points and 18 rebounds, while
Williams had 16 points and seven rebounds.

Collins always gives Williams trouble for a couple of reasons. Number one,
the Tech guards are successful in getting into the lane against the Duke guards.
If Shelden Williams goes over to help, then Collins is either left open for a
shot or is free to crash the offensive glass. Also, Williams is a very good face
up defender, but he struggles at times when an offensive player tries to take
him off the dribble. That is Collins’ strength, as he is a natural power
forward rather than a center.

The Blue Devils have struggled defensively the last three games. They allowed
Clemson to shoot 54.1% from the field, while NC State managed 51.9%. Georgetown
completely crushed Duke’s defense, shooting 61.5%.

Of course, Duke has a major advantage as well. They can shoot the ball better
than the Hokies. Duke is shooting 51.3% for the season, and 48.7% in ACC play.
The Hokies shoot 45.6%, and just 43.5% in conference games. But Tech did shoot
51.6% earlier this season against the Blue Devils, mostly because they got so
many open looks underneath thanks to their ability to penetrate against the Duke
backcourt.

The Virginia Tech defense has been stout all season. They are allowing just
61.6 points per game, which is tops in the ACC. No team has shot 50% or more
against the Hokies all season.

With 1.6 seconds to go in the game back on December 4th, I was pretty excited
for two reasons. Number one, the Hokies were about to beat the #1 team in the
country, the most storied program in basketball, on the road. And number two, in
the preview I wrote before the game, I stated that VT would need to score 75
points to have a chance to beat Duke. Collins’ tip-in with 1.6 seconds to go
made it 75-74 VT. Sean Dockery’s prayer from near half court spoiled Tech’s
upset and my prediction, but the same points stand for this game. The Hokies
match up with Duke very well. Raise your hand if you would be shocked if the
Hokies won this game? I wouldn’t. It remains to be seen if they will.

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