The non-conference schedule is in the rear-view mirror for Virginia Tech. The Hokies finished 11-1 in those 12 games, and now they look forward to testing themselves against higher caliber programs. They’ll face a daunting 18-game stretch against the stacked ACC, and then they’ll attempt to run the gauntlet in the ACC Tournament. Their first test? Saturday afternoon against #5 Duke.
The Blue Devils enter this game with a 13-1 record. Their only blemish came in a 77-75 defeat against Kansas in Madison Square Garden, and their most impressive wins came over Michigan State (78-69) and Florida (84-74). Duke has played in just one road game this year, a 94-55 thrashing of a bad UNLV team.
There are several questions heading into this game….
1: Cassell Coliseum is sold out, but with Tech’s bowl game being played less than 48 hours before tipoff, how many of those tickets were sold to Duke fans?
2: With students at home on break, how full will the student section be? That will have a big impact on the noise level in Cassell Coliseum.
3: How will the loss of Grayson Allen affect Duke? The Blue Devils don’t have much backcourt depth to begin with, and with Allen out, that backcourt depth is now non-existent.
4: Despite Allen’s absence, this is easily the best team the Hokies have faced so far. How will they handle the uptick in competition?
The ACC had the decency (that’s sarcasm) to schedule three of Virginia Tech’s nine home ACC games during Winter Break with the students out of town. This is the first. If the Hokies want to make the NCAA Tournament this year, they’ll need a few Top 50 RPI wins, and this represents the first opportunity.
Let’s talk about a couple of key topics…
Allen’s Loss Hurts Duke
Grayson Allen will not play against Virginia Tech on Saturday. He has been suspended for one too many tripping incidents against opposing players, most recently against Elon last week. The junior is projected as a late first/early second round selection in the NBA Draft. Here are his numbers for the season…
Allen is second on the team in scoring, and he leads the Blue Devils in assists. His loss is a big one. He is a very intense player who can get to the basket and shoot it from the outside. Duke is not a particularly deep team either, so the loss hurts from a depth standpoint as well. Only four Duke players have played in all 13 games this year. Allen and Frank Jackson have played in 12. Nobody else has appeared in more than eight.
Here’s a look at the minutes played from Duke’s last game against Elon (starters listed first)…
Grayson Allen: 21 minutes
Luke Kennard: 36 minutes
Matt Jones: 34 minutes
Jayson Tatum: 37 minutes
Amile Jefferson: 27 minutes
Frank Jackson: 29 minutes
Chase Jeter: 7 minutes
Harry Giles: 6 minutes
Marques Bolden: 3 minutes
Only six players were on the court for more than seven minutes, and one of those will be sitting out against the Hokies.
With Allen out, here’s the starting lineup we could potentially see on Saturday afternoon…
Frank Jackson (6-3, 205, Fr.): 12 games, 5 starts, 12.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg
Matt Jones (6-5, 204, Sr.): 13 games, 13 starts, 7.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg
Luke Kennard (6-6, 202, So.): 13 games, 13 starts, 20.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg
Jayson Tatum (6-8, 205, Fr.): 5 games, 3 starts, 15.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg
Amile Jefferson (6-9, 224, r-Sr.): 13 games, 13 starts, 14.2 ppg, 10.8 rpg
Luke Kennard has been Duke’s most consistent wing player this year. He’s shooting 52% from the field and 42.7% from three-point range. Buzz Williams has been using Justin Bibbs to guard the opposing team’s best perimeter player this year, so I would expect Bibbs to draw the assignment of stopping Kennard on Saturday. More on that later.
Outside of those top five players, Duke doesn’t appear to have a lot to fall back on. Harry Giles (6-10, 240, Fr.) is recovering from a torn ACL, and he’s played in only two games this season. He was the #1 recruit in America coming out of high school. Giles could potentially see more time as the season goes on, but is he ready to take on a bigger role in the first game of ACC play? The only college competition he’s faced thus far came against Elon and Tennessee State, and he saw a total of just 10 minutes in both of those games, scoring two points and grabbing two rebounds.
Chase Jeter (6-10, 230, So.) has appeared in all 13 games, starting six of them, but he’s not a high-impact player. He’s averaging 3.1 points and 2.8 rebounds in 14.6 minutes per contest. Freshman forward Javin DeLaurier (6-10, 220) has played in eight games as well, and could see action against Tech.
Most of Duke’s depth is in the frontcourt. With Allen out, and Frank Jackson likely elevated to full-time starter status, there is precious little depth in the backcourt. Thanks to Allen’s shenanigans, Coach K doesn’t have many options. It will be interesting to see how he handles his rotation against a Hokie team that has plenty of backcourt options.
Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs Must Step Up
Justin Bibbs has been in a funk recently, and he needs to play better offensively if the Hokies want to pull the upset on Saturday.
Here are his numbers over the last two games…
Charleston Southern: 0 points, 0-of-6 from the field, 3 rebounds, 0 assists, 0 steals
UMBC: 2 points, 1-of-7 from the field, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 0 steals
It’s not just the last two games, though. Bibbs’ numbers are down across the board from last season…
PPG: 11.7 last year, 7.8 this year
FG%: 46.9% last year, 36.8% this year
3Pt%: 45% last year, 38.5% this year
RPG: 3.3 last year, 2.5 this year
Bibbs is a three-point specialist who has been somewhat limited offensively when he’s not making outside jumpers. In fact, he’s only made 12 two-point shots in 12 games this season. He’s also not a guy who fills up the stat sheet in terms of rebounds, steals, assists, etc., so when his three-point shot isn’t falling you aren’t going to notice him much in the box score.
Buzz Williams believes that because Bibbs is guarding the other team’s best offensive player each night, he is letting that affect his offensive game. Perhaps that is true. Starting on Saturday, Bibbs is going to be playing against much better competition night in and night out, and he’ll need to get it together offensively to help put his team in a position to win.