Date: Tuesday, February 26
No. 19/20 Virginia Tech returns to Cassell Coliseum to take on No. 3 Duke in a nationally televised game tonight on ESPN. The Hokies (21-6, 10-5) will be looking to add a fourth Quadrant One win to their resume, while the Blue Devils (24-3, 12-2) will look to further cement themselves as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Both teams will be without a key player. The Hokies are expected to be without Justin Robinson for the eighth consecutive game, while Duke will be missing Zion Williamson, who will be one of the top picks in this summer’s NBA Draft. Williamson is averaging 21.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils, and in conference play he’s averaging 22.6 points and 8.5 rebounds. He will be a significant loss, though Duke has two other Lottery Picks they can turn to with Williamson out, plus another player who could go in the late first round.
F RJ Barrett (6-7, 202, Fr.): 23.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg. If anyone beats out Zion Williamson for the No. 1 pick, it will be Barrett. He is Duke’s top scorer, and he’s also second on the team in assists with 110.
F Cam Reddish (6-8, 218, Fr.): 14 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 49 steals. Reddish is also projected to be a Lottery Pick this summer.
G Tre Jones (6-2, 183, Fr.): 8.6 ppg, 131 assists. Jones leads the team in assists, and he has just 31 turnovers in 25 games. His big weakness is outside shooting, as he’s only a 24.6% three-point shooter. More on Duke’s three-point shooting later. Jones is considered a late first round pick at this point.
Those three players, plus Duke’s other quality talent, were enough to defeat Syracuse 75-65 in the Carrier Dome on Saturday night despite Williamson’s absence. It wasn’t an easy game, and the Orange provided stern competition while leading for 21:39 of the 40 minutes, but the Blue Devils eventually took control late.
Duke’s biggest weakness on the season is three-point shooting.
Overall: 30.6%, No. 329 nationally
Conference: 29.4%, No. 14 out of 15 ACC teams
The Blue Devils shoot it poorly from the outside, and not one single regular in their rotation shoots above 40% from three-point range.
It’s well-known by now that Virginia Tech’s defensive gameplan is to stop penetration and prevent the ball from getting into the paint. The Hokies make it a point to force the opposition to shoot more three-pointers. Sometimes that comes with a price, but in general Tech has been a much-improved defensive team this season because of that strategy. If there was any team to employ that strategy against, it’s Duke.
That being said, Zion Williamson’s injury has potentially made Duke a better three-point shooting team because it brought Alex O’Connell (6-6, 183, So.) into the starting lineup. O’Connell is Duke’s top three-point shooter from a percentage standpoint, at 38.3%. He made his first start of the season at Syracuse and went 5-of-8 from the outside, scoring 20 points. The Blue Devils certainly aren’t better off without Williamson, but more minutes for O’Connell could be critical against a team that plays defense like Virginia Tech.
Duke’s lack of three-point shooting hasn’t hurt their other offensive numbers very much this season. On the contrary, they’ve been very good on that end of the court. Here are some key offensive numbers for the Blue Devils in ACC play…
Off. Eff. (Ken Pomeroy): No. 3
Eff. FG%: No. 4
Turnover %: No. 4
Off. Rebound %: No. 3
2-Pt.%: No. 1
Duke does a good job protecting the ball, they are good on the offensive glass, and they are the best team in the conference inside the three-point line. The Blue Devils like to play downhill, and it’s imperative that the Hokies stop their penetration and turn them into a jump shooting team.
Defensively, Duke has also been very strong. Here are their numbers against ACC competition…
Def. Eff. (Ken Pomeroy): No. 4
Eff. FG%: No. 6
Turnover %: No. 5
Off. Rebound %: No. 8
3-Pt. %: No. 3
2-Pt. %: No. 7
The Blue Devils haven’t been a dominant defensive team in ACC games, but they’ve certainly been well above average.
Ken Pomeroy’s formula gives Duke a 63% chance of beating the Hokies, while ESPN measures the Blue Devils’ chances of victory at 64%. As of the time of this writing, Duke is a 3.5-point favorite.
Virginia Tech has won the last two meetings against Duke in Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies won 64-63 on a late Chris Clarke putback last season, and also beat the Blue Devils 89-75 on New Year’s Eve in 2016.
For the second consecutive year, Virginia Tech and Duke are playing in Cassell Coliseum on February 26.
Duke is 7-0 on the road in ACC play for just the fifth time in school history. They are the nation’s final undefeated team on the road.
Kerry Blackshear is averaging 20.1 points and 9.3 rebounds in the month of February, which coincides with Justin Robinson’s injury in Tech’s final game of January.
Virginia Tech is 0-3 in the ACC on Mondays this season, and 10-2 on every other day.