Last season, Virginia Tech shocked the college basketball world on New Year's Eve when the Hokies upset #5 Duke in dominant fashion 89-75. This time, the Blue Devils come to Cassell Coliseum with Grayson Allen not suspended and star freshman Marvin Bagley III healthy. On top of that, Duke has won five-straight since North Carolina beat them in Chapel Hill.
Meanwhile, the Hokies enter this game coming off a tough loss to Louisville where they just couldn't make shots in the biggest moments. However, the Hokies have shown an impressive ability to bounce back after tough home losses whether it was their big win over North Carolina after a Saturday loss to Florida State or their midweek win over NC State after a disappointing loss to Miami.
Duke knows they have a shot at a #1 seed, but may have to win the ACC Tournament if they don't win their final two regular season games. Meanwhile, the Hokies are almost certain to make the NCAA Tournament, but they aren't a lock just yet. If Virginia Tech upsets Duke tonight, the Hokies will be a definite lock and poised to have a higher seeding than they did last season given how they already have a strong group of high-end wins over North Carolina and Clemson plus their biggest victory, a road win at #1 Virginia.
Virginia Tech: Justin Bibbs
Against Duke, the Hokies will have to be effective from beyond the arc and that starts with senior wing Justin Bibbs. Bibbs is second on the team in points after 13.2 per game, but hasn't been as good as in past seasons from three-point range shooting only 40% from three. However, Bibbs has developed into a more effective scorer shooting 50% from the field.
When Bibbs signed his National Letter of Intent over four years ago, he likely couldn't imagine the Virginia Tech basketball revival that would happen. Of course, it didn't happen with the same coach who was at the helm when he signed that NLI, but Bibbs was committed to being a Hokie and over his four years in Blacksburg, he's been a critical piece in taking the Hokies to the precipice of a golden era of basketball in Blacksburg.
Looking ahead to tonight's Senior Night showdown, expect Bibbs to be ready to play and shine in his final game as a Hokie. Bibbs has played well against Duke over the past 2 years with 18 points in last season's upset and 15 points in the loss in Cameron Indoor earlier this season. Bibbs won't be intimidated by the stage and will be ready to shine in what should be his final home game as a Hokie.
Duke: Marvin Bagley III
Marvin Bagley III made his return Saturday against Syracuse and the star freshman stepped his game up as Duke beat Syracuse by 16 led by Bagley's 19 points and 7 rebounds. Now, Bagley will face the Hokies for the first (and likely only) time in his career after being out when these two last faced off.
While Duke did go 4-0 without Bagley, the former five-star big man has been one of the country's best players averaging 21.1 and 11.2 rebounds per game while shooting an insanely impressive 60.4% from the field. Bagley is the best big man who Duke has had in years and is almost in the Anthony Davis echelon of freshman big men who can lead a team on a national title run in March.
Tomorrow, Hokie fans will get to see the best big man Duke has brought to Cassell in recent memory. If the Hokies can find a way to contain him, they will give their upset hopes a significant boost that could make the difference.
Keys to the Game
1. Make Your Threes
At times, Virginia Tech's quality three-point shooting has disappeared in the most important times even when they get great looks. We saw that issue pop up again Saturday when Louisville made some contested and open threes in the final 4 minutes while the Hokies couldn't make their shots when they needed to.
Against a quality shooting Duke team, the Hokies will have to be efficient including from beyond the arc where they struggled when these two teams first met this season in Durham.
The Hokies have the talent with guys like Justin Robinson, Justin Bibbs, Ahmed Hill, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker but outside of Robinson and to an extent Bibbs, those guys have struggled from beyond the arc in ACC play especially Hill who is in a major slump.
The issue for the Hokies hasn't been their ability to get open threes, but it has been more about their ability to make them especially in big moments. Against Duke, Virginia Tech will have no margin for error and will need to make shots down the stretch in what should be a much closer game than the last two games between these two.
2. Crash the Boards
Against Louisville, the Hokies gave up 13 offensive rebounds, but the Cardinals only scored 10 second chance points. Against Duke, Virginia Tech will be punished a lot more severely if they allow that many rebounds especially with Marvin Bagley back to pair up with Wendell Carter Jr. in the post.
For the Hokies, it starts with them needing a big performance from Kerry Blackshear, who has only had three games with double-digit rebounds. While VT doesn't necessarily need a double-double, they need him to be a force in the post as a defensive rebounder to keep Bagley and/or Carter from getting a good position that they will take advantage of for an offensive rebound.
However, it will require a greater amount of intensity than normal for the Hokies around with better boxing out. At times, the Hokies have seemed to lose opponents when boxing out for a rebound. If they do that against the Blue Devils, Duke will beat the Hokies with their second chance points.
Virginia Tech may have gotten blown out the first time these two teams faced off, but you can expect a much closer game this time even with Bagley returning for Duke. While VT hasn't been great at home in ACC play this season, Cassell Coliseum remains a very tough place to play in big games as we've already seen from VT's upset win over UNC and their big win over Clemson.
However, Duke enters this game as one of the hottest teams in the country on a five-game winning streak that has put them right in the middle of the conversation for a 1 seed after Villanova, Virginia, and likely Purdue.
This matchup has the potential to be a high-scoring affair given their efficient shooters, but both teams have been significantly improved on the defensive end in recent games. If one team can get hot from three-point range, it could easily make the difference especially with the way these two have played defense.
This will be a battle of size versus toughness and VT has the guys to make life difficult led by the aggressive Justin Robinson who has become a star in ACC play. Robinson and the Hokies' backcourt will make some big shots but at the end of the day, Duke has too much talent and as one of the hottest teams in college basketball, the Blue Devils will step up led by Bagley, Gary Trent Jr, and Grayson Allen.
Pick: #5 Duke 77, Virginia Tech 74
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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