Duke and Virginia Tech meet in a vital early ACC matchup; which team will come out strong in this big January showdown?
TV schedule: Tuesday, January 12, 7:00 pm ET. ACCN
Arena: Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia
This season has been a wild ride for Duke (5-2) to say the very least. They’ve struggled greatly, they’ve canceled numerous games, and they’ve paused for nearly a month due to COVID protocols. But the Blue Devils are back in action, and pulled out narrow wins over Boston College and Wake Forest this past week, though they’ll need a more convincing effort to assert themselves as a national contender again.
It’s been Matthew Hurt (19.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg) doing a lot of the work for the Blue Devils, leading the way with 26 points in their most recent win over the Demon Deacons. In that close win over Boston College, Wendell Moore (6.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg) had 25 points; Duke will need more regular offense from him. The freshman guard tandem of DJ Stewart (14.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Jeremy Roach (9.6 ppg, 3.4 apg) will need to show continued growth as well.
Duke sits at 19th in the AP Top 25 and 21st in KenPom, though those rankings have certainly been falling as the season has progressed. Those early-season home losses to Illinois and Michigan State still sting, though they’ll get plenty of chances to make their mark, starting with this matchup. This is still a top 15 offense, but can the defense handle a ranked team this time?
For Virginia Tech (9-2), this season has gone far better than expected. Not expected to do much this season, the Hokies got things going strong with a win over #3 Villanova back in November and have kept the momentum going. Virginia Tech can win the ACC if they keep playing solid basketball.
The Hokies have gotten great contributions from Keve Aluma (15.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg), who had 23 points in that win over the Wildcats. Recently, Jalen Cone (12.9 ppg) has provided the offensive spark, leading the Hokies in scoring in their last two games, including 21 in that close loss at Louisville. In addition, Virginia Tech has formidable sophomore guards in Nahiem Alleyne (10.5 ppg, 1.3 apg) and Tyrece Radford (9.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg).
Though they currently sit at 20th in the AP Top 25, KenPom only has the Hokies at 33rd. Many metrics systems are still catching up, as little was expected of this Virginia Tech team before the season began, but Mike Young’s team has been impressive. There isn’t an ACC team with a more impressive win than their victory over Villanova, and they’ve continued that solid play with a dynamic offense and enough defense to get the job done.
For the Blue Devils, they need to avoid another slow start and get their guards going. Hurt is fantastic, but they need more people than him and Moore putting the ball in the basket. For the Hokies, they need to expose Duke’s defense and frustrate the Blue Devils early. This is a very winnable game for Virginia Tech, especially with how Duke has been playing lately, but they’ll need a solid 40 minutes from their defense as well.
If the Duke team that narrowly beat Boston College shows up, then the Hokies are going to have another solid win in the early going of ACC play. It’s fair to say that the Blue Devils are getting back into the groove after nearly a month’s layoff, but this Virginia Tech team is much tougher than last week’s opponents. This’ll be a solid game, but I think the Hokies will play with just enough intensity to get the job done at home.