The Big Dance is in full swing, and the field of 68 has shrunk to 16. After what felt like forever, the action resumed tonight. Teams are well-rested and eager to compete for a spot in the elite eight. Will we see more upsets?
Every game comes with its own drama and set of circumstances that add to the tension. That’s how March works. However, of all of the games, one sticks out to me: Duke vs. Virginia Tech. This is the only game that features teams that have faced off this season. In the previous match-up, Virginia Tech won 77-72. It is worth noting that Duke was without freshman phenom Zion Williamson. Duke also is coming off a tough one-point win against UCF. Can the Hokies pull off the upset?
Star Player Watch:
Zion Williamson, PF, Duke
Tournament Stats: 28.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1 .0 steals, 0.5 blocks
Duke’s wunderkind freshman continues to add to his legend. Able to do seemingly everything at an elite level, Williamson shows every game why he is considered the best player in the nation. He has made some phenomenal passes in the tournament and is shooting 44% from three through the first two games, albeit on only 9 attempts. His backdoor cuts, transition scoring, and screening ability will be crucial in this game, as Virginia Tech does not give opponents easy looks inside.
Kerry Blackshear Jr., C, Virginia Tech
Tournament Stats: 17.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.5 blocks
The tallest player on the team, Blackshear has been a key part of the Hokies team all year. He is the cornerstone of their inside-out offense and gets a ton of touches in the paint. On the other end, he will be their main line of defense against a team that attacks the basket constantly. In the previous match-up against Duke, he scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. He should look to be just as aggressive this game. A 73% free throw shooter, Blackshear should seek contact against a Duke team that doesn’t go deep. He attempted 7 or more free throws 11 times this season.
Three Keys for a Duke win:
- Use their size. Duke is bigger than Virginia Tech at nearly every position. As a team that thrives in getting to the basket, the Blue Devils should look to exploit size mismatches at every point they can.
- Guard the perimeter. Virginia Tech likes to get the ball inside, then kick it out to shooters after drawing in the defense. Duke must resist the temptation to collapse, and force VT to go over their larger defenders. The Hokies were eighth in the nation in three-point percentage this season. While they also scored efficiently on two-pointers, Duke has a better chance of matching twos than threes.
- Attack the offensive glass. As previously mentioned, Duke has bigger players at nearly every position on the floor. They should hit the offensive glass a little harder than normal in this game. Virginia Tech is not a good rebounding team, ranking 244th in the nation per Sports Reference. With two days of rest, Duke can afford to stick around a little longer on the offensive end before running back to defend.
Three Keys for a Virginia Tech win:
- Pack the paint. Duke struggles to score when their offense has to rely on three-point shots. Considering the size disadvantage, the best way for this team to make Duke do that is to bring extra bodies to the paint.
- Take care of the ball. In the previous match-up, Virginia Tech only had five turnovers, and only one of those was a steal, which limited Duke’s transition game. They’ve done a good job of that thus far in the tournament, only averaging nine turnovers a game. Both teams they’ve faced had had top-20 defensive ratings, but neither was in the top 50 in steal percentage. Duke is sixth in steal percentage.
- Draw fouls. Virginia Tech shot 76% from the line this season, good for 20th in the nation. Not only will drawing fouls lead to easy points for them, but it will also make Duke have to use more bench players than they’re accustomed to. With Marques Bolden sporting a sore knee, and Jack White out, the Hokies should create contact as much as possible.