Duke at Virginia Tech

Duke (18-3, 5-1) at Virginia Tech (12-9, 1-5), 7:00 PM, ESPN/ESPN3

Andre Dawkins (middle) was a huge factor in Duke's win at Clemson, but has disappeared in other road games.

This is absolutely a decisive stretch of Virginia Tech’s season, and a win over Duke would be enormous. They host Duke, Clemson and Boston College in their next four games with a game at Miami in the mix. None are easy, but four of their final six ACC games are against the top four teams in the league and two of those are on the road. They need to go at least 3-1 in this stretch or even 4-0 to finish in the top half of the league. It’s a tricky game for Duke in a sense, but it’s much less so now that Duke lost in Blacksburg last season. The Blue Devils will be ready, especially since their head coach Mike Krzyzewski was not pleased with their second-half performance against St. John’s on Saturday.

Stat to watch: A tale of two halves. It’s not exactly a statistic, but the teams have struggled in different halves of games in ACC play. Virginia Tech has been downright awful in most first halves and amazing in the second half. Duke has been dominant in the first half and struggled for parts of second halves. Since ACC play began, the Hokies have hit just 31.7% of their shots in the first half of their last seven games and 29.5% of their three’s, averaging 25.7 points. In the second half, they have shot 45.5% (35.4% from three) and averaged 36.7 points. The problem is that while their opponents haven’t done much in the first half either (39% shooting and 27.9 points) they have in the second half (41.5% shooting and 35.3 points), so Virginia Tech’s second-half surges haven’t been enough.

In the last two games (BYU and Maryland) the problem has been even worse: the Hokies shot a combined 25% in the first half (averaging 22 points) compared to 56% shooting and 46.5 points in the second half. If Virginia Tech can manage to come out firing from the opening tip tonight, they might have a chance. But the second-half surges haven’t been – and won’t be – enough.

In Duke’s last seven games, they have had similar problems and the only time they didn’t was against Virginia (they were bad in the first half and excellent in the second). So taking out Virginia, in six of Duke’s last seven, Duke has averaged 38.5 points on 44% shooting while holding opponents to 30.9 points on 42% shooting in the first half. But the Blue Devils have allowed opponents to average 40.3 second-half points on 49.1% shooting (Duke has averaged 40.7 on 47.9% shooting).

The only thing that has saved Duke is foul shots: they have shot 17 more than their opponents and made 79.4% in those second halves compared to just 56.2% by opponents. But certainly Duke might get into a situation where they can’t get to the line or players miss foul shots, so they need to close out games better, especially on the defensive end.

Most important players: Erick Green, Virginia Tech and Andre Dawkins, Duke. With senior guard Dorenzo Hudson struggling, Green has taken it upon himself to be “the man” in the Hokie backcourt and not a moment too soon. With Virginia Tech down eight points at Maryland with 1:09 to go, Green scored six points and assisted on another two baskets (worth five points), making him responsible for 11 points in a one-minute span. Of course, in the previous 39 minutes he had 12 points on 5-of-17 shooting and two assists. His field-goal percentage has gone down since he’s become more aggressive, though (he’s shot 44% in ACC play), but he’s averaging 18 points and has shot 45% or better in four of six league games. He’s had a mixed history against Duke: in two meetings last year, Green averaged 14.5 points on 43% shooting but made just 2-of-12 three’s and picked up four fouls in each matchup. His team can’t afford that this time.

Four of Andre Dawkins’ 11 double-digit scoring efforts have come in ACC play. In four of Duke’s road games this year, though, Dawkins has shot a combined 2-of-15 (2-of-12 from three) and scored just nine points. His two single-digit scoring days in ACC play were on the road (at Georgia Tech and at Maryland) and the only two games he hasn’t scored in this year have been road losses (at Ohio State and at Temple). The one exception was at Clemson, were Dawkins had his best ACC game to date: 24 points on 7-of-12 shooting (5-of-9 from three), adding two assists, a steal and two blocks in 27 minutes. Duke will need that kind of game from Dawkins in Blacksburg. Dawkins has shot just 3-of-14 against Virginia Tech in three career games and 3-of-12 from three, averaging 3.7 points. He fouled out of the most recent meeting in the 2011 ACC Tournament.

Random stat: In every set of game notes issued by a school, they have a random set of stats like like “Duke has such-and-such a record in January” or “Duke has such-and-such a record when scoring 70 or more points”. In Duke’s game notes, it says that under Mike Krzyzewski, Duke is 73-4 when shooting 60% or better. (I don’t know what’s more amazing: that the Blue Devils have shot 60% or better 77 times, or that they lost four of those games.) Even more remarkable? Duke is 380-10 when holding opponents to less than 40 percent.

Prediction: Duke 77, Virginia Tech 69


Last week: 12-0

Season: 95-31 (31-12 ACC) 


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