After days of buying tickets, making hotel arrangements, putting together watch parties, and simple patience and waiting; Virginia Tech is finally ready for the biggest basketball game in the modern program against the #1 overall seed Duke Blue Devils. The Hokies are looking for another victory after taking down the Blue Devils the first time despite being without star PG Justin Robinson (Duke was also without Zion Williamson if you haven't heard a million times already).
Both of these teams have proven that they are more than capable of making Final Four runs and winning a national title with Duke doing it with a freshman trio hungry to leave a legacy, and Virginia Tech's veteran roster looking to cement this team's status as the greatest in program history.
With that said, here's our picks along with all our pregame features and stories leading up to this game.
While Duke may be the easy pick, there's a lot of reasons why Virginia Tech isn't exactly a good matchup for the Blue Devils. Part of that comes down to the fact that they are an experienced team who should be playing in front of a pro-VT crowd driven more by Hokie fans and not due to leftover fans of Michigan State and LSU. Additionally, the Hokies are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country while the Blue Devils rank among the worst, one of the easiest things that can cause an upset.
The experience factor could be a particular problem especially if Duke gets in a hole and starts to feel the type of NCAA Tournament pressure their star freshmen likely aren't used to outside of their close call with UCF. Additionally, the Hokies haven't been afraid to allow teams to take threes, something that could play into their advantage if the Blue Devils shoot closer to their average.
One thing that will be critical for the Hokies will be to make sure Kerry Blackshear stays out of foul trouble. The Hokies need their star big man on the floor monitoring the post against a Duke team with plenty of size both in height and the just incredible massiveness that is Zion Williamson. Not having Blackshear on the floor will make it hard for the Hokies to contain the Blue Devils' star freshman when he wants to attack the post along with hurt their rebounding against a Duke team that's one of the best on the glass in the country. Additionally, Williamson's size will be a problem after the Liberty's bulky backup big man showed how an oversized big can give the slimmer Blackshear some issues.
Virginia Tech has all the pieces to take down the Blue Devils with the stars in Blackshear, Justin Robinson, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker who can go off for big games. However, the Hokies have the unfortunate timing of playing a Duke team that got a massive wakeup call against UCF and will likely have taken a lot from that experience. Virginia Tech is more than capable of doing so, but this Duke team is one of the most talented teams in Tournament when fully healthy and that'll show in a thriller between two teams who will show why they both have Final Four caliber rosters.
Pick: Duke 77, Virginia Tech 73
In what is probably the biggest game in Virginia Tech basketball history, the Hokies travel to Washington, DC to take on Duke. As we already know, the Hokies won the first matchup, but both teams were missing one of their stars.
Justin Robinson and Zion Williamson are both back and will make this a completely different game than the first one. I expect this game to come down to two things: turnovers and three-point shooting.
Whichever team is able to force more turnovers and capitalize on more opportunities in transition will have a chance to control the offensive landscape.
I expect the Hokies to come out ready to play and with a burning intensity the Blue Devils will be unable to match.
Sure, Duke has one of best basketball players in the world. But you know what? I’m doing it. I’m picking the Hokies.
Pick: Virginia Tech 75, Duke 72
Since Buzz Williams became head coach at Virginia Tech in 2014, everything at Virginia Tech has been given, nothing earned. It’s the same thing when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies advanced past the second round of the tournament for the second time in school history this season with wins over Saint Louis and Liberty. Duke? They’ve been here before. Mike Krzyzewski has won five national titles in his tenure in Durham and he has the best player in the country this season in Zion Williamson. However, the Blue Devils barely escaped UCF in Columbia last Sunday in the second round though. Still, they did, and they’ve made it to the Sweet 16.
My point? Tech has motivation. In the game last Sunday against UCF, it didn’t seem like Duke wanted to be here all that much. Yeah, they’ve got four first round draft picks on their roster, but the Hokies have experience, and in my opinion, the best point guard in the country in Justin Robinson, who’s finally back from injury. They’re playing with grit and like it’s their last game, and I think that gives them a little momentum and confidence.
The Hokies play a very interesting defensive style that I didn’t know existed until last season when Buzz Williams created “cover two” after the Miami game. This style is beaten when Tech faces a three-point shooting team. Luckily for Tech, the Blue Devils are not a three-point shooting team. They rank 329th in three-point percentage offensively in the country. This plays right into Tech’s hands with the style of defense the Hokies play, as long as the Blue Devils don’t shoot lights out. They’ve shot greater than 40% in their last two games, but if they play to their average, they’ll shoot right around 31% and have to rely on Zion to carry the team. I think the Blue Devils shoot around 37% in Washington against the Hokies, shooting just above their average and making enough to keep it close.
On offense, I think the Hokies will be able to get a good shot selection and work the offense inside-out, putting the ball in the hands of Kerry Blackshear Jr. and letting him do his thing. It’s going to be interesting to see if Trey Jones, the freshman point guard for Duke, can lock down Robinson - I don’t think he’s going to be able to. Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw will have to make their open threes and drive to the basket when they can, but if this Tech team shoots at least 40% from three and can hold Duke under 30%, I think they win this game.
After contemplating who I thought it would be for a while, I’ve decided I think the x-factor will be the sophomore NBA prospect, Nickeil Alexander-Walker. His ability to get to the rim at will but also shoot very well when needed will help give Tech an advantage, because just when Duke was worrying about Blackshear Jr. and Robinson and the three-point shooters, now they have to deal with Alexander-Walker.
I think Tech forces the turnovers it needs to, though I don’t know how much it slows Duke down in the transition game. The Blue Devils are nearly impossible to stop in transition when running 100mph at the basket, but I think Tech knocks down the shots they need to and they stay in the game. It’s going to be the toughest game of the season for the Hokies - biggest game in school history, win or go home.
I have my faith in Buzz Williams and his staff. I know Duke is favored by 7 points, but I think Tech will gameplan very well and figure out what the best way to stop Duke, which I think is to let Zion “get his,” or score his share of the points, but focus more on RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish on defense.
It’s going to be one heckuva game and it’s probably going to come down to the final few minutes, but I think the Hokies and their experience (four graduate seniors/seniors and a sophomore) will be able to grind it out against the Blue Devils. Tech’s guys will come up clutch when they need to, while the guys off the bench like Wilkins and Bede will contribute as needed.
I think the Hokies play the Blue Devils tough and take them down to the wire thanks to clutch buckets down the stretch and win by four, 81-77, in Washington D.C., to advance to the Elite Eight.
Pick: Virginia Tech 81, Duke 77
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
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