After a 37-point statement win against St Bonaventure last Friday, Virginia Tech heads back on the road for a massive ACC showdown against #2 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium as the Blue Devils kick off their final ACC season under Coach K.
With the ACC lacking high quality teams outside of Duke, VT, UNC, and Wake Forest; this game may be a preview of a potential ACC Tournament final with Tech looking to spoil the season-long Coach K celebration in Durham.
The Hokies have had loads of success against Duke in recent years, but Tech also hasn't won at Duke in well over a decade with all of that success coming at Cassell Coliseum. However, the Hokies have the type of old, experienced team that should be ready for an intimidating environment in Durham tonight.
So with that said, here are my three things to watch for the Hokies against Duke.
1. How Do You Contain Paolo Banchero?
This is almost a rhetorical question as Paolo Banchero ranks right among the best Duke freshman as a do-it-all player who is as skilled for a freshman as anyone. The stats back that up as Banchero is averaging 16.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.5 steals while shooting over 49% from the field including over 34% from three-point range.
Banchero has also proven to be a big game player breaking the 20-point mark three times this season with two of those being in wins against Kentucky and Gonzaga while only having 2 turnovers total in those 2 games. In Duke's lone loss, the Buckeyes were able to contain Banchero who only shot 4-14 from the field in that game with that being the level of defense that Tech may need to win this game.
At 6'10'' and 250 pounds, Banchero is a matchup nightmare and will be a massive challenge for Justyn Mutts who Tech will need to avoid foul trouble unlike Tech's loss at Dayton. If Tech doesn't have Mutts, the Hokies really don't have a potentially good defensive matchup for Banchero with Keve Aluma not necessarily having the athleticism for that type of matchup (with Tech also needing him against Mark Williams), and David N'Guessan not having the experience you'd want to face a Banchero.
If Tech can contain Banchero, they'll have a great chance at coming into Durham and pulling off the upset. If not, the Hokies will likely join Kentucky and Gonzaga as those who fell to Duke after a big game from the potential #1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
2. Can Storm Murphy Keep Up His Improved Level Of Play?
Storm Murphy has undoubtedly been a funk in recent weeks as the competition level increased, but he seemed to finally break that last Friday against St Bonaventure shooting 7-10 from the field including 4-7 from three for 18 points while having 3 assists with only 1 turnover.
While the stat line was great, the biggest thing was the fact that Murphy actually looked comfortable on the floor. This was especially true as a shooter as Murphy went from being a risk averse guy to playing with a high level of freedom as a shooter who was unafraid to take the opportunities he had rather than hesitate and avoid a good three.
The lack of turnovers and mistakes were also a very encouraging sign to see especially as Murphy matched up with St Bonaventure's star PG Kyle Lofton. Yes, Lofton may have been coming off a few games out to injury, but Lofton is still one of the best PGs on the East Coast and only having one turnover in that type of matchup is a huge plus.
Jeremy Roach and Trevor Keels will give Murphy a stern test as the young guards are averaging a combined 3.5 steals per game and will force Murphy to be on his form. If Murphy can't keep it up, it could be a repeat of what we've seen in other games recently including his Brooklyn nightmares against Memphis and Xavier.
3. Virginia Tech Needs to Dominate the Three-Point Shooting
If Virginia Tech is going tow in this game, they are going to need to lean on one of their roster's biggest strengths, the three-point shot.
Tech's three-point shooting hasn't been as consistent as hoped for, but the Hokies are still tied for 9th in the country from three-point range making 40% of their threes. We saw on Friday last week what happens when this team reaches their shooting ceiling with Hunter Cattoor and Storm Murphy being basically unstoppable from deep on Tech's way to a 37-point victory.
Duke is an average perimeter defense team ranking just inside the top 150 in the country with opponents shooting 31.8% from three. This comes as Duke shoots 37% from three, but will face a Tech team that also ranks in the top 10 nationally in perimeter defense with opponents only making 25.5% of their threes. Tech's perimeter defense will have to focus a lot on Duke's leading scorer Wendell Moore and Jeremy Roach who are both shooting over 36% from three while averaging over 30 minutes per game.
Tech will need more than Cattoor, who's shooting 44.4% from three, in this one as they'll need Nahiem Alleyne to break his slump and Storm Murphy to maintain his form. If not, Mike Young will need to turn even more than normal to bench guys like Darius Maddox and Sean Pedulla who are both shooting over 50% from three though Pedulla hasn't taken as many threes as Maddox.
If Tech is going to win this game, they are going to have to be at their best from three-point range. If not, it's going to be an uphill battle inside a raucous Cameron Indoor Stadium.