After suffering a heartbreaking loss at #19 Clemson 51-50 for their seventh-straight defeat, Virginia Tech returns home to Cassell Coliseum likely desperate to end this losing streak and preserve their faint hopes of an at-large bid in the 2023. Enter a Duke team that is getting healthier after Jeremy Roach returned on Saturday against ranked Miami and played a big role in Duke taking down the Hurricanes in Durham.
For Tech, the challenge will be steep but the opportunity to add a quality win is also big and it comes in Cassell Coliseum which has been a house of horrors for Duke over the past several years.
So with that said, here are our three things to watch for the Hokies against Duke.
1. Sean Pedulla vs Jeremy Roach
The battle of point guards should be fascinating to watch as Jeremy Roach looked sharp in his return for Duke against Miami with 14 points on 6-10 shooting with 4 assists. Meanwhile, Sean Pedulla has had some struggles of late having only 7 points on 2-13 from the field at Clemson, but we've definitely seen that when Pedulla is on form, he's one of the best point guards on the East Coast.
For Pedulla, this game has to be built on him going after Roach and looking to attack the rim early and often. Duke has only one player averaging more than a block per game in Dereck Lively III and he plays under 20 minutes per game so attacking the rim should be a priority.
Will Locklin discussed recently Tech's offensive issues where you could easily see how Pedulla was playing more like a Pedulla-Hunter Cattoor hybrid rather than being Sean Pedulla who builds his game of attacking the rim. With Cattoor back and Duke not having a great rom protector who plays at least half the game, Pedulla absolutely should be looking to attack early and often, and get back to his roots.
Meanwhile, Duke will need the veteran Roach to play big especially on the road where this freshman-heavy has struggled plenty this season. Roach also shot under 43% from the field in the four Duke losses that he played in including only a combined 13 points in the Wake Forest and NC State losses before he missed time with injuries. If Duke is going to be at their best, they need more of the Jeremy Roach they got at Miami.
Keep an eye on the battle at the point which could prove decisive if Pedulla or Roach clearly outshines the other.
2. Containing Kyle Filipowski
Kyle Filipowski has been the standout freshman (and overall player) for Duke this year putting up some impressive displays and driving the ship so far this season for the Blue Devils.
So far this season, he's averaging 15 points and 9.5 rebounds including 2.9 offensive rebounds plus 1.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game. The challenge with Filipowski is that he's a 7' big man who can score at all three levels and make things happen off the dribble from not just in the paint but outside of that. That shows in the fact that he's shooting 42.4% from the field including 26.2% from three-point range plus 77.9% from the free-throw line on 5 attempts per game.
Those may not be spectacular numbers but combine with the high volume of free throws he's getting and the offensive rebounding and he's proving to be a force. Given his skill set and size, it'll be interesting to see how Tech decides to match up on him.
Do they go with Justyn Mutts even though he gives up a few inches to Filipowski because he is Tech's best defensive big man? What about Grant Basile who has more size and has proven to be a good shot blocker but also has been inconsistent defensively? Does Lynn Kidd get some time on him given the size that he brings?
Part of the challenge is limiting Filipowski from getting to the free-throw line. In 2 of Duke's 3 ACC road losses, Filipowski had only 3 free-throw attempts while struggling elsewhere going 4-14 at Wake Forest and 8-22 at Clemson. It's definitely possible to slow the stud freshman down but it has to be built in large part around keeping him off the free-throw line and limiting his second chance opportunities.
3. Can Tech Lean on the Cassell Crowd?
Cassell Coliseum has been a house of horrors in recent years for Duke as the Hokies have beat Duke in 4 of their last 5 games in Blacksburg.
Coaches across the country know Cassell Coliseum is one of the toughest places to play with 9,000 fans right on top of you given screaming and yelling. It's been a little tame in recent weeks but with students back in town with the spring semester under way, Cassell should get back to being the Cassell that all Tech fans know and love.
Getting back home for the first time with a healthy Hunter Cattoor should be a big boost for a team that showed signs of life on offense at UVA and on defense at Clemson but couldn't both parts together for a full game in either (though they had a strong first half overall at Clemson). Also playing at home where you have familiar site lines for shooting definitely should help a VT offense that has been inconsistent.
While Duke did bring in some veteran role player transfers this offseason, this is once again a freshman-heavy Duke team that has been inconsistent at times this season. That's been especially true on the road as Duke is 1-3 in road ACC games this season with their only road win coming in a one-point nail-bitter at Boston College.
Tech is a surprising 2-point favorite in Vegas, but Cassell Coliseum is likely a big reason why. If the Hokies can lean on the Cassell crowd with a full student section, it could make the difference tonight.