In preparation for tonight’s contest between Duke and Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, The Blue Zone takes a detailed position-by-position look at the two teams to identify the key matchups and players for both teams.
Point guard: Junior Erick Green is the star of Virginia Tech’s show, averaging 15.6 points and nearly two assists for every turnover while serving as the Hokies’ primary ball-handler. Sophomore Tyler Thornton has been a steady hand at the point for Duke, but he has not shown much on the offensive end. He will need to on top of his defensive game against Green. Quinn Cook has the talent to be a factor in any game for the Blue Devils, but has seen only sporadic playing time. Virginia Tech will miss backup point guard Marquis Rankin—whose 39.1-percent stroke from long range will be confined to the bench after he suffered a foot injury in practice—but Green nonetheless gives the Hokies the advantage here.
EDGE: Virginia Tech
Shooting guard: Austin Rivers and Seth Curry have combined to score 28.8 points per game, providing a potent scoring combination at the off-guard position. Andre Dawkins strokes at 41-percent clip from beyond the arc off the bench, and could see increased minutes with Ryan Kelly sidelined. Virginia Tech’s Dorenzo Hudson is a tough team leader and capable scorer at 11.0 points per game, and freshman Robert Brown has been a versatile athlete off the bench, but the pair cannot match Duke’s depth at shooting guard.
Small forward: The problem for Duke at small forward is that no one on the roster really fits at this position. Alex Murphy will redshirt and Michael Gbinije has barely played, leaving no players in the 6-foot-6 to 6-foot-8 range with the versatility to play outside-in. This is one place where the Hokies could take advantage of Duke, since 6-foot-7 sophomore Jarell Eddie and 6-foot-8 freshman Dorian Finney-Smith both possess excellent size and length on the perimeter. Eddie shoots almost 45 percent on 3-pointers, 86 percent from the line, and pulls down nearly five boards per game, while Finney-Smith—a top-20 recruit entering the season according to ESPN—leads the Hokies in rebounding at 6.9 per game. Finney-Smith has shot just 33.3 percent from the floor this season, but has the offensive ability to contribute against Duke defenders who will inevitably be either smaller or less mobile.
EDGE: Virginia Tech
Post: Since neither team possesses a true center, I’ve lumped all the post players together. Sophomore Cadarian Raines has scored in double figures in four of his last six games and provides a force on the offensive glass for the Hokies, but he will have to step up in a big way against Duke with fellow power forward Victor Davila out. Davila suffered a knee injury in practice and will miss the remainder of the ACC tournament. Freshman C.J. Barksdale has picked up some of Davila’s minutes, but cannot match the senior’s lost production. Even without Ryan Kelly, the Plumlee brothers should be able to dominate inside against the much smaller Raines.
Overall: If Eddie and Finney-Smith are able to take advantage of the perimeter mismatches against Duke, and Green puts up a star performance, the Hokies have the potential to pull off the upset over Duke. But the Blue Devils’ massive advantages at shooting guard and in the post leave Duke as the favorite in tonight’s matchup.
PREDICTION: Duke, 70-59