Freshman big man Marques Bolden and company could have a big advantage down low if they can effectively ...

Key three: Duke men's basketball vs. Virginia Tech

The Blue Devils open conference play at noon New Year's Eve in Blacksburg, Va., against a stout Virginia Tech team, looking to move on from a nine-day holiday break and Grayson Allen's indefinite suspension. Unbeaten at home, the Hokies boast a deep lineup with their top two scorers coming off the bench. Saturday’s matchup marks the beginning of a two-week stretch during which Duke will play five conference games, ending Jan. 14 in Louisville, Ky., against the No. 6 Cardinals.

Replace Grayson Allen's production

The Blue Devils’ victory against Elon Dec. 21 proved disheartening for two reasons. First, a sloppy start saw Duke head into the locker room trailing against a noticeably weaker Elon team. But more importantly, a third Grayson Allen tripping incident garnered national media attention and forced head coach Mike Krzyzewski to suspend the junior indefinitely. 

Saturday’s tilt with Virginia Tech marks the first game in that suspension and only the second time all season Allen will not be in the Blue Devil lineup. As such, it will be necessary to not only replace the co-captain’s 16.0 points per game, but ensure that his absence does not loom for a team playing its first true road game.

In Allen’s first missed game, a 94-55 victory Dec. 3 against Maine, sophomore Luke Kennard posted a career-high 35 points. Duke will likely need more performances like that from its leading scorer, as well as steady contributions from freshmen Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum, to navigate Allen's suspension unscathed. 

Dominate the Paint

The Hokies possess a guard-heavy starting lineup with only one true forward and no center. Their leading scorer, however, is 6-foot-7 forward Zach LeDay, who enters Saturday’s matchup at 16.5 points per game. Given graduate student Amile Jefferson's double-double average and Tatum's versatility offensively, Virginia Tech's offensive-minded strategy could give Duke the chance to consistently attack inside if it can generate steady ball movement. 

Factor in the potential for freshmen big men Harry Giles and Marques Bolden to earn significant minutes for the first time all season, and the Blue Devils could finally have the scary lineup flexibility many anticipated entering the season. That can only happen if Duke's most talented frontcourt players and sophomore Chase Jeter can produce inside. 

Win the Turnover Battle

Both the Blue Devils and Hokies have a positive turnover margin and average essentially the same number of turnovers per game, meaning that it would go a long way for Duke to notably win the turnover battle. Generating points off of those turnovers will further the chances of the Blue Devils notching their first ACC win of the season. 

Although he has struggled for most of the season offensively, senior Matt Jones has been a defensive force, logging 27 steals and setting a tone with pressure on the perimeter. Duke will need more of that defensive energy to slow down an offense with five double-digit scorers and backcourt depth the Blue Devils cannot match without Allen. 

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