Following its win at Syracuse, Duke will conclude arguably the toughest six-game stretch in the country Tuesday night with a trip to Virginia Tech. The Blue Zone examines three keys for the Blue Devils to secure the victory:
Pick up the pace
Virginia Tech is one of the slowest teams in the nation. Out of 353 Division I programs, the Hokies rank 347th in possessions per game. And for a team like Duke which thrives on getting in transition and really struggles with its half-court offense, that’s not good news.
What’s even worse for the Blue Devils is that they will be without Zion Williamson again Tuesday. While the big man has been an essential part of Duke’s season in virtually every possible facet, his reliability in half-court sets is what will be missed most against Virginia Tech.
Without Williamson’s post play against North Carolina, the team’s offense mostly consisted of R.J. Barrett isolations and contested 3-point shots. That simply cannot happen again. Tre Jones, Barrett and company must make it an emphasis to get out in transition and dictate the pace of the contest. If not, the Blue Devils could be returning from Blacksburg with their second loss in three games.
Attack the rim
Over its past two matchups, Duke has hoisted up an uncharacteristic number of 3-point shots, attempting 39 against the Tar Heels and 29 against Syracuse. Of course, there are reasons for those numbers, which include Williamson’s injury and the Orange’s 2-3 zone. And 29 attempts at the Carrier Dome was actually a relatively tame total compared to the 43 the Blue Devils put up when Syracuse visited Cameron a month ago.
Nevertheless, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has to make sure his players don’t become accustomed to settling for outside looks just because of their circumstances over the past week. Because as long as they do what they do best—attack the basket—there is no team in the country that can stop them.
Contain the big man
Kerry Blackshear Jr. has been one of the most overlooked players in the ACC this season. The junior forward led Virginia Tech in points, rebounds and assists in its most recent win over Notre Dame, and has led the Hokies in scoring in six of their past seven contests. Don’t expect him to slow down at all just because Duke is coming to town.
Blackshear Jr. is a nightmare matchup for a Blue Devils squad that has struggled to defend shooting big men all season long—the Orlando, Fla. native has hit 18 of his 45 three-point attempts on the year, a 40 percent clip. So, if Duke does go down yet again Tuesday night, expect the big man in the middle to be one of the main reasons why.
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