For the second straight year, Duke will have to deal with an ACC foe in the Sweet 16, when it takes on Virginia Tech Friday night. But their shared conference is where the similarities between the teams end.
Although the Blue Devils and Hokies each have top-15 offenses according to KenPom.com, each plays it very differently on that end of the floor. Duke is one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the country—and the Blue Devils know it, with just 37.4 percent of their shots coming from downtown, good for 207th in the country. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, shoots beyond the arc nearly 44 percent of the time, which ranks as the most among ACC teams.
Plus, the Hokies are efficient from deep—their 39.5 3-point percentage is ninth in the nation and the second-best among all 16 remaining teams in the NCAA tournament, trailing only Virginia.
Duke actually kept Virginia Tech relatively in check during the teams' first matchup this season, as the Hokies finished the game 8-of-26 on triple tries. That, however, came without senior guard Justin Robinson, a 41.1 percent shooter from beyond the arc on 95 attempts this season.
And the Blue Devils surrendered a pair of critical 3-pointers in that game just more than a month ago.
After trailing, Duke got a crucial kick-out triple of its own to tie the game at 59 apiece. Hokie head coach Buzz Williams then called timeout to get his team reset. Coach K tried to counter, throwing out a 2-3 zone.
But Virginia Tech capitalized on a rookie mistake by R.J. Barrett. The freshman vacated his spot on the bottom of the zone, jumping out to a 38.7 percent 3-point shooter in Ahmed Hill when the ball got rotated out from the middle by Kerry Blackshear Jr. to Hill on the wing.
All it took was an easy pass from Hill to Wabissa Bede in the corner, who was wide open and gave his team the lead.
We saw the Blue Devils try the zone again in their second-round matchup with Central Florida. It worked for a bit, slowing the Knights' offense and confusing them just a bit. Then, B.J. Taylor hit the shot to put UCF in front for the first time in nearly 15 minutes.
It's hard to imagine Duke utilizing a zone against the Hokies this time around, unless it's for a single possession. Virginia Tech has five regular rotation players that are shooting at least 38 percent from 3-point land, and that doesn't even include Blackshear, who is a competent and willing shooter beyond the arc.
But the Blue Devils will have to be better in man than they were in the last 90 seconds against the Hokies in Blacksburg.
Sure, Marques Bolden got held as he tried to help on a driving Bede. Nonetheless, the defense by Alex O'Connell on the help just left Outlaw completely uncovered in the corner, as the Virginia Tech sharpshooter nailed the game-winning bucket.
Cam Reddish didn't do Duke any favors on this play—he fell asleep at the wheel, letting Bede get a head of steam as he barreled down the lane. But it goes to show that if even one defender makes a bad play, it has the potential to spiral against a team that is as good as any at shooting from the perimeter.
Having Williamson back should make a difference on the defensive end. Whether the Blue Devils choose to go small—putting Williamson on Blackshear and giving more time to Jordan Goldwire to help on the outside—or stick with their traditional big man in either Bolden or Javin DeLaurier, team defense is going to be crucial.
Fortunately, Duke's 3-point defense is 13th in the nation. And two of the Hokies' eight losses came against the Cavaliers, who boast the nation's second-best defense from downtown. Virginia Tech shot a combined 10-of-49 in those 80 minutes.
If the Blue Devils can keep the Hokies in check from deep, Duke should have the upper hand in the matchup of conference foes.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."