Following a scare in the second round against Central Florida, Duke men’s basketball will face a familiar foe in Virginia Tech, a team that beat them in late February, albeit without Zion Williamson. The Blue Zone gives you three keys on how the Blue Devils can avenge their loss and reach the halfway point to a championship:
Attack the paint early
Although Duke is the worst power conference team in terms of 3-point shooting, an average viewer sure wouldn’t expect it, given the amount of deep balls that it shoots at the start of games. The Blue Devils are being given open looks by every opponent they face, and while they do have the capability to sometimes connect on a decent percentage, relying on outside shooting may mean their demise if they can’t simply rely on their staggering percentages from inside the arc.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski knows that other teams will pack the paint against his team, but his young squad is content to take the open three, rather than work for a shot inside. In Duke’s three-game run to an ACC tournament championship, they shot less or the same amount of threes in the second period than they did the first, remembering their efficiency in the paint.
Yes, it will be harder to attack a congested lane, but points will come without a doubt, and falling behind early from too many 3-point attempts may end the ACC champions’ season in disappointment.
Big men, big defense
Last go-around against UCF, Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier looked like middle schoolers compared to 7-foot-6 giant Tacko Fall. Now with star guard Justin Robinson back from injury, the two Blue Devil bigs may now be the giants if forced to switch on the perimeter.
With Robinson back in the fold, he and sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker comprise one of the best back courts in the country. If Duke wants to limit their dominant pick and roll game with forward Kerry Blackshear Jr., who dropped 23 points in the first meeting, then Bolden and DeLaurier will have to have quick feet and switch onto the two Hokie guards.
The latter is most likely to succeed as a perimeter defender, but Bolden is the much superior offensive player, as shown by the 14 points he scored in Blacksburg, Va. The DeSoto, Texas native tallied 25 minutes in that game, compared to DeLaurier’s 26, but if Bolden can’t stay with Robinson and Alexander-Walker the big fella may be on the bench.
Get the key stop
So many times in an NCAA tournament game, a bucket at the right time can send a potential underdog into a rally that a favorite like Duke just can’t overcome. In the Round of 32, the Knights hit many of those shots, but the two that mattered, a botched alley oop and a tip-in that just rolled off the rim at the buzzer, eventually cost them.
With the Hokies ranking in the top ten nationally in 3-point percentage, it will be crucial for the Blue Devils to step up and contest those shots to keep momentum on their side. The Virginia Tech faithful will be very present with the regional played just outside Hokie country, as well as Michigan State and LSU fans desperate to not face Duke in the next round.
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Despite the close call last weekend, March Madness isn’t a glamor show, it’s about who can survive and advance. If these young Blue Devils can seize the final moments of Friday’s game, then they’ll be recognized among the nation’s elite.