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Duke men's basketball looking for first ranked win of season at No. 20 Virginia Tech

Jordan Goldwire's defensive effort will be critical against Virginia Tech's guard-heavy lineup.
Jordan Goldwire's defensive effort will be critical against Virginia Tech's guard-heavy lineup.

For just the second time all season, the Blue Devils will play outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium.

No. 19 Duke will travel to Blacksburg, Va., to face off against No. 20 Virginia Tech in Cassell Coliseum Tuesday at 7 p.m., an opportunity for the Blue Devils’ first ranked victory of the year.

Virginia Tech has been one of the surprise teams in the ACC this season, and presents a unique challenge for Duke. Under second-year head coach Mike Young, the Hokies have been firing from beyond the arc at an impressive pace, hitting 35.3% of their threes on 24.7 attempts per contest.

True to the style of a typical Mike Young team, Virginia Tech (9-2, 3-1 in the ACC) features four guards as its top five scorers. While Jalen Cone leads that group of guards with 12.9 points per game—second on the team behind redshirt junior forward Keve Aluma—he hasn't started a single game this year, instead providing instant offense off the bench.

“There’s not one guy you have to stop, although when Cone comes in the game you better try to limit him,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s been fantastic for them.”

Duke’s perimeter defenders, particularly Jordan Goldwire, will have to pressure Cone consistently in order to limit the sophomore guard’s effectiveness. 

On the other end of the floor, the Hokies have been superb—through 11 games, they've held every opponent to 78 points or fewer, including an 81-73 win against No. 3 Villanova Nov. 28 and a 66-60 win against No. 12 Clemson Dec. 15.

“They play as one, they cover up for one another, they really converge on the ball and overall, they play hard and they play together,” Krzyzewski said. “They do that on both ends of the court and it manifests itself even more on the defensive end.”

To counter Virginia Tech’s stingy defense, Duke (5-2, 3-0) will look to Matthew Hurt for a steady diet of scoring from all three levels. Hurt's sophomore campaign has been defined by obvious growth in every aspect of his game, with his development also being a direct result of a team effort to set him up, something that was on full display early in Saturday's win against Wake Forest.

“My teammates were doing a great job of getting me in the right positions,” Hurt said on his blazing start against the Demon Deacons. “I just had the opportunity to score and I took advantage of it.”

However, a few players will need to step up alongside the Rochester, Minn., native if the Blue Devils hope to pull out the win Tuesday. Despite Wendell Moore Jr.’s breakout against Boston College, his 1-for-7 performance Saturday displayed that he still has a long way to go before becoming a consistent scorer. 

If Moore struggles again, Krzyzewski will have to lean on his triumvirate of guards to add a scoring punch. Goldwire, Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward have all been able to create their own shot, as each averages over 43% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc. Duke will need efficiency and an aggressive mindset from that backcourt trio against Virginia Tech.

The Blue Devils enter Tuesday on a three-game win streak, but will need to have their best performance of the season in order to leave Blacksburg victorious. Based on everything they've shown so far this season, the Hokies are one of the most well-rounded teams in the ACC, and will be tough to beat on their home floor.

“They don’t just score it from one position, and they can rebound the ball too on that end,” Krzyzewski said. “We have been playing very good defense and this is even more of a challenge because they have more guys who can score the ball.”

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