Duke opens up ACC play Wednesday night with a showdown against Virginia Tech in Durham, and the Blue Zone is here with three keys to victory for the Blue Devils:
Big offense, fast defense
The Hokies are excellent at both making and stopping the 3-point shot. The team is shooting 40% from beyond the arc while holding opponents to only 25.5% on the same shots, both measures good for top-10 in the nation. Fortunately for Duke, Mark Williams is a bonafide inside presence as a true seven-footer and Paolo Banchero might just be the best player in the country with 250 pounds of pure muscle on a 6-foot-10 frame. Add in Theo John coming off the bench, and the Blue Devils have a recipe for dominance on the interior Wednesday night.
Duke will need to focus defensively on forcing the ball away from the perimeter. Starting guard Hunter Cattoor is hitting 2.3 3-pointers per game on efficient 44.4% shooting this season and is coming off of a 5-of-5 performance from the 3-point line against St. Bonaventure, so making sure he doesn't get hot will be key to a Blue Devil victory.
Leave Aluma alone
Virginia Tech’s most important and highest-scoring player is senior forward Keve Aluma. The 6-foot-9 big man from Berlin, Md., is putting up 14.2 points to go along with 6.1 rebounds per game this year and will surely look to get his Hokie squad back to .500 in conference play. Aluma is a force inside and on the boards and even landed on the Preseason All-ACC First Team, but it's important for Duke not to spend too much defensive energy on him. In Virginia Tech's four losses, Aluma has actually outscored his season average with 15.7 points per defeat. In those contests, he has shot 26-of-59, putting him about 6% below his 50.4% field goal rate on the year. Aluma is going to be effective and put up points, but letting him take inefficient shots and taking away passing lanes might just allow the Blue Devils to slow down the offense as a whole.
Let Keels cook
After struggling against Gonzaga and Ohio State at the end of November, Keels has kicked his game into high gear following the team's final-exam break. The freshman guard shot a combined 5-of-23 in those two games but has completed at least half of his field goal attempts in each of the last three games. Keels started the season strong with a 25-point performance against then-No.10 Kentucky. If he can keep up his good form in ACC play and bust out a 20-plus point performance every few games on good efficiency, Duke should continue to vie for the No. 1 ranking.
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