On Saturday evening, Duke will play host to its second-to-last home game of the season in a rematch against Virginia Tech. As the Blue Devils look for revenge against the Hokies, the Blue Zone is here with a player on both teams that can make the difference:
Duke: Mark Mitchell
In his postgame press conference after Duke's win against Louisville Monday night, head coach Jon Scheyer gave a brief but glowing assessment of Mitchell's game: "He does it all."
The freshman forward from Kansas City, Kan., has shown glimpses of his potential on both ends of the floor throughout 2022-23, but has really come into his own these last couple weeks. Locked in a nervous affair with Notre Dame last Tuesday, Mitchell found himself wide open on the wing and buried a tough corner three to seal the game. Against Louisville Monday evening, he helped spark Duke's supercharge from an 18-9 deficit to a controlling halftime lead, including two spectacular dunks off assists from junior captain Jeremy Roach that sent the energy inside Cameron Indoor Stadium into the stratosphere.
Looking back on the Blue Devils' tough road loss to the Hokies in late January, Mitchell was a big part of why Duke kept it close until the dying moments. After allowing 12 points to Virginia Tech sharpshooter Hunter Cattoor in the first half, Mitchell snuffed out his flame in the second, holding him to a solitary 3-pointer in the second frame. Mitchell's growing knack for crucial buckets down the stretch and his threat as a two-way player make him a prime candidate to change this game in Duke's favor. Keep an eye on "Easy" Saturday night.
Virginia Tech: Grant Basile
Many Duke fans will hear the name "Grant Basile" and shudder given the forward's performance against the Blue Devils in Blacksburg, Va., in January. Basile exploded for 24 points and eight rebounds in a commanding 37 minutes of play, including the layup and subsequent assist that brought the Hokies ahead for good. Since that fateful day, Basile has yet to dip below 13 points in a game and has exceeded 30 in two — back-to-back 33-point hammerings of Boston College and Notre Dame. The senior leads his team in both scoring and blocks and is second in rebounding, showing his skill across the floor.
If Virginia Tech wants to spoil Duke's season-long unbeaten party at Cameron Indoor Stadium, it will need Basile fit and firing. He has proven his ability to punish the Blue Devils and break through one of the country's best defensive units, and if he shows up again Saturday, Scheyer and company will have a tall hill to climb to keep their perfect home record alive.
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Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.