Three points: Roach's leadership, strong backcourt key for Duke men's basketball on the road against Virginia Tech

Senior guard Jeremy Roach drives to the basket in Duke's game against Clemson.
Senior guard Jeremy Roach drives to the basket in Duke's game against Clemson.

With just a day since their razor-thin victory against Clemson, the Blue Devils are off to Blacksburg, Va., to battle another fierce ACC opponent in the Hokies. The Blue Zone is ready with three keys to another Duke win:

Roach’s recovery

Senior guard Jeremy Roach was back on the court Saturday — but not in the starting five, and not at his best. The Leesburg, Va., native injured his ankle at Louisville last week and it showed at home against the Tigers: Roach played 25 minutes of the game but only put up five points and one assist. Luckily for the wounded soldier, sophomore Tyrese Proctor and freshman Jared McCain carried the backcourt with excellence, combining for 39 points — more than half of Duke’s total 71.

When it comes to Virginia Tech, however, Roach’s experience might be just what the Blue Devils need to secure a victory. The Hokies returned three of their starters this year while also boasting three graduate student players on their roster. In his fourth year with Duke, Roach has demonstrated consistently the advantages of being a veteran, especially when his team is in dire straits.

Bad blood in Blacksburg

It almost goes without saying — the Blue Devils do not have good memories at Cassell Coliseum. It’s where sophomore center Filipowski got punched in the throat, threw up in the team huddle and didn’t get two foul shots. In that Jan. 23 game last year, Duke lost 75-78.

This could just be the key to victory, though. The best wins in sports are often those that come in the form of redemption, like when Duke shut down North Carolina last season to avenge the tarnish the Tar Heels had put on former head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last year. Anger fuels athleticism.

If Filipowski can harness the anger he undoubtedly harbors for Blacksburg, Va., he’ll be unstoppable on the court. Sophomore guard MJ Collins — the player who accidentally hit Filipowski in the throat — is still in Virginia Tech’s starting five.

Battle of the backcourts

The sentiment among the Blue Devils is that they have one of the best backcourts in the country — if not the best. This isn’t cocky talking: Duke has incredible guards at its disposal, with Roach’s experience complementing Proctor’s tenacity and McCain’s energy. If there’s one area the Blue Devils almost always shine, it’s in taking care of the ball.

But the Hokies aren’t too shabby in their own respect. In fact, Virginia Tech boasts the same strength as Duke, with talent concentrated in a skilled and experienced backcourt. Collins is decent, graduate guard Hunter Cattoor is better and junior guard Sean Pedulla excels. The Edmond, Okla., native averages 15.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, but 17.8 points against ACC opponents. When the Hokies hosted then-No. 21 Clemson Jan. 10, Pedulla scored 32 points.

Saturday’s outing against the Tigers proved that Blue Devil defense is operating at its highest potential, at least among the guards. Duke will need to keep that up if it wants a road win Monday evening.


Sophie Levenson | Sports features editor

Sophie Levenson is a Trinity sophomore and sports features editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.

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