Spread: Duke -1.5
6:00pm Central – Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, VA
#19 Duke Blue Devils (5-2, 3-0)
Tonight’s game will be Duke’s first major test since falling to Illinois at home back on December 8 by a final score of 83-68. Since that loss to the Illini, the Blue Devils have won three games, but all have been against bottom feeders in the ACC (Notre Dame, Boston College, and Wake Forest). Only the Notre Dame game was on the road, and tonight’s game will be Duke’s second game away from Cameron Indoor thus far. Coach K will be coaching in his second game since returning from quarantine after being exposed to COVID recently. The team did not perform well in the lone game they played without him against Boston College, as they won at home by just one point.
The Blue Devils rely heavily on their offense, as they’re ranked 14th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Duke is a decent shooting team (74th in the nation in effective FG%), but they rebound the ball extremely well, particularly on the offensive end; 35.3% of misses result in an offensive rebound, good for 22nd in the country in that stat. Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt leads the team in scoring at 19.6 PPG, and he’s shooting 53.5% from the field, including 43.2% from downtown. Importantly, the Blue Devils get freshman forward Jalen Johnson (11.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.0 BLK) back in the lineup tonight. Johnson has missed the past three games with a foot injury, but he’s been an extremely valuable asset for the Blue Devils in his four games played.
#20 Virginia Tech Hokies (9-2, 3-1)
Virginia Tech recovered nicely from their first conference at Louisville with a convincing home win over Notre Dame this past weekend. The Hokies hung with Louisville all game and mounted a comeback late in the game, only to fall short on a last second heave at the buzzer that would have won the game had it gone. That close loss to one of the ACC’s top teams, combined with an earlier win at home over Clemson, goes a long way in my book in terms of proving that Virginia Tech is a legit challenger for a top-3 finish in the conference this year.
The Hokies are also an offense-first team. They’re better than the Blue Devils in terms of effective FG%, as they’re ranked 68th in that stat. They also hammer the offensive glass, although not at the rate the Blue Devils do; VT secures an offensive board on 31.8% of misses. The Hokies also get to the line well, something Duke struggles with mightily. But the one thing that really separates VT from Duke is how frequently they pull from downtown. The Hokies are a top-50 team in terms of three-point FGA as a proportion of total FGA; 43.5% of VT field goal attempts are threes. That’s a Mike Young coached team for you. Lucky for them, Duke struggles with allowing opposing offenses to shoot well from deep. Opponents are shooting 37.1% (289th in the nation in 3PT%) from three against the Blue Devils, frequently getting open looks from outside by rotating the defense. The primary deep threats for the Hokies are sophomore guard and sixth man Jalen Cone (39.7% on 68 attempts), sophomore wing Nahiem Alleyne (37.5% on 48 attempts), and sophomore guard Hunter Cattoor (47.1% on 34 attempts). Leading scorer and junior forward Keve Aluma (15.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG) also gets in on the action from three, as he’s taken 28 attempts from downtown this season.
Offense is the focus of this write-up, as the Hokies are going to have to shoot the ball well to knock off the Blue Devils. Given how poorly Duke has defended the perimeter this year, they’re in trouble tonight with VT’s marksmanship from downtown unless something changes. Duke is an abysmal 1-6 against the spread, but their one cover came on the road earlier this year at Notre Dame. Clearly, this team is missing the impact of the Cameron Crazies at home. The fact that they’re getting Jalen Johnson back into the lineup is huge for their chances, but the line has swung 3.5 points in their favor since it opened as Virginia Tech two-point favorites. I think the Hokies take this one outright on their home floor behind their continued hot shooting from deep. Take Virginia Tech +1.5 (-110).
Mac is 10-11 on the season. All picks are one unit. A $100 bettor has a loss of $191.