Last year's Duke-Tech matchup found Coleman Collins taunting Duke at the end,
celebrating a bit prematurely. Then Sean Dockery took a 40 footer that
ensured he'll be discussed at Duke for decades to come. The two teams left
Cameron and went radically different directions. Duke never looked back and won
the ACC; for Tech, it was the start of struggles on and off the court that
lasted all season.
Fast forward to this season: both teams are struggling offensively, and
while Tech is vastly more experienced, Greenberg has had a hard time performing
at a high level and even the coach says that while his team can compete against
high-level teams, his squad has a small margin of error.
But the same could be said about Duke, at least offensively. Duke has
played lockdown defense, keeping all but two opponents under 56 (Marquette
scored 73 and Kent State hit 72, respectively), but only recently has the
offense shown signs of clicking efficiently.
In New York, with Greg Paulus playing his best game at Duke, the team played
brilliantly. Against San Jose State, the offense eventually clicked, and
against Temple, after a terribly slow start, the team showed some beautiful
passing and scored with some panache. But overall, the offense has lagged
behind the defense.
But a characteristic of Duke under Coach K has been the ability to adapt to
almost any situation. Last year's team was thin on athleticism and not
terribly deep, and so relied more on two players, Shelden Williams and J.J.
Redick, than any team in recent memory.
So while neither team can be sure of coming into this game firing on all
cylinders, you can be sure of this: they don't much like each other, and
it's going to be an extremely intense game.
Virginia Tech frankly hasn't contributed much to ACC basketball thus far, but
give them credit for one thing: they've gone a long way towards rejuicing the
traditional antipathy of the ACC, which quite honestly has been lacking in
recent years, with the exception of everyone hating Duke and UNC. Virginia
Tech has a grudge against a number of schools, and it's a good thing. The
days when Frank McGuire teams had huge brawls or arguments with the conference
are long gone, and no one refuses to shake hands anymore like Norm Sloan used to
do to Dean.
It's a big too genteel, in other words. We wouldn't expect a brawl - we
certainly hope not - but given Tech's first trip to Durham, when Greenberg was
ejected, the upset in Blacksburg later that year, and last year's stunner in
Cameron, and the intensity of both fan bases, the potential is there for
Tech brings one of the more experienced teams in the conference: their
starting backcourt of Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon are both seniors, as is
Coleman Collins and two others. Deron Washington is a junior. A.D.
Vasallo is a sophomore.
Gordon, Dowdell and Collins started the Richmond game on the bench for some
reason (which hasn't been disclosed), but they're expected to start.
Gordon and Dowdell have periodically given teams fits over the last couple of
seasons, and they're capable of causing Duke a lot of trouble. Their
ability to penetrate Duke's defense the last couple of seasons has been a real
issue. And while Collins for some reason is only averaging 20.4 minutes so
far this season, he has at times been as good as any big man in the ACC.
He had a foot issue for the early part of his career, but once that cleared up,
he really started to show some talent. It's a mystery to us why he's
fallen off this year, although certainly he could still be dealing with
emotional fallout from the death of his father last spring. He's an
extremely bright kid and a first-rate student and his foolish taunting aside,
he's one of our favorite ACC players of late.
Vassallo and Washington, at 6-5 and 6-7 respectively, almost give Tech what
Duke has played with lately, namely a four guard lineup. Washington
isn't quite a guard, but he is athletic and mobile.
Duke could almost be said to have a five guard lineup with Josh McRoberts
(Coach K called him a point guard on stilts), DeMarcus Nelson, Gerald
Henderson/Dave McClure, Jon Scheyer, and Greg Paulus.
The four guard lineup is partly by necessity, since Lance Thomas has been out
for a couple of games with an ankle injury. He dressed against Temple, but
didn't see action.
Tech's successes over the last couple of seasons have largely been predicated
on athletic guard play which Duke had trouble countering. That won't be as
easy this season, with a fully healthy Nelson, Henderson, McClure, Scheyer and
Paulus all capable of playing very solid defense. And the same players,
plus Thomas (hopefully) can probably be expected to do a solid job against
Vassallo and Washington. Defensive schemes aside for the moment, the
matchup of the game will probably be in the post.
Collins and McRoberts will probably go at it pretty heavily, and the contrast
will be fun to watch. Collins is a guy who is capable of posting a
traditional 20/20, by which we mean in the paint. McRoberts can play all
over the floor, although his outside game would be harder to control if he shot
more. Collins can't really play too far off of him though, because if he
does, McRoberts gets some great passing angles.
But don't forget Brian Zoubek.
In a number of games this year, Zoubek has faced poor matchups against guys a
half foot or so shorter. Against Temple, though, and a more traditional
center, he did very well, with eight points and six boards in 13 minutes.
Tech uses freshman Lewis Witcher for 18.5 mpg, and Cheick Diakite for 13.4
Zoubek will be needed (and he'll need to stay out of foul trouble), and
Thomas would be nice. Duke can probably counter Tech's guards fairly well, and
we'd take McRoberts over Collins (so would most people), if you run three big
guys at him, he's going to feel it by the end.
It's certainly going to be a defensive struggle, and an intense one
especially on the perimeter, but our guess is that the game may come down to the
big men and how they respond.