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Next Up - Virginia Tech

Time: 7:00 | Venue: Cameron | TV: ESPNU

Feb 22, 2014; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jabari Parker (1) pulls down a rebound and looks to pass against the Syracuse Orange at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Feb 22, 2014; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Jabari Parker (1) pulls down a rebound and looks to pass against the Syracuse Orange at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

Next up is Virginia Tech, and while the intensity is likely to be a bit less than it was when Seth Greenberg snarled along the coaching box, it's still a dangerous game.

Coach K is a master at keeping his team at a high emotional pitch - if you look at that aspect of coaching, who in any sport has ever been better? Vince Lombardi? The list is really, really short. We'd probably put Frank McGuire on it, but that's more like a guy staying pumped for a street brawl any minute.

Even so, it's not an easy thing to do. And coming right after UNC and Syracuse, human nature suggests a bit of a letdown. And that's the danger.

Let's stop a minute and contemplate what Syracuse has done to/for Duke and the ACC. It's certainly energized things. With two instant classics, Duke and the 'Cuse are off to a great start. UNC is spoiling for another chance, and Virginia gets a wedge of the Orange on Saturday.

It's a unique situation and that, due to weather, Syracuse followed UNC by two days is kind of bizarre.

So it may not be easy to get pumped up (this could be a job for Super Cameron!)

And whether Greenberg is coaching or not, he managed to instill a sense of duty at Virginia Tech when it comes to Duke. Duke will get Tech's best shot.

The question is how good that shot can be.

As Al Featherston points out in his column today, Virginia Tech has played sharply better lately after slowing things down. At the same time, though, the Hokies also have some serious injury issues.

Only Joey Van Zegeren, Jarell Eddie and Devin Wilson have played in every game. Trevor Thompson, Will Johnston and Christian Beyer have played in 25, 25, and 21 games.

After that, though, things get dicey.

Center Cadarian Raines has been in 21; Ben Emelogu in 20. CJ Barksdale has made 18 and Adam Smith just 14.

Smith and Emelogu won't play Tuesday. Raines may not. That's tough to overcome, not least of all when other guys are banged up.

As Tech coach James Johnson rightly notes, the Hokies have run out gas late in games.

Yet as Featherston points out,  lately this team has given Pitt, Virginia and State fits and did beat Miami.

So what happens Tuesday? Hard to say. There's always a chance that a powerhouse team plays poorly and an underdog plays brilliantly (see BC/Syracuse last week). But given Duke's depth and Virginia Tech's lack of same, an upset is a pretty tall order.

Speaking of depth, one of the most interesting developments lately for Duke is the emergence of Marshall Plumlee.

As you know, Duke has played all season without a real post player. Amile Jefferson has played very well in the lane, but he's giving up a lot in weight and height.

Not so for young Plumlee. Marshall went hammer and tong with Syracuse's Rakeem Christmas and was more than able to push back.

After the Syracuse game, Coach K took note, telling the N&O that "[w]e feel that he’s running and being the athlete he was before, about 17 months ago, right before he was injured at the start of last season. He is a good player, and he’s going to be a really good player.

"The recovery from not playing and injuries, some kids never recover and get to the level that they should be at. Marshall has worked real hard, and he’s getting there. He’ll have more and more of a prominent role on our team now that he’s reached that level."

Athleticism in the Plumlee family gets a little less with each kid. Miles's is outrageous, Mason's is way, way above average, while Marshall comes in with somewhat less.

But we've always had a hunch that Marshall also had something the others didn't. It might come from being the smallest and youngest and getting his butt whipped for years. You play with those two behemoths and let them dunk on you. A few things are almost bound to happen.

  1. You've had two seven foot athletic freaks beating the crap out of you for half of your life. Who can intimidate you after that?
  2. You're going to develop a certain edge, a desire to prove yourself. Maybe you can't do everything they can do, but there are some things you can do better. You can be more alert. You can learn to anticipate what they're going to do, and cut it off at the pass. And all of that leads to more intensity.
  3. You can focus on playing center, which the other two didn't do for a long time.
  4. You can work harder, especially in the locker room. Marshall is at least as strong as the other two, possibly stronger already, and arguably stronger at this age than Mason or Miles were.

Given the likelihood of tired legs, a game like Virginia Tech could be tailor made for Plumlee.

We're not going to say he's going to go all Zoubekian, but he's getting better really fast. We could see him providing a critical element for Duke in the closing stretch.