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Next Up: Virginia Tech - Will Bagley Play?

Time: 7:00 || Venue: Cameron Indoor Stadium || Video: ESPN2

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Duke v St John's
 Javin DeLaurier #12 of the Duke Blue Devils, here defending St. John’s Shamorie Ponds, could be a major advantage for Duke against Virginia Tech.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Next up for Duke is Virginia Tech and the Blue Devils may be without Marvin Bagley for a second straight game.

Duke is better with Bagley than without him - that’s not rocket science - but the Blue Devils may match up better in this game with one big man than two. It won’t surprise us if Duke goes with Wendell Carter, Grayson Allen, Gary Trent and some combination of Alex O’ Connell, Trevon Duval and Javin DeLaurier.

Since he’s been at Virginia Tech, and really at Marquette too, Buzz Williams has had smallish teams and this year is no exception. The only guy over 6-6 is 6-10 Kerry Blackshear and the bulk of the team is wings: 6-6 Chris Clarke, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Bibbs, Ahmed Hill and PJ Horne, all 6-5, and Devin Wilson 6-4. Justin Robinson (theirs not ours) is the outlier in the rotation at 6-2.

When we think of Virginia Tech basketball this year, two things come to mind: as a unit, the Hokies have as much unity as any team in the ACC. They don’t really care who does what as long as the team does well. And second, this team can light it up from the perimeter, which makes heavy minutes for Carter and Marques Bolden at the same time a challenge.

Carter could probably guard someone reasonably effectively away from the basket but you want him near the basket and not chasing some 6-5 guy around. Bolden is a post player and can’t chase guys around outside.

And unless they really struggle with three point shooting, they’re going to have to chase people around. And the flip side of spreading the floor is penetration and you definitely want Carter or Bolden near the basket when that happens.

But three point shooting is the offensive key for the Hokies. Just look at the stats: Ahmed Hill shots 42.8%, freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker hits 40.4%, Robinson is third at 40%, Bibbs is just behind at 39.8%. Blackshear doesn’t take too many but he still hits 38.9% of his while Clarke is 35.7%.

This is a very dangerous perimeter team and most of those guys, once the court is open, can drive too - or hit Blackshear inside.

Needless to say, the Hokies also prefer a fast pace so there is a lot of pressure put on any defense they face.

The Hokies lost to Florida State on January 20th; since then they’ve gone 5-1 including a win over Virginia at Virginia.

When we look around the conference, we admire UNC’s experience and grit, Virginia is incredibly tough on both ends of the court, Boston College’s backcourt is endlessly entertaining and Clemson is having a phenomenal year and has overcome the loss of perhaps their most important player to rise to #11 nationally. Virginia Tech is right there with those teams in terms of heart and character.

We also get a major kick out of Williams. Williams, who has self-diagnosed OCD, is a highly entertaining guy and from all appearances a genuinely nice man.

OCD may have helped him to really dive into analytics more perhaps than any coach we’re aware of. He’ll quote some deep stats to explain his coaching decision and it’s entirely possible that his alleged OCD helps immensely to master that sort of arcane knowledge. This is a guy who will suddenly feel compelled to memorize a list of, say, presidential hometowns. He must love the stat side of basketball.

But the emotional side is just as important. Basketball feeds on emotion, as we saw at Georgia Tech when the Yellow Jackets got fired up late and chopped Duke’s big lead in half. There’s nothing quite like the emotion of a big rally, especially on your home court.

He manages that part pretty well too. As we said, we admire Virginia Tech’s sense of unity. Williams has done a great job of building that into his team’s DNA. They’re pretty damn unselfish.

Anyway, this is going to be an interesting contrast of styles. If Bagley plays, Duke will obviously go big and force the Hokies to guard at least one big man with a much smaller defender. If he doesn’t, the Blue Devils can match up reasonably well with Virginia Tech and perhaps have an advantage with Javin DeLaurier who, at 6-9, is as athletic as anyone in the gym.

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