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A Look At The Rematch With Virginia Tech In The 2019 Sweet Sixteen

This is likely to be a very different game.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Duke vs UCF
 Mar 24, 2019; Columbia, SC, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Zion Williamson (1) blocks the shot of UCF Knights center Tacko Fall (24) during the second half in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament at Colonial Life Arena. 
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of interest in the Duke-Virginia Tech rematch and understandably so. Duke lost in Blacksburg and wasn’t impressive. The Blue Devils lacked Zion Williamson of course but the Hokies also lacked point guard Justin Robinson.

So a lot of people, particularly after the UCF escape, are assuming Duke will not play well vs. Virginia Tech again. And the DC area is a relatively short trip from Blacksburg too. So things are coming up roses for the Hokies right? Optimism all around?

Well it could be. But let’s consider a few things you might want to factor in.

The person who wrote (we don’t have the link) that it was a short trip for Va. Tech fans didn’t check the map. It’s actually a slightly shorter trip for Duke fans, certainly no longer other than the standard Northern Virginia traffic hell (that goes both ways unfortunately).

Secondly, while Duke certainly lacked Williamson in Blacksburg, still recovering from his shoe malfunction, people have forgotten something key about that game: RJ Barrett played sick. And apparently more than just a little sick too.

Most teams wear down in February, but Barrett was sick against NC State too, as was Marques Bolden.

Remember that Duke played at Virginia on the 9th and had that insane comeback at Louisville on the 12th.

Duke played the Pack on the 16th, UNC on the 20th, losing Williamson, lost, went to Syracuse on the 23rd, without him and won, before going to Virginia Tech on the 26th.

You’ll remember after that, Duke beat Miami easily before narrowly beating Wake Forest and losing to UNC by nine, all without Williamson.

A number of people referred to that as the toughest stretch of the ACC season for any team.

Duke finished the game at Blacksburg tired and in foul trouble (Barrett, Cam Reddish and Marques Bolden all finished with four while Javin DeLaurier and Jack White had three each).

You do what you can with what you have at the time.

Virginia Tech didn’t have Justin Robinson either. Both teams have adapted and both have their missing players back and several days to rest too.

If you’re making your predictions based on the game in Blacksburg or worse, based on the unusual circumstances UCF posed, you’re making a big mistake.

And by the way, while people properly realized that 7-6 Tacko Fall presented a very difficult obstacle inside, and also that Aubrey Dawkins had the game of his life, relatively few mentioned (and we include ourselves in this in an oversight) that Johnny Dawkins has spent about a decade and a half, as a player, coach and radio intern, on the inside with Duke. He knows Coach K as well as anyone could, not just what he’s going to do in a timeout but what he’s likely to say, and therefore is uniquely positioned to counter it. He has as good a feel for Duke as anyone possibly could. Who better to push the Blue Devils to the edge?

But back to this coming weekend. We’ve been efffusive in our praise for the Hokies. Buzz Williams is a genuinely gifted coach, and seems like an interesting and good man. His program reflects that. His kids are decent and honorable and losing to them is not nearly as unpleasant as losing to Seth Greenberg’s teams were. Those guys seemed hostile and nasty. Losing always sucks, but losing to Williams is vastly better than losing to Uncle Fester’s bunch.

As we say, this will be a different game. People have already asked how does Duke expect to defend Kerry Blackshear. To that we reply: how will the Hokies defend Williamson? They’ll want to keep Blackshear away because he has always been foul prone and Williamson is pretty good at drawing them.

Unless Williams opts for a very different strategy, this will be a fast-paced game and Duke will have to be defended. And that includes a presumably healthy Barrett.

Finally, Robinson. Below are his stats from his first two games back last weekend, first against St. Louis then vs. Liberty.

He’s a great guard but he’s missed time. How will he do vs. Tre Jones?

As we said, don't confuse this game with the last one. Nothing is likely to be the same.

28 2-7 1-3 4-5 1 2 3 2 2 0 4 1 9
29 5-9 1-2 2-4 0 2 2 4 2 0 2 2 13

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