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Duke-Virginia Tech Sweet Sixteen Rematch: Not Many Secrets At This Point

But lots of differences from the first game.

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Duke v Virginia Tech
BLACKSBURG, VA - FEBRUARY 26: RJ Barrett #5 of the Duke Blue Devils looks to pass while being defended by Ahmed Hill #13 of the Virginia Tech Hokies during the game at Cassell Coliseum on February 26, 2019 in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Photo by Lauren Rakes/Getty Images

When Duke and Virginia Tech square off Friday evening there won’t be a lot of secrets.

Yes, when they played before Duke was without Zion OMG Williamson and Virginia Tech lacked point guard Justin Robinson.

Yet Duke has seen Robinson plenty of times and you’d have to live under a rock to not have seen Williamson this season (as one indication of his popularity we read that the Duke-UCF game outdrew every NBA broadcast this season).

Even so there are variable we can’t see yet.

For two obvious ones, Jack White sat out the first weekend of the NCAA tournament with a hamstring injury. Will he play? And this week the Hokie’s Ty Outlaw was busted for marijuana possession.

That’s not what it used to be, but the NCAA still screens for it and will suspend you for using it so we’ll see what his status is at some point.

As we mentioned previously, RJ Barrett was also ill during the game in Blacksburg so we expect a better game from him or at least a healthier one.

There are a few things we’d look at this time around.

First, as we’ve mentioned several times, the idea that Duke three point shooting is a huge problem is overblown, partly because Duke’s three point defense typically negates it and Duke shoots extremely well closer to the basket.

Take Blacksburg for instance. Lacking Williamson, tired and partly ill, Duke hit 7-21 - but held a great three point shooting team to 8-26. The perception wasn’t that Duke shot better from deep, but the Devils did.

The biggest difference in this game was from the line because, as everyone knows, Duke gets all the calls.

Well, not exactly: Duke had 19 attempts (15-19) to Virginia Tech’s 29 (23-29).

Percentage wise it was basically a wash, with Duke hitting 78.9 percent to 79.3 percent by the Hokies but obviously the home team had an eight point advantage from the line and since they won by five, that’s a pretty big deal.

So where did the fouls come from?

Well Barrett, Cam Reddish and Marques Bolden had four each, Javin DeLaurier had three, as did Jack White and Tre Jones had two.

We’d like to make some points here. First, as we’ve said before, Duke was a thin team then, playing without Williamson and with a sick Barrett and worried enough to bring Joey Baker in for his first minutes all season.

Second, Kerry Blackshear went to the line 11 times and hit nine of those. Duke’s defense with Williamson is quite different. We don’t think there’s much argument there.

Third, Duke had played a brutal stretch before the February 26th visit to Blacksburg. Any game with UVA (Feb 9th) is draining. The Louisville comeback (Feb 12) was insane but another exhausting road win. NC State (Feb 16) was a bit of a breather but followed by UNC (Feb 20) and the loss of Zion. Three days after that (Feb 23) was a trip to Syracuse, then the Blacksburg trip.

Now consider this. What would the foul differential have looked like with Williamson playing? In a man defense, who would guard him? Our guess is that Virginia Tech would have to go to a double team, a zone or a junk defense. Kerry Blackshear is big but foul prone and no one else is quick enough or strong enough to guard him one on one.

We think he would have matched Blackshear’s points from the line, or at least his opportunities, and might have put Blackshear in foul trouble (he had three in the first game and Outlaw had four).

Also worth considering: DeLaurier has been playing the best basketball of his career lately. That basically comes down to defense and rebounding in his case, and in this game that would be valuable. Also remember that in Blacksburg Bolden scored 14 (4-5 and 6-6 from the line) against the smallish Hokies.

Williamson changes things for those guys and lets them play more to their strengths.

And for a wildcard, how about this? Before his injury, Williamson was shooting 29.2 percent from the bonusphere. Since returning?

He’s hitting 46.7 percent.

Obviously everything gets settled on the court and, as various generals and Mike Tyson have all said, plans are what you have before you get hit.

Still, a tired Duke team did a solid job on a great three point shooting team in Blacksburg. That game was lost on the foul line.

We’ll be curious to see how the Blue Devils do with Williamson back, and how the Hokies opt to defend him.

One other thing worth mentioning: if Duke does win, the Sunday game is going to be tough, whether it’s LSU or Michigan State. Even so, we’d rather play Virginia Tech in the first game because it’s a conference rival and the intensity is going to be extremely high.

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