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Next Up - Virginia Tech

This is turning into a pretty good ACC rivalry

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Notre Dame
Dec 16, 2020; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Jeremy Roach (3) shoots against Notre Dame Fighting Irish guard Cormac Ryan (5) in the first half at the Purcell Pavilion. 
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Duke makes the trek up to Blacksburg Tuesday to take on a very dangerous Virginia Tech.

  • Date: 1/12
  • Time: 7:00
  • Venue: Cassell Coliseum
  • Video: ACCN

The Hokies are 9-2. Last year they were 9-3, although in December rather than the middle of January, just one more future bit of Covid trivia.

Last year, the Hokies started 13-4 before reality set in: they were one of the smallest and youngest teams in the country.

Not this year.

They do still have a lot of last year’s team back. Point guard Wabissa Bede is back and he’s a solid leader. He’s not a big scorer but he handles the point reasonably well and defends.

Sophomore Tyrece Radford is already one of our favorite ACC rebounding guards, right up there with Bruce Dalrymple of Cremins-era Georgia Tech. He doesn't have to do it as much this season, and it’s possible that coach Mike Young actually wants him to do other things, but that’s speculation. Whatever. He’s one tough cookie. We really admire his game. He’s averaging nearly 10 ppg and just under six boards, not bad for a guy who’s just 6-1.

Nahiem Alleyne, a 6-4 sophomore, is the third starting guard. A 6-4 Georgian, Alleyne is athletic and dangerous.

The other two starters are transfers and 6-9 junior Keve Aluma is proving to be a good one.

He followed Young from Wofford and after sitting out last year has been a godsend for the Hokies. He’s putting up 15.5 ppg and 7.0 rpg.

Justyn Mutts is a 6-7 transfer from Delaware. A highly versatile junior, Mutts had seven rebounds against Notre Dame, four of them offensive. Keep in mind that the Irish have two 6-11 starters. His rebounding is making a big difference for his team.

He can also pass and like the rest of his teammates, works on defense.

The rest of the primary rotation is Cartier Diarra, Jalen Cone and Hunter Cattoor.

Diarra is a 6-4 grad transfer from Kansas State, a point guard. He gives Young a much bigger defender to chase people with.

Cone is from Walkertown, sort of between Raleigh and Fayetteville, and he’s a gunner. And we mean no offense by that. The guy is a gifted shooter and fairly specific too. So far this season he’s taken 81 shots and of those 68 were three point attempts.

He’s only 5-10 which is a minor issue for a shooting guard but there’s no question he can shoot: last year he hit 45.7 percent; so far this year, just a shade under 40 percent.

Finally, there’s Hunter Cattoor. A 6-3 sophomore, Cattoor can score too: he’s leading his team with 47.1 percent from the bonusphere.

Young had originally recruited him to Wofford and Cattoor followed him to Blacksburg when Young took the job and convinced Cattoor that he could play ACC basketball.

Not only can he, but Cattoor also epitomizes two things about Young’s team: he can really shoot and he can move the damn ball. And if you can move the damn ball and hit shots, you’re going to score a LOT of points, sometimes in bunches.

Which is what Virginia Tech has been doing, possibly as well as anyone in the country.

Duke will have to respond with scoring of its own and, for lack of a better term, suppressive fire, aka defense.

The Blue Devils have been defending well and getting tons of steals. In this we believe Duke is taking on the personality of senior Jordan Goldwire.

Goldwire, who is averaging 2.7 steals per game, has always been an outstanding defender. His high mark was against Louisville as sophomore when he and Tre Jones just ate Louisville’s backcourt alive for a monstrous second-half comeback, but he’s been consistently good.

He’s leading a pretty good group of defenders now. Sophomore Wendell Moore is a pain for anyone and freshmen guards Jeremy Roach and DJ Steward are picking up the mentality also. Jaemyn Brakefield and Matthew Hurt are digging in too.

Coach K said this week that his younger players are learning to play instinctively and that makes a big difference.

By the way we always thought this would make a great conversation: Bill Russell has a very different philosophy, arguing that when it comes to basketball, thinking is better than reacting. We’d love to hear the two of them discuss their ideas on this.

Duke has been without Jalen Johnson for a month now and he’s going to dress for Virginia Tech, though he’s probably not ready to play, or at least not conditioned enough to do well yet.

But he’s right there.

In his absence, Duke has moved to a three guard lineup, like the Hokies. Hurt has started all season while Patrick Tapé and Mark Williams have generally started at the other front court spot.

When Hurt is in he’s kind of an undersized post. Williams is an effective defender and has shown some great flashes, but he needs to mature and fill out. And Tapé is suffering from a back injury and won’t be playing in Blacksburg. We’re not sure what his timetable is for a return.

Brakefield has really stepped up in Johnson’s absence. When asked to describe his game before he got started at Duke, he said he was versatile and could pass, shoot and defend and also would bring energy. He wasn’t exaggerating. He’s been very good.

And while he’s not getting huge minutes, junior Joey Baker is becoming a much more complete player. You shouldn’t be surprised if at any point rips off a major personal run.

Still, this team could use more offense from Moore and Johnson would change a lot of things, including rebounding. He may be the best passer on the team and has rare physical talent. He’ll make a big difference when he does return.

This game is likely to come down to just a few things: can Duke rein in Mike Young’s trigger-happy offense? Can Duke match the Hokies on the boards?

And on their end, can Duke hang on to the ball and put it in the basket?

This is a major game for both teams. Virginia Tech loses a major advantage with very few people in the building. Cassell has quickly become as much of a snake pit as any arena in the conference. It’s never an easy place to play and it certainly won't be Tuesday evening.