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Next Up: The Devils Go Down To Georgia

Will the Blue Devils take out the Yellow Jackets?

Duke v Virginia Tech
BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA - JANUARY 24: Center Dereck Lively II #1 of the Duke Blue Devils in the first half during a game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Cassell Coliseum on January 23, 2023 in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Photo by: Ryan Hunt/Getty Images

Date 1/28 || Time 3:00 || Venue McCamish Pavilion || Video ESPN

Duke goes down to Atlanta Saturday to play Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have had a tough season so far. Just 1-9 in the ACC and 8-12 overall, it’s not a banner season for Tech. The team is smallish with only 6 -11 senior Rodney Howard, who has not been a major factor in his career, and 7-0 freshman Cyril Martynov taller than 6-8.

Georgia Tech’s core is Miles Kelly (6-6), Deebo Coleman (6-6), Lance Terry (6-2), Deivon Smith (6-1), Jalon Moore (6-7), Javon Franklin (6-7), Kyle Sturdivant (6-3) and the aforementioned Howard.

Other than Howard, it’s a small group, as mentioned, and it doesn’t shoot well as Tech coach Josh Pastner pointed out after Tech’s last loss. So what does it do well?

Criticize Pastner as much as you like. We certainly have and people are calling for him to be replaced - and there’s a reasonable argument for it. Other than running to the ACC Championship with the spectacular Jose Alvarado at point guard, he just has not done that well in Atlanta.

Fair enough.

But he has shown two solid skills: first, he’s an excellent defensive coach. He learned a lot from Lute Olson when he was at Arizona, not least of all the goofy numbered cards he holds up. But he knows how to mix up his defenses too.

And second, he’s shown a real talent for player development.

We haven’t watched Tech a whole lot this season, but their overall quickness is impressive. This team can get out and run and if Duke is careless, they’ll clean up in transition.

But offense is a real problem.

Tech is next to last in field goal percentage, ahead of only Louisville at .421 percent. They’re next to last in three point percent too at .316. The Yellow Jackets are in 11th place in rebounding margin at -0.45, eighth in assists, tied (with Duke) at 11th in turnover margin at -0.30, ninth in assist/turnover ratio at 1.18 (Duke is 10th at 1.17) and ninth in defensive rebounding at 24.95,

So there are some real challenges for Georgia Tech.

One big surprise: Duke has had a bang-up year when it comes to offensive rebounds at 13.60. Guess who’s number two?

That’s right, the Yellow Jackets with 11.35. One could argue that’s because they’re missing a lot and there’s some truth in that. But Louisville is missing more and they come in at #9 in offensive boards.

What we admire about Tech is that they are bouncy. This is an athletic team that plays hard and while offense is a struggle, they can make up for it in a variety of ways. And keep an eye on Terry, who is sneaky good inside for a little guy.

As we like to say, mismatches go both ways. The Yellow Jackets will certainly try to pull Kyle Filipowski, Ryan Young and Dereck Lively away from the basket to let their slashers - and a bunch of guys can slash - get to the basket.

Because of that, not having Whitehead could be a major problem. We might see more of Jaylen Blakes than we have lately too. Not having one and having the other with limited minutes could be a real problem for Jon Scheyer and Duke.

On the other hand, it won’t be easy to stop Kyle Filipowski. Pitt, a similarly sized team, had a lot of trouble stopping him in Durham. If he got the ball near the basket, he basically scored.

And it’s a good opportunity for Young inside too, although you shouldn’t underestimate Pastner’s mental library of trick defenses.

At Arizona, he no doubt saw film of Olson’s devastating 1-3-1 zone in the late 1980’s that saw 5-11 Kenny Lofton run the baseline just like he would later steal bases for the Cleveland Indians.

He learned a hell of a lot from Midnight Luther, as Jerry Tarkanian used to call him (for his habit of swooping in late and taking recruits away from Tark’s UNLV).

For Duke, it seems fairly simple: play blistering defense and offensively, get the ball inside.

Of course, it’s easy to say and harder to do. The very young Blue Devils have struggled on the road and it could happen again.

Still, there’s a lot to be optimistic about. Duke is missing Whitehead, but it seems like the kind of game where Mark Mitchell might go off since the bigger guys are going to have to keep an eye on Filipowski and Young.

The biggest thing may just be confidence. It’s been a tough stretch for the Blue Devils and that can wear on a team, especially a young team that’s still trying to figure things out. That’s probably true to an extent for Scheyer. He’s had some challenges this season, starting with injuries. He’s immensely promising though. Duke fans need to give him room to grow.

Incidentally, we might be wrong here, but we think this is the first time that two Jewish coaches have gone head-to-head in ACC competition. Clemson had Larry Shyatt but we can’t think of another Jewish coach, much less anyone who could have gone against Shyatt.

Hold the phone - we forgot about Seth Greenberg. However, Shyatt left Clemson in 2003 and while Greenberg started at Virginia Tech in 2003, the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004, so we think that we’re correct about Pastner and Scheyer being the first Jewish coaches to face off in the ACC.

We’ll add links as we find them.