Saturday marks Malcolm Delaney's 129th game in a Virginia Tech basketball uniform. He's played from coast-to-coast and in Cancun and the Bahamas, against All-Americans and eventual national champions.
But Saturday's visit from No. 1 Duke trumps them all.
"The biggest game of my career," Delaney said after practice Friday.
And how is this different from Delaney's three previous encounters with No. 1?
"We're playing at home with College GameDay," he said. "It's the biggest stage."
Delaney is right. No game in his remarkable four seasons has afforded this opportunity: a chance to not only showcase the program on prime-time, national television, but also secure the NCAA tournament bid that has escaped the Hokies three years running.
In fact, Saturday marks the benchmark regular-season contest of coach Seth Greenberg's eight seasons here. The only larger moments were 2007 NCAA tournament games versus Illinois and Southern Illinois.
Tech faithful know the ESPN GameDay drill well from football.
The network's celebrity crew — in this case, Jay Bilas, Digger Phelps, Hubert Davis and Bob Knight — parachutes in for two days of schmoozing and free publicity. Thousands of students interrupt their precious Saturday-morning shut-eye to mug for the cameras and scream their lungs raw, all as a warm-up for the 9 p.m. tipoff.
The energy, indeed, is palpable. Question is, can the Hokies close the deal?
Five of this season's six GameDay hosts did: Tennessee, Purdue, Kansas, Florida and Michigan State. Only Villanova lost.
The weekly sites were determined in August, when Duke and Tech appeared the ACC's best. The Blue Devils (26-2, 12-1 ACC) have played to form; the Hokies (18-8, 8-5) have lost four scholarship players to injury or illness and are 0-2 against ranked opponents, falling to Kansas State and Purdue.
"Let's face it," Greenberg said of GameDay's presence. "It's a great recruiting tool."
And not just for basketball, which will entertain at least one acclaimed prospect this weekend in junior forward Montrezl Harrell of Tarboro, N.C. Tech football also is hosting some notable juniors, among them defensive end Korren Kirven of Brookville High near Lynchburg and athlete Joel Caleb of Clover Hill High near Richmond.
Greenberg has twisted like a pretzel to accommodate ESPN and hosted a social function for the crew Friday night. But he understands it's all for naught unless his team performs.
"We've got a game to play," he said.
And that game will be determined by how the Hokies defend. The Blue Devils shoot a sterling 47.5 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, and similar accuracy Saturday is untenable for Tech.
Duke shot 31.1 percent in its loss at Florida State, 41.9 in defeat at St. John's.
Greenberg said the Seminoles and Red Storm "attacked" the Devils defensively, FSU with man-to-man, St. John's with a 1-1-3 zone.
"Getting (Duke's) offense to respond to the defense was the common thread," Greenberg said. "The key is, you have to be able to guard the basketball. You have to keep them out of the lane."
Good luck. Nolan Smith leads the ACC in scoring (21.4 points per game) and assists (5.3 per game) and is the presumptive ACC Player of the Year. All-America forward Kyle Singler has missed 21 of his last 27 long-range jumpers, but daring him to shoot is foolish.
Zoning the Devils risks allowing open 3s for Smith, Singler, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, capable shooters all. Playing man-to-man risks the foul trouble the depth-shy Hokies can ill afford, especially for power forward Jeff Allen, whose fouled out five times this season.
"We're going to play more than one defense," Greenberg said.
Greenberg has beaten No. 1 three times, with Long Beach State at Kansas in 1992, with Tech at home over North Carolina in 2007 and at Wake Forest in 2009. Delaney scored 21 points in the latter upset, but he and fellow seniors Allen and Terrell Bell are 0-4 against Duke.
The Hokies led the eventual national champs midway through the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium last season before Smith and Singler took over. Duke won 67-55.
Is Tech better-prepared a year later?
"We're going to be here at 9 o'clock," Greenberg said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times