Virginia Tech’s basketball program is 3-8 against Duke since joining the ACC. Sounds rather grim until you consider how the rest of the conference has fared against Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils.
Over the same span, since the 2004-05 season tipped, only North Carolina (8-7), Maryland (5-12) and Florida State (4-7) have a better winning percentage against Duke.
Seth Greenberg’s Hokies (12-9, 1-5) have a chance to move up that list and, more important, slow a recent slide when the seventh-ranked Blue Devils (18-3, 5-1) visit Cassell Coliseum on Thursday.
Duke was No. 1 entering its game last February at unranked Tech. All five Hokies starters scored in double figures in a 64-60, Saturday night upset -- the Blue Devils reversed fortune in an ACC tournament rematch.
But three of those five Tech starters, guard Malcolm Delaney, power forward Jeff Allen and defensive stalwart Terrell Bell, were seniors, and to steal a line from Rick Pitino’s Celtics days, they are not walking through that door.
“Last year we had experienced guards, a physical front court, a guy that could guard any position,” Greenberg said. “Terrell Bell, could guard your two guard, almost your point guard to your power forward. Came up huge guarding (Kyle) Singler in that game.
“We have a philosophy on how to play them. Then it's tough to go out and execute it. You've got to match their intensity. When you play Duke, first and foremost, you've got to match their intensity. They're going to draw a line in the sand and compete each and every play. That doesn't mean getting in a fight. (But) you've got to be ready for the physicality of the game, the intensity of the game.
“You also have to play through mistakes because if you don't play through mistakes, if you can't get to the next play against them, that's where they get those runs that closes out a half, get those runs where it really makes it hard for you to come back.”
Duke is radically different, too, with Singler and Nolan Smith departed, and freshman Austin Rivers playing a lead role. Still, Greenberg believes that emerging post presence Mason Plumlee and established shooters Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry present a time-honored defensive dilemma.
“I think the biggest thing is you have to decide what you’re going to take away,” Greenberg said. “Are you going to take away Plumlee or the 21 3-point shots they take a game? That's a decision as a coach you have to make. …
“Are you going to double Plumlee? Maryland decided not to, he had a career game. (If you put a) second defender in the post, all of a sudden it's bop, bop, they're shooting a three on a ball reversal.”
Plumlee scored a season-high 23 points against the Terps and snared 12 rebounds. He followed up with 15 points and a career-best 17 boards Saturday against St. John’s.
Greenberg wasn’t about to disclose his post-versus-arc defense decision, but there’s a clue in the boxscore from last season’s game at Cassell. The Hokies guarded the 3-point line aggressively, and the Blue Devils missed 16-of-20 threes.
Duke leads the ACC in 3-point attempts and accuracy (39.9 percent), but Curry, one of the team’s best shooters, has missed 21 of his last 26 from beyond the arc. The slump coincides with him assuming more ballhandling responsibility.
“I think Seth can be a lot better,” Krzyzewski said. “In the last couple weeks he's not played to the level that he can play at, and some of it could be the change going back to handling the ball more or just being a human being, where he's not shot the ball well. …
“One of the biggest things I'd like for him to do is not let his shot impact who he is as a player. … And sometimes when you're really good at one aspect of the game, like shooting, and he's not shot the ball as well lately, it impacts on other parts of your game. You get to be inward.
“It's not a bad attitude, it's just the wrong attitude. He understands he has a responsibility to put the ball in the basket and can do that, and when it's not going in with the frequency that he thinks and we think it should, you kind of focus only on that, and it hurts other aspects of your game.”
As always, Duke is among the game’s most scrutinized teams. Such is the price of Krzyzewski’s four national championships and the program’s standards.
A recurring theme this season has been defense. Duke ranks 11th in the ACC in scoring defense and last in field goal percentage defense, and Krzyzewski was none too pleased with how the Devils guarded after forging a double-digit lead against St. John’s.
“Overall, we have had to play pretty damned good defense in order to have the record we have against the competition we have (played),” he said. “I don't care what stats there are out there now. … Some of our worst defense has been with leads. But in order to get the lead, you have to play good defense. So what we're striving for is consistency. …
“We're not inherently a defensive team, the mentality of these kids. They're more offensive players. But they've shown that they can play really good defense, and we just have to get it going for longer periods of time.”
Duke does not have a lockdown defender such as Tommy Amaker, Billy King, Grant Hill or Shane Battier. Krzyzewski said his best this season is reserve guard Tyler Thornton, who averages only 18.3 minutes.
“But our team is not made up of those kind of guys, and so it's a little bit -- it's a different team than we've had, and we've known that since China and Dubai,” said Krzyzewski, who took the Blue Devils overseas in August. “Again, we're not going to be this juggernaut defensively, but we have to keep striving to get better, and again, I hope that our only lapses are when we have big leads or when we have double-digit leads. That's a good spot to lead from, but then you're playing with fire because people can come back.”
Finally, here are Duke’s records against each ACC opponent since Virginia Tech joined the conference.
Boston College: 9-1
Georgia Tech: 12-2
North Carolina State: 9-2
Wake Forest: 9-3
Virginia Tech: 8-3
Florida State: 7-4
North Carolina: 7-8
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