Preview: Duke (15-1) v. Va Tech (11-6)

Coming off their first loss of the season, the Blue Devils have no time for regrets as the most surprising team in the ACC comes calling to Cameron on Sunday night. While many viewed the match up with Virginia Tech as a stepping stone before a hellacious week against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina, the Hokies have served notice early on that they are more of a landmine.

Duke (15-1, 5-1 ACC), ranked second in the nation by the AP and by ESPN/USA Today, faces Virginia Tech (11-6, 4-2) on Jan. 30 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM.

Like their fellow Big East refugees the Miami Hurricanes, Virginia Tech was expected to struggle during their inaugural ACC season. Like the Hurricanes, the Hokies have told the experts what they can do with their preseason predictions. Through their first six conference games, Virginia Tech has just one bad loss (85-51 to UNC) and four solid wins over Clemson, NC State, Virginia, and No.15 Georgia Tech.

One reason the Hokies have been such a surprise is that they play with discipline down the stretch, which has resulted in a five game winning streak – three wins coming by a combined four points. On paper, it would seem that head coach Seth Greenberg has a patch of four leaf clovers in his front yard, or that the Hokies have just been overlooked by teams with bigger games on the horizon. However, that kind of thinking discounts the wonderful efforts made in Blacksburg early on this year.

After a disappointing, and somewhat lackadaisical, performance against Maryland, the Blue Devils are certainly aware that looking past Virginia Tech towards the challenging week coming will make it very easy to go from a 15 game winning streak to a two game slide.

Meet the Hokies

C- Coleman Collins (6'8, 230, SO) – After a solid freshman campaign in Blacksburg, Collins found himself as the defacto center on this year's edition of the Hokies. At 6'8 and 230 pounds, he's been over matched in terms of size each and every time he's taken the floor so far in the ACC.

Despite his lack of size, Collins has worked hard to improve his rebounding and defense, and has steadily improved throughout the season. Over his last three games Collins is averaging 17.7 points and 7.3 rebounds – the improved post play has vaulted VaTech to wins in each of those games against NC State, Clemson, and Georgia Tech.

Season Highs: Pts: 20 (twice) Reb: 9 (twice), Blk: 2 (4 times)

F- Carlos Dixon (6'7, 200, SR) – Dixon wouldn't have returned this year had it not been for an injured foot that forced him to redshirt last year. Now he's back and was projected as one of the Hokies' best players in the preseason. The knock on Dixon was always his poor shooting percentages, as he entered the year shooting less than 38 percent from the field for his career. Knowing that his team would need all the scoring he could provide, provided it was efficient, the senior worked hard in the off season and has turned into a 46% shooter from the field and a nearly 42% shooter from the perimeter.

At 6'7, his game is more suited for the backcourt than the front court, but given his team's lack of height, he's stepped into the other forward position and has responded well. His 14.9 scoring clip is a career best, and he's upped his rebounding by a full board per game to a 4.3 clip.

Entering Cameron tonight he's got a streak of 14 consecutive free throws made, and has poured in 18.3 points per game over the team's 3-game ACC winning streak.

Season Highs: Pts: 22 (St. John's) Reb: 8 (Morgan State), Blk: 2 (3 times)

F- Deron Washington (6'7, 190, FR) – Considered one of the better athletes to come into the Virginia Tech program in a while, Washington had a successful prep career in Maryland. At 6'7 he's long and very quick. Offensively he's happy to make a living on midrange scores and drives to the hoop. Defensively he's still learning the finer points of the game and has been extremely foul prone throughout the season.

His need to develop strength is apparent, but Washington has been solid so far thorugh his first collegiate season, averaging nearly nine points and five rebounds while playing either the fourth or fifth option on the offensive end. After starting the season scoring 22.0 per game, he's been held under 8 points in 9 of the Hokies' last 12 games. He did break out of that slump against Georgia Tech when he scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds in 31 minutes against the Jackets.

Season Highs: Pts: 24 (UMES) Reb: 10 (JMU), Blk: 3 (W Michigan)

G- Zabian Dowdell (6'2, 195, SO) – As a freshman Dowdell spent last season making the change from scoring to point guard, and the change went better than expected. Playing nearly 34 minutes per game, he managed to average 11 points and 3.2 assists while turning the ball over just 2.3 times per game. This season he's back as a scoring guard, but does handle the ball every now and again – giving the Hokies two on the floor at all times.

With more freedom to look for his shot, Dowdell has upped his scoring average to 14.6 points per contest while improving his shooting percentages to 49% from the floor overall and 44% from the perimeter. He's also improved on crashing the boards, tallying 3.5 rebounds per contest.

Season Highs: Pts: 21 (North Carolina) Reb: 7 (W Michigan), Stls: 4 (4 times)

G- Jamon Gordon (6'3, 190, SO) – Another freshman who upped his game last year and has seen that work pay dividends as a sophomore in 2005. Gordon also split time handling the ball last year with Dowdell, and was the more comfortable of the two at the lead guard spot. It's the same this season as the Florida native leads the team in assists at 4.8 per contest.

However, Gordon has also worked to diversify and contribute in other areas such as rebounding (5.3 per game), scoring (10.8), steals (2.9), and he even blocks 1.0 shots per game. The knock on Gordon is his perimeter shooter, which sits at a frigid 22% on the season. The free throw shooting isn't much better, sitting at 53% on the season.

Season Highs: Pts: 20 (William & Mary) Reb: 8 (W Michigan), Asts: 9 (3 times), Stls: 7 (Loyola MD)

The Reserves

The Hokies don't go deep into their bench at all, with just seven players seeing regular time on the year. First off the bench is the program's highest rated recruit in years, Marquie Cooke (6'3, 199, FR). A big guard who can score, rebound, and defend, Cooke has proven capable at either the guard position and has spent time at the wing forward slot too. Other contributors off the bench include 6'4, 220 pound forward Shawn Harris, and Wynton Witherspoon (6'7, 180, FR) – another long and wirery athlete who contributes defensively and on the glass.

Game Notes:
courtesy of Duke Sports Information

*- This will mark the 35th meeting between Duke and Virginia Tech with the Blue Devils leading the all-time series, 29-5. Sunday will be the first meeting between the two schools when both are members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

*- The Hokies are in their first year in the league in which Duke was a charter member. The Blue Devils have won the past seven meetings in the series that dates back to Feb. 16, 1912.

*- Duke is 7-0 vs. Virginia Tech in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Under Mike Krzyzewski, Duke is 0-0 vs. Virginia Tech.

*- Duke averages more points in games played away from Cameron Indoor Stadium (85.2) than at home (78.6) this season. The Blue Devils have also shot .548 from the field in six away games vs. .437 in 10 home contests

*- Duke has not allowed an opponent to shoot better than .500 from the field this season. In 10 of 16 games, opponents have shot less than .400 from the floor against the Blue Devils' defense

*- Duke will look to avoid back-to-back home losses for the first time since dropping two straight in Cameron to Georgia Tech (86-81) and No. 8 Wake Forest (57-54) on Jan. 7 and Jan. 10, 1996

*- Duke has been particularly tough following a loss in recent years, posting a 23-3 record in such situations since the 1997-98 season (not including season-ending NCAA Tournament losses). Duke has lost consecutive games just three times in the past eight seasons. The Blue Devils' average margin of victory following a loss since the 1997-98 campaign is +23.0.

Blue Devil Digest Top Stories