Preview: Duke (18-3) vs. VaTech (12-10)

It seems like both sides have been here before. Virginia Tech coming into Thursday's match up with Duke looking for an ACC upset, while the Blue Devils enter the game fresh off a loss to an under-achieving Maryland team. Last time the end result was a 100-65 victory for Duke. Will the second time around be the same? <i>TDD</i> previews the match up.

Duke (18-3, 8-3 ACC), ranked seventh in the nation by the AP and eighth by ESPN/USA Today, faces Virginia Tech (12-10, 5-6) on Feb. 17 in Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. Tip-off is set for 9:00 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 performed far better than most of those preseason predictions, hovering just under the .500 mark in the ACC over halfway through the season. After posting a 5-3 record in the first half of the conference season, Virginia Tech has lost three straight games to fall to 5-6.

While many speculate that the recent three game slide, and four losses in the last five games, is a product of teams no longer over-looking the Hokies, the real cause has been much simpler: Virginia Tech has struggled to play well on both sides of the ball in each of the last three games. In short if they shoot well, the opponents' don't' seem troubled with the Hokies' defense. If the Virginia Tech defense is playing well, their offense isn't effective.

The real story around the conference when it came to the first match up between Va Tech and Duke was the foul trouble the Hokies ran into. Virginia Tech was called for 33 fouls, which limited their starting five to just 98 of the possible 200 minutes played in Cameron, which contributed to Duke's 25 point first half lead, and ultimate easy road to victory.

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 17.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, though the Hokies have fallen against Wake Forest, Maryland, and Virginia in those games..

Last Time: 11 points, 8 rebounds, and one block in 21 minutes.

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 41% 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 13.8 scoring clip is a career best, and he's upped his rebounding by a full board per game to a 4.3 clip.

Last Time: Two points, one rebound in eight minutes played.

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 12 of the Hokies' last 17 games.

Last Time: Six points, three rebounds, and one assist in 26 minutes

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 15.3 points per contest while improving his shooting percentages to 47% from the floor overall and 43% from the perimeter. He's also improved on crashing the boards, tallying 3.3 rebounds per contest.

Last Time: 15 points (7-of-19 FG), 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in 35 minutes

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 4.4 per contest.

However, Gordon has also worked to diversify and contribute in other areas such as rebounding (4.8 per game), scoring (10.4), steals (2.5), and he even blocks 1.0 shots per game. The knock on Gordon is his perimeter shooter, which sits at a frigid 24% on the season. The free throw shooting isn't much better, sitting at 55% on the season.

Last Time Eight points, one assist, two turnovers, and five fouls in eight minutes played.

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

*- Thursday will mark Duke's 200th game since the 1999-2000 season. The Blue Devils are 170-29 (.854) since the 2000 campaign

*- Duke has lost only 24 games the past five years. Opponents' average margin of victory in those games is just 5.9 points

*- Duke averages more points in games played away from Cameron Indoor Stadium (86.5) than at home (79.9) this season. The Blue Devils have shot .516 from the field in eight away games and .430 in 13 home contests

*- Duke has not allowed an opponent to shoot better than .500 from the field this season. In 11 of 21 games, opponents have shot less than .400 from the floor against the Blue Devils' defense

*- Following his 16-point, four steals effort vs. No. 2 North Carolina on Feb. 9, DeMarcus Nelson made his first career start on Feb. 12 at Maryland. He had eight points and seven rebounds vs. the Terrapins

*- Senior forward Reggie Love broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in his first career start vs. Clemson on Jan. 2. He had surgery on Jan. 4 and is questionable for the Virginia Tech game

*- Freshman forward David McClure had surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee on Jan. 31. His status is uncertain for Thursday's game with Virginia Tech

Betting Line:

Duke by 11

TDD Prediction:

Virginia Tech- 71

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