Preview: Duke (13-1) vs. Va Tech (10-4)

Previewing the Blue Devils and Hokies who tip off in Cameron at noon on Saturday in Duke conference opener.


5 Duke (13-1, 0-0) vs. Virginia Tech (10-4, 1-0)
Durham, N.C. - Cameron Indoor Stadium
12:00 p.m., ESPN

Program Vitals
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Nickname: Hokies
Colors: Orange and Maroon
Head Coach:  Seth Greenberg  (4th year)
Career Record at San Virginia Tech: 55-48 (268-218 Overall)

Projected Starters:
 1 Zabian Dowdell (6-3, 200, Sr.) - 16.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.6 apg
22 Jamon Gordon (6-3, 215, Sr.) – 11.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.3 apg 
33 Colman Collins (6-9, 240, Sr.) – 7.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg
13 Deron Washington (6-7, 205, Jr.) – 11.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg 1.8 apg
40 A.D. Vassallo (6-6, 215, So.) – 11.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Key Reserves:
 3 Nigel Munson (6-0, 175, Fr.) – 4.4 ppg, 1.5 apg
21 Lewis Witcher (6-9, 220, Fr.) – 4.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg
34 Cheick Diakite (6-9, 230, So.) – 3.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg
24 Markus Salles (6-5, 210, Sr.) – 1.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg
14 Robert Krabbendam (7-0, 240, So.) - 1.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg

Storylines:

How They Got Here: Duke enters Saturday's game with an 13-1 overall record and riding a nine game winning streak. The Blue Devils returned from a 10 day holiday lay-off with a rusty performance against San Jose State before rallying from a 12 point first half deficit to blow by Temple by 18 on January 2nd in the final pre-ACC tune up. Meanwhile Virginia Tech will bring a 10-4 overall mark to the match up, having struggled since returning from their week long holiday layoff. The Hokies fell 59-58 to Marshall in their first game back (Dec 30) and struggled to dispatch Richmond on Wednesday night, 65-53.

Series History:
Thursday's game will be the 39th time the Hokies and Blue Devils have met with Duke holding a commanding 32-6 lead in the series. Since Virginia Tech was allowed into the ACC, the Blue Devils have won three of four, including both games last season.

Injury Report: The Blue Devils will get a bit of good news when the ball is thrown up on Saturday. After missing the last two games with an ankle injury, freshman big forward Lance Thomas has practiced each of the last two days and is expected to be in the rotation. Meanwhile, the Hokies are healthy, though could earn another in the arm in the form of RS Freshman forward Terrance Vinson, who was expected to miss this season with a torn ACL. However, he's returned to practice and is dressing out. Vinson missed most of the 2005-06 season with a back injury, tore the ACL in his right knee during workouts this season

Men versus Boys:
One thing head coach Seth Greenberg has in the way of an advantage of Duke's Mike Krzyzewksi is a wealth of experience among his starting rotation. The Hokies start three seniors, one junior, and a sophomore while Duke will likely counter with one junior, two sophomores and two freshmen. In total the Hokies have four seniors that play regularly, while bringing an additional two sophomores off the bench. Only Nigel Munson and Lewis Witcher play significant minutes among the freshman class.

Interestingly enough the Hokies boast three of the top five career scorers among active ACC players lef by Zabian Dowdell who is number two on the list. Colman Collins and and Jamon Gordon are fourth and fifth respectively. Gordon is also the active leader in assists, while Collins ranks seventh in blocked shots among active players.

Saturday Is No Walk In the Park For Seth:
Virginia Tech will be looking to overcome a bad bit of history under Coach Greenberg when they tip off on Saturday in Cameron. That's because the Hokies are just 16-19 under Greenberg on Saturdays overall and 10-13 in ACC play.

Another bad omen for Greenberg is Duke's record against unranked opponents in Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils have gone 112-2 in the last 114 games against unranked opponents.

Hokie Guards Will Test Duke:
One common thread that has given the young Blue Devil fits in 2006-2007 has been teams with solid guard play. The Hokies certainly fit that description, especially when you consider Tech has always seemed to ratchet up their efforts when they catch a glimpse of the Duke uniform. Recently, Jamon Gordon was named the ACC Player of the Week, for the week ending Dec. 23 by averaging 22.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.0 steals during that time.

Against Seton Hall, Gordon became the 36th player to score at least 1,000 career points at Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, teammate Zabian Dowdell is currently 15th on the list at 1,422 career points.

Not to be out-done, freshman Nigel Munson has also shined this season. In front of the MSG crowd against Seton Hall, Munson recorded a career best 12 points, coming bench to hit five-of-six shots, including two-of-three from behind the arc while dishing out three assists in just 15 minutes. He followed that performance with a 10-point, three assist game in the win over Campbell.

In total it's a very talented group in the backcourt for Greenberg, and one that not only scores, but values the basketball as well. As a group, the Tech guards have 143 assists and just 75 turnovers .

McDominant:
Through the first third of the season, many Duke faithful were waiting for Josh McRoberts to take his game to the next level. Over his last four, McRoberts had done just that, averaging 16.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 4.0 blocks - all team bests. It's been a welcomed improvement in the eyes of Krzyzewski, who said:

"[Josh] had grown up so much in his desire to become a special player. He's just been a joy to coach. His leadership has been spectacular for our basketball team. He's doing that kind of stuff like a really good senior."

Defense, Rebounding, Duke?:
Over the last decade the Duke style of play has always included one of the nation's most potent offenses. While the method of accumulating points has changed with the personel, the Blue Devils were always a threat to score in the mid 80s on any given night, if not more. Not this season. With such an inexperienced team on the floor, the Blue Devils have relied heavily on their defensive effort, which was on display against Temple this week when Duke held the Owls to just 55 points, marking the 12th time in the last 14 games that an opponent had failed to top 56 points.

Duke also won the battle of the boards against Temple, again something that is commonplace as only two teams have won the battle of the boards this season. For the year Duke is averaging 37.3 rebounds versus 30.4 for their opponents. With a slower paced game that produces more jump shots and less of a track meet, it's no wonder the Blue Devils are scoring an ACC-low 68.9 points per game.

Paulus Finds His Scoring Groove
After playing himself out of the starting lineup earlier in the season, sophomore point guard Greg Paulus has begun to play at a higher level. After reaching double figures just once in the first 11 games of the year, the New York native has scored 10 or more points in four straight games. However, after leading the ACC in assists a season ago (5.2), Paulus has averaged just 3.6 per game as a sophomore, and has logged more than four assists just once in his last eight appearances.

With A Win, Duke Would...:

Should the Blue Devils earn a victory on Saturday afternoon, it would be the 1,810th in the program's history as well as the 225th this decade - more than any other program. Duke would also win their 50th overall game as the nation's No. 5 ranked team.

Prediction:

Duke 73
Virginia Tech 67


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