No matter which team you were rooting for, there’s no arguing that Duke escaped with a win against UCF. Now it depends if Duke can use that close win as motivation to be a little more focused against a Virginia Tech team that already beat them. For the Sweet 16, the Blue Devils opened as a -7 point favorite at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
When these teams met at the end of February, things were a little different, mostly in that Zion Williamson and Justin Robinsin didn’t play. The Hokies led most of the Game and didn’t let go as they got Javin DeLAurier and Marques Bolden into foul trouble early and ended up taking 29 free throws. Robinson is back for Virginia Tech, but he’s clearly not the difference maker that Zion is after he dropped 32 points and 11 rebounds against UCF. And while the Hokies have an elite defense on a national level, they actually ranked pretty poorly in the ACC, finishing eighth in terms of efficiency. Similar to Duke, they also had issues closing the second-round Game against Liberty, never fully looking like the better team.
This matchup will be all about Zion, a type of player Virginia Tech hasn’t seen all season. Kerry Blackshear can be a beast on the block, but he’s the only guy above 6-foot-6 that the Hokies play. While they could take a similar approach to UCF and use a heavy zone and force Duke to take threes, they also don’t have a 7-foot-6 guy to limit easy looks at the basket. Zion is a player that can get the ball at the top of the key and get a basket almost any time he wants it, especially when playing a smaller team. One of VT’s weaknesses was blocking shots and that won’t help in this Game.
The question is what everyone else can do on Duke because the Hokies could double the likes of Zion, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, while also playing extremely loose on Tre Jones and whoever else is on the floor. Duke went 10-for-25 from three against UCF, but as seen in this season’s numbers, it’s usually closer to 30 percent. If the shots don’t fall, Virginia Tech will be in this Game.
The problem could still be scoring for the Hokies because they haven’t looked great the last couple Games, though some of that has to do with playing slower, defensive teams. There’s a chance things break open for Robinson, who has been forced to be more of a manager against Liberty and Saint Louis, though he still had 22 points in those Games. When healthy and in a Game that has a little more pace, Robinson is a guy that can go off, as seen in his 35-point performance against Syracuse, thanks to nine threes. Blackshear had 23 points in the first meeting and will be important again no matter who is defending him. There’s a chance Duke goes small and uses Zion on him, but it’s likely DeLAurier and Bolden will mark him most of the Game. Either way, the Hokies will still need good Games from Nickeil Alexander-Walker as a creator, as well as Ahmed Hill and Ty OUtlaw as shooters.
Duke has a relevant size advantage, but if Virginia Tech can somehow keep them out of the paint for easy looks, that’ll at least make this Game competitive. Even then, while Duke’s defense ranks well, it’s still prone to allowing easy baskets and that happened against UCF. It’ll be hard to go against the Blue Devils, but there’s no doubt the Hokies have enough weapons to keep the Scorerespectable and have a chance for a win if Robinson or someone else catches fire, a la Aubrey Dawkins for UCF.
Our Pick – Virginia Tech +7