Duke - Virginia Tech Preview

JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

DUKE-VA TECH NOT QUITE WHAT ESPN WAS HOPING FOR

When ESPN set up its "GameDay" tour through the college basketball landscape before the season started, they thought that Duke at Virginia Tech on a Saturday Night in late February had the chance to be something special.

Duke was the defending National Champion, and consensus Preseason #1 team. Virginia Tech was ranked down in the #24-25 range...but was seen by many as a team that could outperform those rankings. Tech was third best behind Duke and North Carolina in ACC projections. Coming off a 25-9 season and favored seeding in the NIT. THIS was going to be a breakthrough year for media darling Seth Greenburg.

Oddly, it didn't turn out that way...and it did!

You'll see in a moment that Virginia Tech currently ranks third in ACC margin averages. They're fourth place in the conference standings rather than third with an 8-5 mark (behind Duke, NC, and Florida State). A record of 18-8 is far from a disaster. But, the team currently isn't ranked in the top 25, or getting any votes from anybody for inclusion. ESPN's bracketology has them sitting dangerously close to the bubble...when Preseason expectations were pointing to a seed in the 6-7 range.

It is Duke playing on the road against a threat. But, that threat seems much less scary now than at the time everything was set up.

Before looking at some key team statistics that will help outline tonight's matchup, let's get caught up with the full ACC numbers. This is a continuation of our series of stat reports on major conferences that last ran on Wednesday with the Big 12 and SEC, and Tuesday with the Big 10. We'll finish up this run-through Monday with the Big East on "Big Monday." Don't forget that the postseason starts Tuesday for the Horizon League. We'll outline that event on Wednesday.

Here's what you need to know in the ACC...

ACC MARGIN AVERAGES
Duke: +13.7
North Carolina: +6.8
Virginia Tech: +6.7
Clemson: +3.9
Maryland: +2.9
Florida State: +2.6
Miami-Fla: -2.1
Boston College: -3.2
Virginia: -4.0
Georgia Tech: -4.2
NC State: -4.7
Wake Forest: -18.8

These can be used as virtual Power Ratings because they represent scoreboard differences within a confined schedule sequence. Everyone plays similar schedule strengths within a conference framework. Duke is clearly at the head of the class. Virginia Tech grades out very well in this measure. A 17-point road win at Maryland sure helped in that regard.

On the whole, it's another disappointing year for the ACC. Many teams are heading in the wrong direction. Many fan bases are losing interest (you may have read about the small crowd in Maryland the other night). What was supposed to be the greatest conference in the sport is having trouble attracting real talent up and down the list. Tonight's game will feature two of the best three teams though, and is deserving of its showcase status. Oh, it's also the ONLY time Virginia Tech and Duke will meet during the regular season.

ACC TWO-POINT DEFENSES
Florida State: 40%
Duke: 43%
North Carolina: 44%
Clemson: 44%
Maryland: 44%
Virginia Tech: 46%
Miami-Fla: 46%
Georgia Tech: 47%
NC State: 46%
Virginia: 48%
Wake Forest: 49%
Boston College: 50%

We think this is the single best indicator stat in college sports. You learn so much about a team by studying how they defend the basket. Duke is doing a good job once again. Though we have to admit it's not a conference that has great shooters. Duke often looks worse in the Big Dance defensively than their regular season numbers would have suggested (not the case last year!). Virginia Tech is a BIG disappointment in this stat. They only rank 6th best. And, 46% in a conference lacking great shooting is more like 47% or maybe even 48% in a better league.

You can see how Florida State was able to upset Duke (the Blue Devil's only ACC loss this year was in Tallahassee). Virginia Tech doesn't bring that kind of defensive authority to the game this evening.

ACC BRACKETOLOGY
Duke: a projected #1 seed
North Carolina: a projected #4 seed
Florida State:  a projected #9 seed
Virginia Tech: a projected #11 seed

Wow, only four teams from the ACC are currently in position for invitations. And, Virginia Tech might slide back in to a more dangerous position if they play poorly tonight.

Note that Boston College is currently one of the last four out as we go to press, so there's a decent chance for a fifth team. Maryland is one of the last eight out, and has a chance to go strong. We're not sure why Joe Lunardi is so fond of Boston College. We show them 8th in conference margin average, and WORST in the league on two-point defense. The regular standings have BC ranked 7th. Ken Pomeroy has BC rated 8th in his data.  Earlier this week Lunardi had BC in the Dance, and still has them as the 5th best team in the ACC. We're not sure what he's looking at, because there's just no evidence right now that Boston College is a tournament caliber team.

Anyway, back to tonight's game.

ADJUSTED DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Duke: 3rd in the nation
Virginia Tech: 31st in the nation

Ken Pomeroy's great college stat website (kenpom.com) adjusts points per possession for strength of schedule. Duke always grades out great in this stat, partly because so many teams have to launch panic treys when they fall behind. Roughly eight years out of nine, Duke will play worse in the Big Dance than their defensive efficiency would suggest. This isn't the Dance though. It's a game against a coach and team that generally wilts under pressure. Tech lost in the first round of the ACC tournament last year when they sitting on the Dance bubble. In the NIT, they lost at home to Rhode Island with a trip to New York at stake after favored placement in the brackets. Duke will have many edges tonight, and defense is right at the top of the list given what we already saw in the two-point data.

ADJUSTED OFFENSIVE EFFICIENCY
Duke: 5th in the nation
Virginia Tech: 42nd in the nation

Duke makes great use of three-pointers, and often benefits from friendly officiating...so they are annual kings of offensive efficiency. Another edge for them tonight.

PACE FACTOR
Duke: 29th fastest
Virginia Tech: 220th fastest

Pace differences often loom large in games like this. If Virginia Tech can keep things slow and comfortable, they negate Duke's ability to get hot and pull away quickly. If Duke can force a fast tempo on the game, Tech will be out of its comfort zone in a spot that's very high pressure anyway. One of the biggest keys to handicapping this game is evaluating who will control the pace.

THREE-POINT RELIANCE
Duke: 86th
Virginia Tech: 262nd

Duke has a reputation for being three-point heavy. But, they're not really extreme in that regard by college standards. They're in the top third nationally in terms of reliance on treys for scoring...but not in the top handful like they are in so many other stats. Virginia Tech isn't good from long range, which creates problems if they fall behind.

Think about this nightmare scenario for Virginia Tech. If they fall behind, they'll have to play at an uncomfortable pace to catch up...either shooting treys they're not very good at...or attacking the basket against a 43% two-point defense that's second best in the ACC. The key for the Hokies will be establishing themselves early, and staying in control of the flow and tempo in front of a rabid home crowd. Duke can lose this type of game. You have to take it from them though.

Duke-Virginia Tech may or may not be a part of Saturday's very big slate for JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK. You know there are several huge games today, like Syracuse-Georgetown and BYU-San Diego State early...Florida-Kentucky and Arizona-UCLA later in the day...and a busy prime time slate. You only get THE BEST PLAYS ON THE BOARD when you sign up with NETWORK.

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23
Aug

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