Duke-Virginia Tech Preview
While its ACC regular-season title hopes may have all but vanished, Duke still has a great deal to play for moving forward.
A trip to struggling Virginia Tech might be just what the sixth-ranked Blue Devils need.
The top three scorers in the conference will take the court Thursday night when Duke looks to avoid rare back-to-back losses and continue making its case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
After a difficult stretch of four games in 10 days ended with an 83-81 loss at Maryland on Saturday, the Blue Devils (22-3, 9-3) hope to come out re-energized following a four-day break.
The Terrapins' Seth Allen made two free throws with 2.8 seconds left to stop the Blue Devils' six-game winning streak.
Mason Plumlee, Duke's leading scorer at 17.6 points per game, will try to bounce back after finishing with a season-low four points and three rebounds against Maryland. The senior averaged 22.3 points and 10.3 boards in his previous three contests.
"This has been an exhausting schedule for our team,'' said coach Mike Krzyzewski, who needs one more win to reach 950 for his career. "We're playing on fumes and I think you could tell that with Mason."
Trailing first-place Miami by 3 1/2 games with six conference contests left, the Blue Devils are likely to fall short in their bid for their first regular-season league title since 2009-10. Duke, however, still has a solid shot at a top seed in the NCAA tournament.
Krzyzewski's club has been resilient in recent years, not losing back-to-back regular-season games since Feb. 11-15, 2009.
Plumlee and Seth Curry (16.9 ppg) rank second and third among ACC scorers, but the Blue Devils on Thursday will get their first look this season at the nation's top point producer.
Erick Green (25.3 ppg) continued his spectacular senior season for Virginia Tech (11-14, 2-10) on Saturday, but his latest big game wasn't enough to end his team's slump. Green had 29 points and eight assists as the Hokies fell 90-86 in overtime at North Carolina State.
Virginia Tech's eight-game skid is its longest since a 10-game losing streak in 2001-02.
Now it's back to Blacksburg, where Green has averaged 30.5 in Virginia Tech's last four defeats. He shot 34.0 percent and averaged 16.3 points in three losses to the Blue Devils last season, though the Hokies took Duke to overtime in Durham and lost by four in the conference tournament.
"This is every kid's dream - to play against Duke, national TV, prime time and in front of the whole world,'' Green said. "This is a big moment, not just for myself but for the whole team."
Curry has averaged 20.3 points in his last six games after finishing with a game-high 25 on Saturday, and he had 14 of his 19 after halftime in the overtime victory against the Hokies last February.
Sophomore Quinn Cook has also come on strong lately, scoring 18 in each of his last two games.
Duke's problems don't lie on the perimeter, though. The Blue Devils have a minus-3.3 rebounding margin in the 10 games since Ryan Kelly went down with a foot injury, with Maryland owning a 40-20 edge on the glass Saturday.
Perhaps the Blue Devils can fare better in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has been outrebounded by 4.6 per game during its skid.
The Hokies had averaged 59.4 points in this slump prior to falling in Raleigh, and if they want to avoid a ninth loss in 10 games against Duke, they'll likely need scoring from someone other than Green.
Jarell Eddie and Marshall Wood combined for 31 against the Wolfpack, just the third time in the last nine games Virginia Tech has had three players score in double figures.