Setting: It’s an ACC throw down at Alexander Memorial Coliseum as Mike Krzyzewski’s No. 5 Duke Blue Devils (13-1,1-0) pay a visit to Paul Hewitt’s No.20 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (11-3, 0-1).
Plot: The Yellow Jackets seek to keep pace in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Besides Duke, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Boston College have all won their first conference game.
Sub-plot: The game is Duke’s second on the road this week. Wednesday, the Blue Devils topped Iowa State at Chicago. Tech seeks to rebound at home after a disappointing intra-state loss at Georgia, 73-66.
Flashback: Duke has won 24 of the last 26 meetings in the series including 11 of the last 12 at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Known as the ‘Thrillerdome,” Tech owns a record of 539-188 since its opening in 1956.
Duke downed Tech 70-56 on January 14 of last season. Kyle Singler led the Blue Devils with 14 rebounds and 19 points. Gerald Henderson also scored 19 points.
Since 2001, the two schools have combined for 13 NCAA Tournament appearances. Duke won the title in 2001. Both schools reached the Final Four in 2004.
Foreshadowing: 51 former Blue Devils have made their way to the NBA. 14 of those alums currently dot NBA rosters: Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand, Luol Deng, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Gerald Henderson, Grant Hill, Dahntay Jones, Corey Maggette, Josh McRoberts, Shavlik Randolph, J.J. Redick, and Shelden Williams.
33 Yellow Jackets have graduated to the league. Current Techers in the NBA include Chris Bosh, Will Bynum, Javaris Crittenton, Matt Harping, Jarrett Jack, Anthony Morrow, and Thaddeus Young.
Tone: Georgia Tech will play with a sense of urgency. The ‘Ramblin Wreck’ wants to avoid back-to-back defeats and falling behind in the ACC race. Duke will need to fight off any possible lethargy created by their recent travel schedule.
Conflict: Duke ranks third in the country hitting 42.6 percent from behind the three point arc. Georgia Tech has limited opponents to 29.2 percent from long range. Both teams have a rebound margin near eight. Duke grabs 41 boards per game including 13.9 on the offensive end. Georgia Tech pulls down 42.4 per contest and 14.1 from friendly fire.
Nine Yellow Jackets average 13 or more minutes per game. Moe Miller and Mfon Udofia will need to set the pace in the back court against a pesky Duke defense. The Blue Devils average 6.6 steals and have limited ranked opponents to 32.7 percent shooting from the field including 13.3 percent from behind the arc.
Miller and Udofia will need to get the ball into the hands of teammates where they can score. Most likely, that means getting the ball inside to Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors. Lawal has seven double-doubles thus far on the campaign and finishes 55.5 percent of his shots. Favors hits 58.3 percent and has five double-doubles.
Udofia adds 10.8 per game. Zachery Peacock comes off the bench and chips in 10 points and 4.6 rebounds.
Brain Oliver (no relation to the former Yellow Jacket) leads the Wreck with 25 three pointers. Glen Rice Jr. averages three points and two rebounds in 13 minutes of playing time.
Georgia Tech will need to be on guard against Duke. While this Blue Devil team might not have the star-studded lineup of Duke teams past, it does have cohesion. Duke teams of recent years seemed to have a signature pace and struggled to adjust to game situations. Some Duke teams could run the floor very well and jump out to large leads only to struggle when ball possession was necessary. Other Blue Devil squads have lacked that quick strike ability but could run fluid half-court offense.
This Blue Devil team deftly switches gears throughout a contest adapting to what is given by the opponent. Against Clemson, freshman Mason Plumlee grabbed the ball out of the basket, made eye contact with Nolan Smith, and without hesitation snapped a pass into the front court that caught Smith in full stride for an uncontested layup.
Just a few possessions later, the Blue Devils were running half-court offense with precision.
This ability to change speeds is directly attributed to Jon Scheyer. What the senior may lack in athletic point guard skill set, he makes up for with an uncanny ability to let the game come to him. In the long line of Duke point guards, Scheyer will take his place behind the likes of Tommy Amaker, Chris Duhon, Bobby Hurley, Jim Spanarkel, and Jason Williams.
Nonetheless, with an assist to turnover ratio at 4.58:1, Scheyer is set to break the single season mark set by current Duke assistant, Steve Wojciechowski. Beyond that Scheyer scores 19.7 per game with a free throw percentage of 91.5.
Smith and Singler add 18.5 and 15.9 respectively.
Hitting 52.3 percent from behind the three-point arc, Smith keeps opposing defenses off balance. The 6′2″ guard can get into the paint when needed and is handing out over three assists per contests.
Singler’s game has rounded out well. The native of Medford, Orgeon has hit 23 three pointers and has used the space created by that threat to develop his mid-range game. Singler keeps opposing defenders honest with an array of ways to score. Against Wisconsin, Singler scored 28. He made one three-pointer and finished seven free throws. His remaining 18 points came from a variety of means as the junior showed he can go off the dribble and finish in traffic. On other occasions, Singler can pull up and finish. He has also added a step-back into his arsenal.
Lance Thomas is probably the most valuable and most unsung member of the starting five. The senior is willing to play a supporting role to his teammates. But that is not to suggest that Thomas can not takeover when needed. The New jersey has six points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Miles Plumlee averages seven points and six rebounds for the Blue Devils.
Resolution: Georgia Tech will play with urgency, but it will not be enough for this experienced Duke squad. Duke hits 77.3 percent from the free throw line, and Tech finishes 68.5 percent from the stripe. This will be the difference in a game decided in the final minutes.