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December 4, 2005Winning an ACC regular season championship requires a long and arduous journey.
That journey begins at 8:00 tonight at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Duke Blue Devils as they welcome Virginia Tech to Durham.
The Hokies enter the matchup with a 5-2 mark, including a tough one point loss at home to Bowling Green and a 69-56 defeat in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Monday night at Ohio State.
Though the Devils have a significant edge on paper, Duke fans only have to think back to last season to get a refresher in how dangerous Seth Greenberg's team can be.
The Hokies upset Duke in Blacksburg last year 67-65 at Cassell Coliseum.
There's two big differences from that game last year, though. Tonight's game will be in the friendly environment of Cameron Indoor Stadium and this Duke team is ranked number one in the country.
That doesn't mean the Hokies won't pose a threat, as Virginia Tech boasts a talented trio of players they hope can carry them to a huge upset.
They have a solid inside/outside punch with guard Zabian Dowdell and interior players Coleman Collins and Deron Washington.
Greenberg has also gotten solid play from guard Jamon Gordon, who has put up a sparkling 2.5-to-1 assist to turnover ratio in the season's first seven games.
Virginia Tech won't be shy about playing several players either, as the Hokies have nine players averaging better than 10 minutes a game.
Under Greenberg, Virginia Tech has prided themselves on solid defense, trying to make opponents work for every clean look at the basket. That tops our list of keys to the game.
Establish an offensive flow
Duke came out on fire against Indiana Wednesday night, building a 16-2 lead before the Hoosiers knew what had hit them.
That lead wasn't built by accident, as the Devils simply were crisp in their offensive sets and got clean looks at the basket.
A similarly efficient offensive start against Virginia Tech would put the Hokies in a very uncomfortable position early.
On the season, Virginia Tech has held opponents to just 39.1 percent field goal shooting and a frigid 27 percent total from three point range. Part of that credit should go to Collins and Coleman, who have each been effective under the goal defensively.
Dowdell, Gordon, and fellow starter Markus Sailes have been getting their hands on a lot of balls on the perimeter.
With Greg Paulus getting a little better with each game, Duke will be looking for quality play early from him to help the Devils establish early control.
Doesn't take much
The pattern is clear for Virginia Tech under Greenberg. They like to win low scoring defensive struggles, just like last year's victory over the Devils in Blacksburg.
When opponents have scored 70 or more points against Greenberg's Hokie teams, Virginia Tech is only 4-23.
While Duke hasn't always looked like a polished offensive machine on the young season, the Devils have managed to reach at least 70 points in every game.
By reaching that number tonight, it's hard to envision a scenario where the Hokies can keep up offensively.
Avoid foul trouble
No matter how much Duke fans may want to see Eric Boateng and Jamal Boykin get some minutes in the paint, it just doesn't look like Mike Krzyzewski wants to throw them into the fire just yet.
Boateng did log a minute of action in Bloomington Wednesday night when both Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts got tagged with their third fouls.
After Marco Killingsworth spun right by him for an easy basket, Williams was summoned back off the bench.
It will be important for Williams and McRoberts to stay on the floor. If they avoid foul trouble, Boateng and Boykin could very well see significant minutes because Duke will have likely built a comfortable lead.
Virginia Tech has struggled to control the boards this season, being outrebounded by a slim average margin against a schedule made up largely of lightweights.
They've especially struggled at cleaning up the defensive glass, giving up nearly 13 offensive rebounds per outing.
That could partially be due to holding opponents to such a low shooting percentage, but it surely has to be a worrisome stat for the Hokies.
With Williams' size, strength, and intelligence combined with McRoberts terrific athleticism, the Devils will likely be able to work their way for a few second chance opportunities.
It's going to be tough enough for the Hokies to hold down the Duke offense with just one shot, but if the Devils are able to get some second chance points, the Hokies just won't be able to keep up.
Need a little help
It seems like this has been mentioned before every game this year, but we're all still waiting for a third offensive threat to emerge on this Duke team.
J.J. Redick and Williams can carry Duke a long way, but the Devils will be much better equipped for the long haul if McRoberts can have a breakout game to grab defenses' attention.
Simply put, whenever his breakout offensive night comes, Duke will be completely unstoppable. Add in Paulus' ability to hit open shots and the offense would just be unfair.
Will that game be tonight? I guess we'll find out soon enough, but it's so tantalizing to think about what this team will look like when that day comes.
Duke showed great toughness at Indiana Wednesday night. With senior leaders at the helm of this ship, they stayed mentally tough in the face of a strong Indiana rally and executed down the stretch to win.
The confidence taken from that game should help this team's development. Combine that with a return to familiar territory in front of the Cameron Crazies, and you get a formula for a blowout.