Former Atlantic 10 foes Virginia Tech and Duquesne meet Wednesday night in Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, VA. Like most NIT games, this one has some interesting story lines.
No. 7 Duquesne (21-11, 9-7 Atlantic 10)
Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart has done a tremendous job turning around the Dukes program just a few years removed from tragedy.
Everhart returns to Cassell Coliseum where he was once a player for the Hokies. There’s no doubt this game means a little extra to him.
The Atlantic 10 is quickly dismissed as just a mediocre conference by most, but in reality it’s a strong league and potentially the best of the “mid-majors”.
The Dukes are one of five A-10 squads with at least 20 wins this season. Among the others are No. 22 Xavier and Dayton, two teams that made the NCAA Tournament and were both defeated this season by Duquesne.
The Dukes predominantly run a four-guard lineup that can distribute, shoot and play pesky defense. Several key players are guards/forwards with good length who can rebound, pass and score quite effectively.
Senior guard Aaron Jackson sets the pace for the Dukes. This season Jackson averaged 18.5 PPG and 5.8 APG to go along with nearly 2 steals per contest.
Another versatile player is sophomore guard/forward Bill Clark (13.2 PPG, 5.1 REB, 2.8 SPG). Clark is 6-5, Jackson is 6-4 and guard/forward Melquan Bolding (9.6 PPG, 4.4 REB, 1.1 APG) is also 6-4.
Sophomore forward Damian Saunders compliments that group at 6-7. Saunders averaged 13.3 PPG this season to go along with a team high 7.7 rebounds per contest.
Clearly, Duquesne’s “small” lineup isn’t that small. The smallest player who gets significant time is freshman guard Eric Evans (9.5 PPG, 2.2 APG) who is 5’11”.
No. 2 Virginia Tech (18-14, 7-9 ACC)
Clearly, the Hokies will have their hands full against the Dukes.
Their lineup presents Tech with some match up issues and it will be interesting to see who they go with in this one.
Duquesne likes to shoot from outside to the tune of 24 three-point attempts per game, making 35 percent.
Seth Greenberg will have to decide what personnel best suit the situation. If he uses a “big” lineup including likely starters senior Cheick Diakite (6-9) and sophomore Jeff Allen (6-7), it makes the Dukes tougher to defend on the perimeter.
Of course since Duquesne lacks a true big man, Tech could try and pound the ball low and take advantage in the post, hoping the Dukes won’t hurt them too much from outside. This chess match should be interesting.
Sophomore guard Malcolm Delaney is coming off what Greenberg called the best game of his career, a gut-wrenching 79-76 loss to No. 1 North Carolina in the ACC Tournament Friday.
Delaney had a double-double with 17 points and a career high 10 assists. He saw things develop before they happened on offense and played tough, aggressive defense. The Hokies will rely on Delaney as usual to be a catalyst for things.
Finally there’s A.D. Vassallo. The senior currently resides in eighth place on Tech’s all-time career scoring list. He needs just 9 points to move into sixth place and pass Bob Ayersman (1957-61) and Zabian Dowdell (2004-07).
Vassallo from his freshman to his senior year has improved as much as any player in the country. His game is well-rounded and though he defense can still be suspect at times, look for A.D. to give his best effort in this one.
This game will be very close. The Hokies are virtually incapable of blowing out opponents and the Dukes are a very talented basketball team who will be ready to pull the upset.
The Hokies have history on their side however. Tech is at home where they are 10-5 this season. Tech is also 5-0 all-time against Duquesne at home and they lead the series 7-5.
The NIT has also been very kind to the Hokies over the years.
In the friendly confines of Cassell Coliseum Tech is 10-1 all-time in the NIT. Overall, the Hokies boast a 20-7 record in the tournament, winning it in 1973 and 1995.
Again, this will be a good game and should be close throughout. Ultimately, the Hokies have just a bit too much firepower.
Virginia Tech 75