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Posted at 10:16 AM ET, 02/25/2011

What's on the line for Virginia Tech vs. No. 1 Duke

By Mark Giannotto

Maybe you've heard already, but there's a fairly large basketball game going on at Cassell Coliseum on Saturday night when No. 1 Duke pays a visit to Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils are fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, while the Hokies need a win to feel any sort of comfort about their chances of even making the tournament.

Not to mention ESPN's "College Gameday" is in town, which has brought out the promoter in Coach Seth Greenberg. Whether it's Twitter, radio interviews or on television, Greenberg has been selling Saturday as one of the great moments in school history and "an unbelievable stage for our basketball program and our university." And for a change, he's probably not exaggerating, either.

I'll have more on what this all means for the basketball program's evolution in tomorrow's paper, but all this hype has only magnified the stakes. Virginia Tech, forever in search of a signature win to show off to the NCAA selection committee, gets a final shot to earn one with the entire country watching.

If we look at the Hokies' tournament resume from the selection committee's perspective, there's two aspects that stand out. Virginia Tech has zero wins and five losses against teams in the RPI top 50, but is an impressive 7-0 against teams ranked between 50 and 100 in the RPI, or 7-5 against the RPI top 100.

The guess here is that a win over Duke will go a long ways toward persuading the committee to ignore Virginia Tech's five other losses against elite competition and focus instead on its record against teams of equivalent ilk.

Saturday will more than likely be Virginia Tech's final opportunity to secure a win against the RPI's top 50 until the semifinals of the ACC tournament. Though Boston College is currently No. 49, if the Hokies beat them at home on Tuesday the Eagles would probably fall out of the top 50.

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is No. 64 in the RPI as of Friday morning. Its best wins in terms of the RPI have come against Florida State (52), Penn State (53) and Oklahoma State (57). My bet is none of the three end up finishing in the top 50, though. The Seminoles no longer have Chris Singleton, Penn State closes the year with games against Ohio State and at Minnesota, and the Cowboys are under .500 in Big 12 play.

What's important to keep in mind is that the Hokies finish the regular season with what will ultimately be three of their 10 toughest games this season. Beating Duke, Boston College and Clemson -- or even going 2-1 against them -- could boost the Hokies' RPI 10 to 20 spots and will undoubtedly improve their overall strength of schedule.

But here's the double-edged sword that comes with playing on such a big platform like "College Gameday." Opinions will be formed off this Duke game, whether fair or not. A win would eliminate some of the "they should rename the bubble after Greenberg" talk. A loss will be blown out of proportion, even though the Blue Devils are the defending national champions.

Another issue comes on the court, where Duke is just a matchup nightmare for Virginia Tech on the defensive end. As they showed early against lowly Wake Forest on Tuesday -- when Jeff Allen and Erick Green got into foul trouble -- the Hokies' depleted lineup just isn't built to play a whole bunch of man-to-man defense. When Virginia Tech pulled away from the Demon Deacons, it was because it had switched into its 2-3 zone.

The only problem is that playing zone against Duke's plethora of shooters could be disastrous. The Blue Devils have five players shooting better than 35 percent from three-point range. If the Hokies go man, the pressure will fall on Allen to stay out of foul trouble -- and Duke will almost certainly use whomever Allen's guarding on those high screens with Nolan Smith -- especially since his ability to score in the post could be a major advantage for Virginia Tech offensively.

No matter how you shake it, Saturday will not only be the Hokies' most important and most watched game to date this season, it will also be their toughest.

By Mark Giannotto  | February 25, 2011; 10:16 AM ET
 
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Comments

If the Hokies could pull this one off, it would be a great win.

Posted by: Benson | February 25, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

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