On Saturday the No. 7 Duke Blue Devils (24-5, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) went into Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. to play the Virginia Tech Hokies (17-11, 7-7 ACC). The Blue Devils left Blacksburg with a typical, gritty and down to the wire ACC road win. They also left the impression that they're back to being the Devils of old, a team that can weather a poor offensive night and win a game with a strong defensive performance.
The Blue Devils entered the game 3-3 in their last six ACC contests. In those games they allowed opponents to average 1.14 points per possession, a direct result of allowing them to shoot 58.4 effective field goal percentage (eFG%). The Blue Devils were also failing to force turnovers. They only posted a 22.4 turnover rate (TORate) in those six games, down from 25.4 TORate in their first seven conference games. In a game played at the Devils' average pace that amounts to about three fewer turnovers per game.
Against the Hokies, the Blue Devils reversed all of those trends. They held Virginia Tech to 44.6 percent eFG and forced a turnover rate of 27.3. These key factors helped hold the Hokies' offense to 0.935 points per possession. Comparing this game to the rest of the Blue Devils season illustrates why they're back to their defensively minded ways of old.
Saturday's game against Virginia Tech compares much more favorably to the Blue Devils' early season run in ACC play than to their recent six-game stretch. Since Duke played Clemson they have only held one opponent (Miami) below one point per possession. In the seven games prior, the Blue Devils held every opponent to below 0.92 points per possession.
Playing poor defense was the Devils' main issue over their recent stretch of games. Though many have blamed an average offense for those struggles, the Devils' lack of an offensive post threat and true point guard didn't prevent them from going 5-1 to begin conference play. Solid defense anchored the Blue Devils' early dominance in league play and hid their less than stellar offense.
If Saturday's performance is any indicator of how Duke is going to finish out the month of March, then look for them to improve upon their recent NCAA Tournament history and return to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since they were the tournament's overall No. 1 seed in 2006.