College Basketball

Virginia Tech prepared to pick its poison against Duke

Duke guard Tyus Jones goes up against Clemson’s Josh Smith during the Blue Devils win last Saturday in Durham. Jahlil Okafor did not play in the game.
Duke guard Tyus Jones goes up against Clemson’s Josh Smith during the Blue Devils win last Saturday in Durham. Jahlil Okafor did not play in the game. cliddy@newsobserver.com

With or without the presumed No. 1 NBA draft pick, Duke presents quite a challenge for rebuilding Virginia Tech.

“It’s not problem for us; it’s problems, plural,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams said. “And there is a litany of problem that they pose for us.

“Not just Jahlil (Okafor) but from top to bottom, starting with Coach K. We’ll have our hands full, fuller than they’ve been all year long.”

Williams is in his first year of what he realized was a total rebuilding job in Blacksburg, Va. The Hokies (10-17, 2-12 ACC) don’t have the talent typically found on an ACC roster, but they were able to play inspired-enough basketball to almost beat Virginia on Jan. 25, losing 50-47.

Williams didn’t try to paint an unrealistically rosy picture when asked about Wednesday’s game with the Blue Devils during the ACC coaches teleconference.

“We’ve got to figure out which is the best poison for us to swallow,” Williams said. “It’s not only Tyus (Jones), but it’s the rest of those guys. It’s not just Jahlil, it’s not just Quinn Cook. All of those guys are going to put an extreme amount of stress on us both offensively and defensively.”

It remains to be seen if Okafor, whom Williams referred to as “the No. 1 pick in the draft” will play Wednesday. After spraining his left ankle in the first half of Duke’s win against North Carolina Feb. 18, Okafor sat out Saturday’s win against Clemson.

His ankle was still too swollen, coach Mike Krzyzewski said, but he was hopeful Okafor could play Wednesday.

Krzyzewski reiterated that statement Monday, adding that Okafor was walking without a boot and that the swelling had gone down enough to start seeing definition in his ankle again. Okafor was able to participate in some noncontact parts of practice Monday.

As Williams acknowledged, even without Okafor, No. 4 Duke (24-3, 11-3) matches up favorably against Virginia Tech. There’s Jones, Duke’s point guard, who has managed to take his game to another level in recent weeks. He almost single-handedly engineered Duke’s comeback against UNC, scoring nine points in the final two minutes to send the game to overtime.

The next steps for Jones, Krzyzewski said, will be to talk more on the court and limit the number of times he defers to his teammates by passing up open shots.

Jones had a good look from 3 against UNC, but he opted to pass. His coaches and teammates got on him about not shooting, and the result was his end-game performance.

After Jones, there is Cook, whom Krzyzewski has repeatedly called Duke’s most valuable player this year. His court vision off the ball helps Jones, and he is Duke’s most reliable 3-point shooter. He has also played shutdown defense on guys like Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant and UNC’s Marcus Paige.

Justise Winslow is another potential lottery pick who seems to pick up his aggression as Duke’s numbers dwindle. He has 17 first-half points alone against Clemson, driving to the basket early and often.

“I had to step up, we all had to step up,” he said. “I think just me being aggressive really helped out the team – defensively and offensively.”

It is a pick-your-poison situation when playing Duke. Williams knows there is not much mystery to that.

Keeley: 919-829-4556;

Twitter: @laurakeeley

Duke at Virginia Tech

When: 9 p.m. Where: Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Va.

TV/Radio: ESPN2, 620 AM/102.9 FM

Projected starting lineups

No. 4 Duke (24-3, 11-3 ACC)

G Tyus Jones, 11.7 ppg, 5.6 apg

G Quinn Cook, 15.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg

F Justise Winslow, 11.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg

F Amile Jefferson, 7.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg

C Jahlil Okafor, 17.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg

Virginia Tech (10-17, 2-12 ACC)

G Devin Wilson, 6.7 ppg, 4.1 apg

G Adam Smith, 13.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg

G Ahmed Hill, 8.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg

G Malik Muller, 6.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg

F Christian Beyer, 3.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg

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