Duke knew its road to a potential No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament without winning the ACC regular-season title would be difficult.
Without Nolan Smith, it may well be impossible.
The fifth-ranked Blue Devils could be without their injured star point guard Saturday when they play Virginia Tech in the conference tournament semifinals at Greensboro, N.C.
Smith, the ACC’s leading scorer at 21.6 points per game and the conference player of the year, hurt the second toe on his left foot on a non-contact play in the second half of Friday’s 87-71 victory over Maryland.
Though X-rays taken showed Smith’s toe wasn’t broken, Duke will wait until after pregame warmups to decide whether Smith will play Saturday.
After Friday’s win, coach Mike Krzyzewski’s greater concern appeared to be the availability of his senior for the NCAA tournament.
“We’re going to try to make a long run, with or without him,” Krzyzewski said. “If he can’t play (Saturday) - and I’m not saying he won’t play, because I’ll find out later - but if he can’t, or we’re risking something and we have to keep him out, we’ll probably have until Friday if we go to Charlotte to get him with the right type of shoe and stuff like that.
“To make a run in the NCAA, you need your players,” Krzyzewski continued. “There’s no question. Nolan has been a player of the year in our conference, so it’s not just losing a player. It’s losing an outstanding player, if we don’t have him.”
With Smith, the Blue Devils (28-4) are a legitimate threat to win their second straight NCAA tournament title and a third consecutive ACC title. Without him, Duke’s chances at claiming a No. 1 seed are daunting as it heads into a game against a Virginia Tech team it to which it already lost when it was ranked No. 1 in the nation. If the Blue Devils win, they’d face a potential championship game versus arch-rival and ACC champion North Carolina.
The offensive burden will fall to Kyle Singler, who delivered 29 points against the Terrapins, one off his season high set against Oregon on Nov. 27. The senior forward had 22 points and 12 rebounds in a 64-60 loss at Virginia Tech on Feb. 26, but shot 6 of 19.
Singler expects guards Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins to also help fill the scoring void. That duo combined for 20 points Friday.
“I have full confidence and the team has full confidence in the guys on the team,” Singler said. “So when (Dawkins) came in and Seth was at the point, I felt comfortable and the team felt comfortable.”
Seemingly a perennial bubble team, Virginia Tech (21-10) could erase all doubts about being selected to the field of 68 with a second win over the Blue Devils. The sixth-seeded Hokies bolstered their at-large chances with a 52-51 victory Friday night after Florida State’s Derwin Kitchen had a buzzer beater waved off by officials following a replay review.
“I talked to them before the game about resiliency and perseverance,” said coach Seth Greenberg. “They took it to a little bit of an extreme, but that’s who they’ve been. They haven’t made excuses. They just play.”
Malcolm Delaney scored 16 points, but it was Erick Green hitting the go-ahead jumper with 4.7 seconds to play after missing 12 of his prior 13 shots. The Hokies may be gassed for this game as Greenberg used only six players, with Green logging the full 40 minutes.
The Hokies have never made the ACC final since joining the conference for the 2004-05 season.
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