Coming off a drama filled ACC season opening victory versus Boston College at JPJ, the Hoos make the annual trek to Blacksburg for the road game against the Hokies. The Hokies are coming off a convincing loss at Syracuse in their ACC opener. They'll be more desperate than usual to beat the Hoos on Wednesday night. We know what to expect from the Hokies and Seattle Hoo details it nicely in our game preview. Here's what I'll be looking for.
A Quick Start On Offense
The Hoos started the Boston College game exactly the way I was hoping. By the first TV timeout, the starters had BC on the ropes. Unfortunately, the bench immediately gave up the lead and foreshadowed a pattern that was to persist throughout the game.
A quick start in Blacksburg will afford the Hoos a confidence boost in their first conference road game of the season. It will also help mellow the Hokie's home crowd. The timing of the game, the middle of the week in early January before classes have started for the second semester at 9 PM, makes it difficult to predict how large a crowd will be in attendance. But you can count on those Hokies that make the trip to be out for blood. Ideally, a quick start from the Hoos will leave them looking like this.
Quick Start: Austin Peay, VCU, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Savannah State, Boston College
Not A Quick Start: UNCG, Monmouth, Rhode Island, Lehigh, West Virginia, Davidson, Hampton
Quick Starts: 6 for 13 or 46.15%
Current Streak: 1 in a row for Quick Start
Seattle Hoo's preview explained the proclivity of the Hokies to drive the lane, collapse your defense, and kick the ball back out for open three point shots, especially in the corner. The best way to combat this (besides keeping the Hokies out of the lane - unlikely to happen all game) is to let the Packline do its job in the lane. That means off ball defenders on the perimeter must resist the temptation to sag into the lane to provide help.
Falling for that trap gives open three point shots to a very proficient three point shooting team. The Hokies have made 42.7% of their three point attempts on the season per Sports-Reference. That's good for sixth best in the country. Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs will be the main beneficiaries of these open shots. Hill is shooting 50.6% on the season on 6.1 attempts per game. Bibbs is shooting 41.0% on the season on 5.1 attempts per game. Freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker is another Hokie to watch if Justin Robinson or Devin Wilson are the players penetrating the defense. NAW is 45.6% from three on the season on 4.1 attempts per game.
It's unrealistic to expect a clean sheet in this section, but as much as the Hoos drill the defense in practice, it's not unrealistic to expect the team to execute this successfully most of the game.
If the Hokie guards aren't kicking the ball out to open shooters, or flailing to draw a foul, they'll look to score at the rim. Challenging those shots without fouling will be an important part of the defensive gameplan. The Hoos are only 120th in blocked shots per Sports-Reference but they'll have the length inside to frustrate the smaller Hokies. Zay (1.4 blocks per game), Mamadi Diakite (0.5 blocks per game), Jack Salt (0.8 blocks per game), and De'Andre Hunter (0.3 blocks per game) all have either the size / length or individual defensive prowess to frustrate the Hokies at the rim. I do wonder if this matchup will allow for Jay Huff (1.4 blocks per game in limited minutes) to see his first ACC game action too.
Do not sleep on starting big man, 6-10 Kerry Blackshear Jr. either. Blackshear didn't play last season due to an injury. But he's averaging 12.1 points per game in only 21.5 minutes a game this season while shooting 65.8% on two point shots. The Hoos cannot afford to ignore him while he's in the game. The ability to protect the rim will play an important role here too.
As long as he stays out of foul trouble, Jack will probably play more than expected this game given the Hokies typical small ball lineup. Tony seems willing to play the two big lineup against smaller opponents this season, displaying a level of trust in Jack as long as he isn't fouling. He's currently tied with Ty Jerome for the second most fouls per game on the team at 2.2 per, just behind Diakite's 2.3 fouls per game. Last season, Jack averaged 2.6 fouls per game so he's shown some improvement.
Jack's defense will be especially beneficial against Blackshear. Visions of Salt's superb defensive effort last year against Ben Lammers of Georgia Tech will be dancing through my head. How the Hoos counter a lineup with the smaller Chris Clarke (6-6) as the big man will be interesting. Clarke would be a very difficult matchup for Salt, so it's expected that Zay or Mamadi would almost always draw that assignment.
If the Hoos are to escape the barn in Blacksburg with a win, deferential Devon needs to be left in Charlottesville. Instead, the Hoos require a bounce back effort from Devon Hall where he's playing aggressive and downhill on offense. If the shots aren't falling: go to the rim, seek contact, and knock down your free throws. If the shots are falling: don't abandon the aggression and look for in rhythm three point jumpers. Move on offense, move the ball quickly, and don't stand around pounding the ball into the floor.
The vintage of Devon Hall I'm looking for was last seen dominating Davidson and West Virginia. Those games weren't that long ago.
This section is solely for my own amusement and to remind everyone that the Hokies' basketball arena has a giant ceiling fan on the ceiling. It remains one of the more bizarre things you'll see in college basketball. It should be celebrated and ridiculed at the same time.
Follow me on Twitter: @notkarlhess