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StLouHoo's Preview:

New Look Hokies Come To Town

Virginia Tech Hokies

The calendar has flipped to 2020 and the traditional ACC portion of the schedule begins. Virginia opens the new year up with its in-state rival Virginia Tech, one of the ACC's bigger surprises this year. While they've got a young, unheralded roster, they do have one of the year's biggest upsets to their credit. Is an upset of the Hoos also in their cards?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, January 4th, 2:00 pm ET
Location:John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
TV:ACCN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:
Torvik:Ranks VT #70, predicts a 54-49 UVA win, 75% confidence
KenPom:Ranks VT #63, predicts a 57-51 UVA win, 71% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#3 Wabissa Bede, 6'1" 195, JR
28.8 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 6.4 apg, 20.7 3P%
SG#23 Tyrece Radford, 6'2" 195, FR
21.5 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 1.4 apg, 12.5 3P%
SF#4 Nahiem Alleyne, 6'3" 195, FR
28.4 mpg, 10.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 39.3 FG%
PF#14 P.J. Horne, 6'5" 230, JR
26.5 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 55.4 FG%
C#2 Landers Nolley II, 6'7" 230, FR
28.9 mpg, 17.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 43.4 FG%
Key Reserves
PG#15 Jalen Cone, 5'10" 170, FR
12.8 mpg, 6.1 ppg, 0.5 apg, 55.9 3P%
G#0 Hunter Cattoor, 6'3" 205, FR
23.5 mpg, 8.3 ppg, 1.4 apg, 44.6 3P%
G/F#1 Isaiah Wilkins, 6'3" 230, SO
16.6 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 1.8 apg, 31.7 3P%
C#21 John Ojiako, 6'10" 240, FR
12.1 mpg, 4.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 54.1 FG%

 

The ABC's of Virginia Tech:

A) This is a near-total new-look Hokies team. Last year Virginia Tech made it within an Ahmed Hill tip-in of upsetting Duke and making it to the Elite Eight. It was without a doubt the greatest season in VT basketball history. But if you thought our history-making run cost us a lot, the Hokies lost far more. First, head man Buzz Williams bolted for Texas A&M. A three-man senior class of Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, and Ty Outlaw graduated. Nickeil Alexander-Walker went in the NBA Draft. Kerry Blackshear and Chris Clarke (suspended last season) grad-transferred to Florida and Texas Tech, respectively. Even little-used guard Jon Kabongo was lost for the year to injury, and 4-star recruit Anthony Harris flipped to UNC.

New coach Mike Young (Wofford) convinced bench players Wabissa Bede, Isaiah Wilkins, PJ Horne (combined ~53 mpg and 12 ppg last year), and the redshirting Landers Nolley to stay the course, and surrounded them with an all new cast. 4-star Jalen Cone was the best get on short notice, though four other unheralded rookies are chipping in too, with Alleyne, Radford, Cattoor, and Ojiako all logging key minutes despite being on no ACC recruiting radars before this past summer.

B) Landers Nolley may be the ACC Rookie of the Year. With Cole Anthony sidelined indefinitely and the Duke freshmen splitting media attention, ACC RoY honors are Nolley's to win unless he's punished for having redshirted (making him roughly a year older than many other rookies). He started his career with 30 points in a win at Clemson. He dropped 22 in their upset of Michigan State. His averages of 17.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, and nearly a steal a game, while shooting 43.5% from 3-point, arguably the best stat line of the league's freshman class. The combo forward who moonlights as a 5-out (more on that next) will be a difficult assignment for UVA's bigs, and probably drives UVA to a smaller lineup since you don't want Huff or Caffaro being forced to cover him. Could be an interesting assignment for the similarly-built McKoy if for some reason we can't stick Key or Diakite on the young star.

C) They play incredibly small ball. The Hokies have only two guys on the roster who even resemble true big men; barely-used Alabama State transfer Branden Johnson and undersized and unheralded rookie John Ojiako. Those two rank 9th and 11th in minutes played for Tech this year. That means they're usually playing a true 5-out lineup with combo-forward Nolley the token center. Next to him is the 6'5" bowling ball forward Horne, and 6'3" but a squat 230 lb Wilkins also chipping in on the front line. It's one of the smallest lineups you're going to see in a power conference, and they're accepting the tradeoff on defense and the glass for the increase in offensive floor spacing.

 

Their Season To Date

Virginia Tech is 10-3 (1-1) on the year. They opened with a 7 point win at Clemson and peaked with an upset of Michigan State in Maui before dropping three straight to Dayton, BYU, and Duke. They're on a 4-game winning streak, though none against Top-200 teams per KenPom, most recently blowing out Maryland Eastern Shore before New Years.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Slow down their 3-point shooting. If there's one reason above all that the Hokies offense is rolling, it's their perimeter shooting. As a team they shoot an immaculate 39.4% collectively, 12th best in the country, and show no discomfort with the new distance. That threat is spread around the roster as well. We already mentioned Nolley's 43.5% (on the team's highest volume), but Cone (56%), Alleyne (36%), Horne (43%), and Cattoor (45%) all must be respected as well. Only Bede (21%), Radford (only 8 attempts on the season), and Wilkins (32%) are below average. Ojiako, in his limited minutes, won't stretch the floor, but UVA's Pack Line will need to be extended, and our closeouts extra focused, in this game to avoid being shot out of our own gym.

2) Be aggressive offensively. Tech is a pretty "meh" team defensively. During their 3-game skid around Thanksgiving, they gave up 89 to Dayton, 90 to BYU, and 77 to Duke (every game was around 66-67 possessions). Their size disadvantage means they play a lot of zone and there's no rim protection that should scare us (they've padded their block statistics against a very weak schedule). Bede's a good defender at the point, but behind him the Hoos should be able to both get to the rim and get off good shots. The Hokies aren't known this year for turning opponents over, so hopefully our ball security woes shouldn't be a huge factor in this game. The Hoos simply must be aggressive, get paint touches, and confidently knock down their good looks.

3) Dominate the glass. I expect us to go smaller than usual in this game. With the exception of the 12 minutes a game Ojiako plays, Tech will run out 5 players capable of playing on the perimeter. That makes this game a terrible matchup for both Huff and Caffaro who struggle to defend smaller players in space, so expect to see a lot of minutes with Mamadi, Key, and McKoy at the 4 and 5. Certainly I'd look to get one of the 7-footers in whenever Ojiako is on the court, but even outside of those instances, UVA should still have a size advantage with the 6'9" Mamadi, 6'8" Key, and 6'8" McKoy at the 4-5 over VT's front line of 6'7" Nolley and 6'5" Horne. That needs to allow us to both control the defensive glass against a Hokie offense that's below average securing offensive boards and could give our struggling offense a few second chance opportunities to tip the scales in our favor.

 

 

Predictions:

Credit where it's due. Where once I predicted Tech to be bringing up the rear of the ACC this year, burdened by insane roster turnover and a lack of talent, Mike Young has them surprisingly competitive so far. Who cares if guys like Wilkins, Horne, Cattoor, Radford, or Alleyne were on nobody's recruiting radar coming out of high school the last two classes? Those guys are largely doing two things that make up for poor recruiting rankings: they can shoot and they hustle.

In some ways it's a not-great matchup for UVA. The Pack Line excels at cluttering the paint and making life hell on big men and dribble-driving guards. Teams that can shoot the 3 always have a chance to punish it, especially if they can do so with their front court, thereby pulling our bigs away from the paint and prime help position. Virginia Tech is exactly that kind of offense, and has the potential to shoot well inside JPJ.

What has my mind at ease, however, is the weakness of VPI's schedule, which KenPom ranks 335th in the country; and their non-conference portion 351st of 353. Their win over Michigan State is praiseworthy, though over the last four weeks they haven't seen a single quality opponent.

One thing I specifically will be watching for is for Mamadi to stay out of foul trouble. He'll more often than not have the assignment to cover Nolley or maybe Horne, and the young Hokie combo forwards will be coached to drag him away from the basket and then go right at the senior. Mamadi is the best of our bigs at covering in space, but at the end of the day he's still a big man who can get out of position and foul trying to recover on a dribble-drive. For Mamadi to be the force scoring in the paint and securing the glass we need him to be, he can't have his playing time limited by foul trouble.

All that said, if Virginia's offense can play up to its potential, which admittedly is a big "if" this year, then the Hoos should be able to defend the home court against a Hokie team that's convinced itself it it can punch above its weight class.

Hoos Win 66-58