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StLouHoo's Preview:

Crashing Cassell

Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia hits the road again Wednesday for a short bus ride down I-81 to Blacksburg. The Hoos have struggled in the dark, drafty confines of Cassell Coliseum in recent years, even in some of Tech's down years. Let's deep dive what exactly is in store for this year's trip.

Game Details:

Date/Time:Wednesday, February 26th, 7:00 pm ET
Location:Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, VA
TV:ESPN2

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:Virginia -3, O/U 113, equates to ~58-55 UVA win
Torvik:Ranks VT #103, predicts a 53-52 UVA win, 58% confidence
KenPom:Ranks VT #97, predicts a 55-54 UVA win, 50% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#3 Wabissa Bede, 6'1" 195, JR
30.4 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 5.7 apg, 22.8 3P%
SG#23 Tyrece Radford, 6'2" 195, FR
25.7 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 1.6 apg, 9.1 3P%
SF#4 Nahiem Alleyne, 6'3" 195, FR
26.9 mpg, 9.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 39.8 FG%
PF#14 P.J. Horne, 6'5" 230, JR
28.1 mpg, 7.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 45.7 FG%
C#2 Landers Nolley II, 6'7" 230, FR
30.8 mpg, 16.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 38.2 FG%
Key Reserves
PG#15 Jalen Cone, 5'10" 170, FR
17.5 mpg, 8.0 ppg, 0.6 apg, 51.0 3P%
G#0 Hunter Cattoor, 6'3" 205, FR
20.3 mpg, 6.2 ppg, 1.3 apg, 38.6 3P%
F#1 Isaiah Wilkins, 6'3" 230, SO
14.4 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 34.6 FG%
C#21 John Ojiako, 6'10" 240, FR
10.7 mpg, 3.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 54.4 FG%

 

The ABC's of Virginia Tech:

A) They've cooled off after a hot start. The Hokies were the darling of the first half of the season, upsetting Michigan State in Maui and racing out to a 5-3 start in league play. But that momentum is long gone with the Hokies mired in the midst of seven losses in their last eight games.Two of those losses came to FSU and at Duke, but otherwise it's been fairly middling ACC competition in that stretch. The dropoff can be traced to a couple of statistics. The Hokies shot 37.4% from 3 collectively through their first 19 games. Since then, their team 3-point percentage has been just 30.3%. Opponents, by contrast, shot just 30.4% on 3's in the first 19 games but over the last eight contests have shot 36.9% from deep. Lastly, the Hokies defense had played very clean early on, averaging just 13.3 fouls committed per game in their first 19 games... during the losing streak they're committing over 18 fouls a night. Hard to tell how much of this all is fixable in the closing weeks as they try to at least salvage an NIT bid.

B) They run a very small lineup. No team in the ACC plays as small a lineup as VT. KenPom ranks them as the 10th-shortest roster in all of D-1. 6'7" redshirt freshman Landers Nolley is their default center, and at times even the 6'6" Horne will log time at the 5. Only freshman John Ojiako resembles a traditional big but he's only getting around 12 minutes a game lately as he struggles with foul trouble. It allows VT to really spread out their offense, as all five players are perimeter-oriented. True bigs like Huff and Caffaro are going to be out of their element in a lot of this game, and as such may not get played much by Tony. Could be a good matchup for McKoy to get some bonus run.

C) They take immaculate care of the ball. Mike Young has drilled this Hokie team to be strong with the ball, play with tight handles, and make smart choices when passing. The result is that the Hokies rank 4th nationally in overall lowest offensive TO%, and best in the country in terms of fewest live-ball turnovers committed. That excellence has continued into ACC play as well. Only the ball-dominant Nolley has TO issues (2.7 a game), and point guard Bede boasts an enviable 5.7:1.7 A:TO ratio per game. Virginia's defense has shied away from aggressive ball-hawking this year, so expect VT to move the ball cleanly in this one.

 

Their Season To Date

Virginia Tech is 15-12 on the season, 6-10 in ACC play. Their best win is an upset of Michigan State at the Maui Invitational in November. Their best ACC wins were over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome and at home over NC State. They've lost seven of their last eight games, two of which were in OT at home (Miami, BC), the lone win over Pitt by 10. Most recently, they got blown out at Duke.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Keep Radford out of the lane. The story on VT early in the year was the breakout of redshirt freshman Landers Nolley. And as their lead scorer and a shoo-in for all-ACC-freshman honors, it's a good story to tell. But more recently, the breakout story has been Tech's other redshirt freshman, the completely unheralded Tyrece Radford. So under-the-radar that he didn't even warrant a 247 or Rivals profile out of high school, and most people didn't even realize he signed with Buzz Williams in 2018. But the whirling dervish of an undersized guard has been punishing teams that take him too lightly. He's scored in double-digits 9 times in ACC play, having topped 20 points three times since New Years. He's become as ball-dominant as Nolley in a bid to diversify their offense. Radford won't shoot 3-pointers, so the key becomes doing whatever you can to stay in front of him and challenge his circus shots without fouling.

2) Run good zone offense. If there's one thing about UVA's offense that's driven me almost as mad this year as the turnover woes have, it's our inability to run good sets against zone defenses. And I'm not even talking about Syracuse's zone. I'm talking about teams like Clemson or Notre Dame, whose zone defenses haven't really slowed down UVA in years past. Yet this year we've struggled in those games, and Mike Young will know that. Having to compensate for their lack of size, VT's set up to throw out a variety of zone looks to confuse and slow down UVA's improving offense. True, our improving perimeter shooting could help, but in the bad lighting of the barn, hard to count on that. We need to see UVA confidently diagnose the zone looks it sees then promptly get the ball inside however required (read: crisp ball movement) to exploit our advantages on the blocks with our 4s and 5s, only counting on the 3-ball after the ball's touched the paint to collapse the defense.

3) Smother their shooters. Virginia Tech is a live-by-the-3, die-by-the-3 team. As we detailed above, they've been dying more than living of late, as their team 3-point rates have dropped considerably over the last month. In the Hokies' trip to JPJ in early January, UVA held VT to just a 4-of-25 (16%) 3-point shooting night. It's simplistic, but it's true, the Hoos have to keep the Hokie shooters out of rhythm. During the current slide, the Hokies occasionally have had good nights, including an 8-of-22 (36%) night at Miami and a 12-of-32 (37.5%) night in a win over Pitt two weeks ago. Jalen Cone and Nahiem Alleyne both still boast great 3P shooting numbers in ACC play (49% and 38%, respectively, both on high volume), so UVA has do a good job switching screens and tracking off-ball movement, as Tech will spread the floor to drive-and-kick all game.

 

 

Predictions:

The UVA vs Virginia Tech rivalry over the last few years has been characterized by, in any given year, the Hoos winning one game in blowout fashion and the other game being a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire battle. Last year Virginia won by 22 and by 6. In 2018 we won by 26 and lost in OT. In 2017 we won by 23 and lost in double-OT. 2013 was the last time that pattern was broken, UVA winning both games that year comfortably in James Johnson's first season.

But in UVA's favor of snapping that pattern, this Virginia Tech team is insanely young, ranking 350th out of 353 teams in D-1 in experience, the result of playing 6 freshmen in their core 9-man rotation. Though to their credit, that group has stayed healthy all year long, only two missed games combined all season.

Tech's entered that part of their season when they're hanging on for dear life, cornered and desperate. Obviously an NCAAT berth isn't coming, but the NIT is a very real (and perfectly admirable) goal they're still chasing, and these guys know the value a win over the defending champs will do for their confidence closing out the season. They've been competitive at home to boot. Virginia by contrast still hasn't locked in its NCAAT bid, so wins are still required, and there are no gimme's left on the schedule. Hoos can't let this opportunity slip away.

Ultimate I think the Hoos' ability to dial in its 3-point shooting in this one (off of paint touches first!) will likely prove the difference maker.

Hoos Win 60-52