Virginia Tech Basketball Hosts No. 8 Virginia

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Virginia Tech is hoping to avoid an 0-2 start in ACC play. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Time: 9 p.m.
TV: ACC Network (affiliate list)

Virginia Tech (11-3, 0-1 ACC) hopes to rebound from their loss to Syracuse when they host in-state rival No. 8 Virginia (12-1, 1-0) on Wednesday night in Cassell Coliseum.

Tech’s last three home meetings with UVA have been classics that have gone down to the wire….

  • January 25, 2015: UVA 50, VT 47
  • January 4, 2016: VT 70, UVA 68
  • February 12, 2017: VT 80, UVA 78 (2OT)

Games in Charlottesville have been blowouts in UVA’s favor, but homecourt advantage in Cassell Coliseum has helped the Hokies a lot.  In fact, Tech lost to the ‘Hoos 71-48 on the road last Feb. 1 before beating them in double overtime in Blacksburg just 11 days later.

Virginia Tech comes into this game in a bad shooting slump.  Though they rank fifth nationally in three-point percentage at 42.7 percent, they have been trending down since the second half of the Kentucky game…

  • Second half at Kentucky: 3-of-10 (30 percent)
  • vs. Presbyterian: 3-of-14 (21.4 percent)
  • vs. North Carolina A&T: 6-of-23 (26.1 percent)
  • at Syracuse: 10-of-30 (33.3 percent)
  • Overall: 22-of-77 (28.6 percent)

The Hokies will have to shoot the ball better against UVA, and they’ll need to get the ball inside at a higher rate than they did against Syracuse.  That’s easier said than done against Tony Bennett and his vaunted Pack Line defense.  The ‘Hoos have some of the best defensive statistics in the country through their first 13 games.

  • Defensive Efficiency: No. 3
  • Opponents’ Points per Game: No. 1
  • Opponents’ Effective FG%: No. 5
  • Opponents’ Three-Point %: No. 32

This is also an important game because of Virginia Tech’s brutal upcoming schedule.  The Hokies should beat Pitt this Saturday in Cassell Coliseum, but after that they have back-to-back road games at Wake Forest and Louisville, consecutive home matchups with Florida State and North Carolina, followed by a road game at Notre Dame. 

Meanwhile, UVA has had a very successful season thus far, with their only loss coming on the road to No. 5/6 West Virginia 68-61.  This looks like a typical Tony Bennett team that is dominant defensively and efficient offensively in games where possessions are at a premium.  Here’s a look at UVA’s projected starting lineup…

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G Devon Hall (6-foot-5, 211 pounds, r-Sr.): Averages 11.5 points per game, team leader with 36 assists.  Hall is a veteran guard who can score and who plays well within the system.

G Kyle Guy (6-foot-2, 175 pounds, So.): Averages 15.7 ppg and is a 45.7 percent three-point shooter.  The former McDonald’s All-American is UVA’s best deep threat.

G Ty Jerome (6-foot-5, 200 pounds, So.): Averages 9.7 ppg.  Jerome has averaged 19.3 points over his last three games, and he is the reigning ACC Player of the Week.

F Isaiah Wilkins (6-foot-7, 227 pounds, Sr.): Averages 7.3 ppg and 7.5 rebounds per game.  Wilkins isn’t flashy, but like Hall he is a veteran in Tony Bennett’s system.  He leads the team with 17 steals, and has committed just nine turnovers this season.

C Jack Salt (6-foot-10, 250 pounds, r-Jr.): Averages 3.6 ppg and 4.3 rpg.  The New Zealander’s length on the inside will pose problems, and like Wilkins and Hall, he has a lot of experience in the Pack Line.

Virginia isn’t particularly deep, but they don’t need to be, considering their pace.  Their top bench player is graduate transfer Nigel Johnson, who has played for both Kansas State and Rutgers.  He averaged 11.3 points per game last season for the Scarlet Knights, and he’s averaging 6.5 points off the bench for the Hoos this season.  Mamadi Diakite (6-foot-9, 228 pounds, r-So.) is averaging 6.1 points in 19.3 minutes off the bench, while De’Andre Hunter (6-foot-7, 222 pounds, r-Fr.) plays just under 15 minutes per game and is a former Pennsylvania state player of the year.

This will be a battle of pace.  Virginia Tech ranks 60th in the country with an average of 75.5 possessions per game.  Meanwhile, Virginia is 351st out of 351 teams with an average of 64.1 possessions per game.  Throwing out X’s and O’s, the key to beating Virginia’s Pack Line defense is to not get frustrated.  The Hokies will struggle for stretches offensively against the ‘Hoos, as everyone does.  They can’t afford to let that affect their performance on the defensive end of the court.  UVA might not score a lot of points because of their limited possessions, but they do rank No. 40 nationally in offensive efficiency.  They have the ability to score, but on the whole they aren’t as potent as the Hokies on the offensive end.

Two years ago, the ‘Hoos were ranked fourth in the country when they were upset in Blacksburg, and last year they came in with a No. 12 ranking when they fell to Tech in two overtimes.  There was not a tremendous reason for Tech to be optimistic going into either of those two contests.  Last year, Virginia Tech had lost three of their previous four games, including a 71-48 setback at UVA just 11 days earlier.  Two years ago, Tech lost by 17 to St. Joseph’s and by 25 to West Virginia in their final two non-conference games, but managed to defeat the ‘Hoos in just the second ACC game of the season… a 9 p.m., weeknight game with no students in town, which is the same scenario they’ll face tonight.

Overall, the teams have split the last four meetings, with UVA winning the previous seven games during the end of the Seth Greenberg era, the James Johnson era, and the first year of Buzz Williams’ tenure.

Tipoff for tonight’s game is scheduled for 9 p.m., and the game will be broadcast by the ACC Network.  Click here for the affiliate list showing the game.

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