Virginia Tech Basketball Searching For Road Win at Wake Forest

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Buzz Williams and the Hokies need to pick up an ACC road win. (Photo by Ivan Morozov)

Virginia Tech (12-4, 1-2) will look to win its second consecutive game when they travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest.  The Demon Deacons are 8-7 overall and 1-2 in league play, though they’ve been much more competitive in league games than their overall record would indicate.

Wake Forest’s season got off to a dreadful start and though they’ve played better recently, this is still the same team that started 1-4, with losses to four schools that aren’t in Power 5 conferences.

The Demon Deacons began their season at home with back-to-back losses to Georgia Southern (85-83) and Liberty (79-66).  Obviously that isn’t an auspicious start.  They then traveled to Lynchburg for the Paradise Jam, which was relocated from the Virgin Islands because of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  In that event, Wake lost to Drake 77-74 and Houston 78-73.  A 72-55 victory over Quinnipiac was sandwiched between those two defeats.

Wake then ran off six straight victories, including an ACC-Big Ten challenge win against Illinois.  During that stretch, they were still struggling to get by teams such as UNC Greensboro (81-75) and Coastal Carolina (84-80).  They closed the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 79-60 home loss to Tennessee, but they’ve been much better since conference play began.  They narrowly lost to UNC 73-69 in the Dean Dome, beat Syracuse 73-67 at home, and were defeated by Boston College 77-71 on the road.

It’s hard to say which Wake Forest team the Hokies will get on Wednesday night.  They were able to defeat Syracuse at home, which indicates that they are a much better team in Winston-Salem.  However, losses at home to Georgia Southern and Liberty don’t necessarily agree.  The two things that are certain are that the Demon Deacons haven’t been able to replace the loss of first round pick John Collins, and they are still struggling defensively in the fourth year of head coach Danny Manning’s tenure.

Wake Forest ranks No. 174 nationally in defensive efficiency.  Their effective field goal percentage defense comes in at No. 182 in the country.  That’s par for the course in Winston-Salem under Manning.  Here’s a look at Wake’s defensive efficiency in his tenure as head coach…

2017-18: No. 174 (current)
2016-17: No. 297
2015-16: No. 299
2014-15: No. 219

On paper, their defense has improved this season, but those numbers could certainly go down as they hit the meat of their ACC schedule.

Here’s a look at the projected Wake Forest starting lineup…

G Bryant Crawford (6-foot-3, 200 pounds, Jr.): Averaging 16.2 points per game and has a team-high 70 assists.  Last season, Crawford was the first Demon Deacon to record 500 points and 150 assists in one season since Randolph Childress.

G Mitchell Wilbekin (6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Sr.): Averaging 9.5 ppg.  Wilbekin has 175 career three-pointers, which is the seventh most in Wake Forest history.

G Chaundee Brown (6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Fr.): Averaging 7.7 ppg and 3.6 rebounds per game.  Brown had 20 points in Wake’s most recent game, a six-point loss at Boston College.

F Terrence Thompson (6-foot-7, 215 pounds, r-Sr.): Averaging 5.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg.  Thompson is a transfer from Marshall.  He’s also played at the JUCO level, and he redshirted as a freshman at Charlotte.  He’s a well-traveled player.

C Doral Moore (7-foot-1, 280 pounds, Jr.): Averaging 9.4 ppg and 7.8 rpg.  Moore has three double-doubles this season, and he’ll present a much great defensive threat to Kerry Blackshear than Pitt did over the weekend.

The Demon Deacons also have one major scoring threat off the bench.  Keyshawn Woods (6-foot-3, 205 pounds, r-Jr.) is a former transfer from Charlotte who is in his second year on the court at Wake Forest.  After averaging 12.5 points per game last season, he is scoring 14.8 points per contest this year.

For Virginia Tech, the key to this game is getting their shooting stroke back.  The Hokies spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the country in effective field goal percentage, but ever since the second half of the Kentucky game, their three-point shooting has fallen off a cliff.

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)
vs. Virginia: 2-of-12 (16.7 percent)
vs. Pitt: 4-of-23 (17.4 percent)
Total: 28-of-112 (25 percent)

For the season, the Hokies are still shooting 40.1 percent from three-point range, which ranks 23rd out of 351 teams.  That shows just how well they were shooting the basketball before their current slump.  It’s not just the jump up in competition either, as the Hokies shot 41.4 percent from three-point range against ACC opponents last season.  That includes Justin Bibbs, who was at 45.6 percent against ACC teams a year ago, but who is 2-of-17 (11.8 percent) against ACC foes thus far in 2017-18.

Considering the struggles that Wake Forest has had on the defensive end this year, open shots should be available on Wednesday night, as they were against Pitt on Saturday.  The Hokies need to bust out of their shooting slump and pick up a critical road win.

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