Virginia Tech basketball hosts a struggling Louisville team in Cassell Coliseum on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies come into the game on a high, having won seven of their past nine games. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have lost five of their last seven, including blowout losses in their last two.
Tech hasn’t defeated Louisville since 1990, when both teams shared a home in the Metro Conference. Saturday figures to be the Hokies’ best chance since then.
Here’s a quick look at Louisville’s last six games…
At Virginia: 74-64 loss
vs. Florida State: 80-76 loss
vs. Syracuse: 78-73 loss
vs. Georgia Tech: 77-54 win
at Pitt: 94-60 win
vs. North Carolina: 93-76 loss
at Duke: 82-56 loss
The Cardinals’ only two wins in their last seven games were against Georgia Tech and Pitt teams who have combined to go 4-27 in the ACC this season.
In fact, the Cardinals find themselves in a desperate situation. At 18-10 overall and 8-7 in the ACC, they are not a lock for the NCAA Tournament. After their game in Blacksburg on Saturday, they host No. 1 Virginia, and then close out the regular season on the road at NC State. Right now, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Louisville as one of the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament, while CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm lists them as one of the first four teams out.
Louisville beat Virginia Tech 94-86 back in January, but the situations for both teams have changed since then. The Cardinals have gone 5-6 since that game, while the Hokies have gone 7-3. All of Louisville’s wins in that span have come against teams at or near the bottom of the ACC standings — Notre Dame, Boston College, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Pitt. Meanwhile, Tech has defeated three top-15 teams during that stretch.
Cassell Coliseum has officially sold out for Saturday’s game, and tickets are expensive on the secondary market. This is the last Saturday home game of the season, and good weather is expected. Tech fans seem to have circled this game on their calendars.
Despite all of Virginia Tech’s positive momentum, and Louisville’s recent struggles, this will still be a difficult matchup for the Hokies. The Cardinals have a lot of length and a lot of skill, and they’ve scored 94 points in each of their last two meetings with Tech. In fact, this game is always high scoring.
Jan. 27, 2016: 91-83 Louisville
Feb. 18, 2017: 94-90 Louisville
Jan. 13, 2018: 94-86 Louisville
The Hokies will likely play better defense than they did in their previous three meetings with Louisville, but they aren’t going to dominate on that end of the floor like they did against Clemson and Georgia Tech, who were both missing their starting point guards.
Here’s a look at Louisville’s projected starting lineup…
G Quentin Snider (6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Sr.): Averaging 11.9 points per game and 2.8 rebounds per game. Snider has a team-high 111 assists, and he is a 39.5 percent three-point shooter.
G VJ King (6-foot-6, 199 pounds, So.): Averaging 9.1 ppg and 3.4 rpg. King is a lengthy wing who scored 16 against Virginia Tech in the first meeting.
F Deng Adel (6-foot-7, 200 pounds, Jr.): Averaging 15.5 ppg and 5.1 rpg. Adel torched Tech for 27 points and 11 rebounds in the first meeting. Normally a 34.5 percent three-point shooter, he was 4-of-6 from the outside against the Hokies.
F Ray Spalding (6-foot-10, 225 pounds, Jr.): Averaging 11.9 ppg and 9 rpg. Because of his size and his position (power forward), Spalding might be the most difficult matchup for the Hokies.
C Anas Mahmoud (7-feet, 230 pounds, Sr.): Averaging 7.7 ppg and 5.5 rpg. Mahmoud is an elite shot blocker, with 85 on the season. However, he blocked just one shot against the Hokies in the first meeting, and Kerry Blackshear finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
Let’s see where Louisville ranks in all the key categories…
Offensive Efficiency: No. 97
Effective FG%: No. 126
Rebounding Rate: No. 191
Turnovers per Possession: No. 62
Defensive Efficiency: No. 46
Opp. Effective FG%: No. 13
For most of the season, Louisville has been good defensively and mediocre offensively. In some of their recent games, such as a 93-76 home loss to North Carolina, they performed poorly on the defensive end. With their backs against the wall, I would expect a better performance from them on Saturday against the Hokies.
It’s important to remember that part of Louisville’s struggles could be traced to their offseason scandal that resulted in head coach Rick Pitino and two assistant coaches being fired. Thirty-three-year-old assistant coach David Padgett took over as interim head coach, and he has only been an assistant for a Power 5 program since the beginning of the 2015-16 season. The Cardinals have plenty of talent, but with such sweeping changes happening to their coaching staff just before the season began, it’s easy to see why they may not be performing like a well-oiled machine.
If Virginia Tech defeats Louisville, they will reach the 21-win mark for the regular season, and they would have 10 conference wins. With five quadrant one victories, and the fact that they are so strong in almost all of the computer numbers, a victory should lock up Tech’s spot in the NCAA Tournament.