Virginia Tech Baskeball at Notre Dame
4 PM EST, ESPN
No. 18/20 Virginia Tech (20-6, 9-5) has a very winnable road game on Saturday afternoon against the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame (13-13, 3-10). The Hokies won this matchup 81-66 in Cassell Coliseum back on January 1, and they’ll be looking to complete the season sweep despite the fact that it is anticipated that Justin Robinson will miss his seventh consecutive game.
It has been a forgettable season for Mike Brey’s Notre Dame team. The Irish are somewhat young and they lack star power, and just when it looks like they are making some progress they end up taking two steps back. For example, since last Saturday they played UVA very tough on the road (60-54 L), and it looked like they were taking a step forward, but they returned home to South Bend and lost to Wake Forest (75-68) three days later.
Overall, the Irish have just three ACC wins over two teams: Boston College (twice) and Georgia Tech, who have combined to go 8-19 in conference play this season. Notre Dame has not beaten a ranked opponent this year at the time the game was played, though they did upset current No. 13/15 Purdue 88-80 back in December. Part of Notre Dame’s struggles have been due to the loss of senior wing Rex Pflueger, who tore his ACL back in mid-December.
Notre Dame played well for the first half in Blacksburg on January 1, but they were handled easily by the Hokies in the second half. Kerry Blackshear finished that game with 21 points and seven rebounds, while Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Ahmed Hill both had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. As a team, Tech shot 60% from the field and 61.1% from three-point range in the 81-66 win.
Like Virginia Tech, the Irish seem to be relying on three-point shots. Notre Dame is the only team in the ACC with a higher 3-Point attempt per field goal attempt percentage in conference play (47.5% to 46.6%). The difference is that the Irish seem to be settling for three-pointers because they can’t run their offense, while the Hokies are taking three-pointers because that is their offense. Notre Dame is shooting just 31.8% from three-point range this season, which ranks No. 292 in the country. In conference play they are shooting just 29.5%, which is 13th out of 15 teams.
Here’s how the Irish rank offensively in ACC play only…
Off. Eff. (Pomeroy): No. 11
Eff. FG%: No. 14
Turnover Rate: No. 1
Off. Rebound Rate: No. 8
3-Pt%: No. 13
2-Pt.%: No. 13
FT%: No. 3
They do a great job of not turning the ball over, and they are good from the free throw line. However, they’ve done a very bad job of executing their offense this season.
Here’s how things have looked on the defensive end…
Def. Eff. (Pomeroy): No. 14
Eff. FG%: No. 12
Turnover Rate: No. 15
Off. Rebound Rate: No. 10
3-Pt%: No. 14
2-Pt.%: No. 11
The Irish don’t force turnovers, their halfcourt defense has been poor, and they allow a pretty high percentage of offensive rebounds. They’ll be facing Kerry Blackshear on Saturday, whose offensive rebound rate in ACC games ranks No. 1 in the conference. Blackshear’s matchup with Notre Dame center John Mooney will be interesting, as Mooney is No. 1 in the ACC in defensive rebound rate in conference games.
Even with Justin Robinson out, the numbers suggest that Virginia Tech still has a major advantage in this game. In Ken Pomeroy’s experience metric, the Irish rank No. 313 nationally in experience, averaging just 1.17 years per player, and I believe that number includes Pflueger, who is out for the season.
Here’s the starting lineup that Mike Brey used in Notre Dame’s most recent game, a home loss to Wake Forest…
G TJ Gibbs (6-3, 194, Jr.): 13.9 ppg, 3.6 apg. Gibbs does a great job protecting the ball, with just 27 turnovers this season. He’s had a rough year shooting the ball, however, converting his field goals at just a 36.2% clip.
G Prentiss Hubb (6-3, 167, Fr.): 7.8 ppg, 3.7 apg. Gibbs is playing over 32 minutes per game as a freshman, which is too much. He’s shooting just 32.4% from the field and 26.8% from three-point range.
G DJ Harvey (6-6, 225, Jr.): 10.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg. Harvey is a big guard, but like Gibbs and Prentice, he’s shooting below 40% from the field (39.7%).
G Nikola Djogo (6-7, 217, Jr.): 2.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg. Djogo could start, but he might not play as much as most starters. He’s not an effective scorer. In 23 minutes against Wake Forest, he didn’t score.
C John Mooney (6-9, 242, Jr.): 14.1 ppg, 10.9 rpg. Mooney averages a double-double this season. He can also step out and shoot the three-pointer well for a big man, going 26-of-69 (37.7%).
Notre Dame’s top three scoring options on the perimeter shoot less than 40% from the field, while their fourth guard averages just 2.8 points per game. It’s easy to see why this team has struggled to win games this year.
A win would put Virginia Tech at 21-6 and 10-5 in ACC play (ACC standings link). It would mark the fourth straight season that Tech has won 10 ACC games in the regular season.