Virginia Tech Faces In-State Foe Liberty In NCAA Tournament

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Isaiah Wilkins had 16 points in an exhibition win over Liberty back in November. (Photo by Jon Fleming)

Virginia Tech vs. Liberty

Date: Sunday, March 24
Time: 7:10pm Eastern

Virginia Tech (25-8) will play in-state foe Liberty (29-6) for a spot in the Sweet 16 on Sunday night in San Jose.  The No. 4 seed Hokies are coming off a 66-52 win over No. 13 seed Saint Louis, while the No. 12 seed Flames upset No. 5 seed Mississippi State 80-76 on Friday night.

Liberty’s win over the Bulldogs was particularly impressive because they trailed by 10 points with under eight minutes remaining but were able to rally to advance.  The Flames won the Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship this year with a 74-68 upset win over No. 1 seed Lipscomb, avenging a regular season loss.  They have not lost since a 75-70 setback at North Florida on February 23.

Of Liberty’s six losses this year, half have come against Power 5 conference opponents.  They were beaten by Vanderbilt (79-70), Georgetown (88-78) and Alabama (84-75) back in late 2018, but also defeated UCLA 73-58.  Their loss to North Florida remains their only defeat since the calendar turned to February.

The Flames are led by head coach Ritchie McKay, who has guided his team to the CIT in the previous three seasons.  He also led New Mexico State to the NCAA Tournament back in 2005, and he’s also served as the head coach of Oregon State, Colorado State and Portland State.

Virginia Tech defeated Liberty 86-70 in the Vines Center in Lynchburg back on November 4 in an exhibition game.  The Hokies shot 57.1% from the field, 52.6% from three-point range, and outrebounded the Flames 35-17.  Justin Robinson had 20 points in that game, while freshman guard Isaiah Wilkins came off the bench to score 16.

Like the Hokies, Liberty will use a small lineup, and they’ll most likely play eight players in their rotation.  Here’s a look at their projected starting lineup…

G Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz (6-1, 170, Jr.): 7.2 ppg, 2.3 apg.  He’s a three-point specialist, going 47.9% from the outside.

G Lovell Cabill, Jr. (6-3, 170, Sr.): 11.7 ppg, 2.7 apg.  Cabill shoots 45.6% from three-point range.

G Elijah Cuffee (6-4, 185, So.): 7.7 ppg, 1.9 apg.  Cuffee shoots 42% from three-point range, helping form a Liberty backcourt that is excellent from beyond the arc.

G Caleb Homesley (6-6, 205, r-Jr.): 12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg.  Homesley is a taller guard and the second-leading scorer on the team.  He only shoots 31.8% from the outside, but he’s attempted 173 three-pointers, second-most on the team.  He scored 30 points against Mississippi State.

F Scottie James (6-8, 235, r-Jr.): 12.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg.  James leads the team in scoring, and though he’s only attempted 24 three-pointers this year, he’s made eight of them. 

As you can see, Liberty’s offense revolves around the three-pointer.  842 of their 1,930 field goal attempts this year have come from the outside, which comes out to 42.2%.  That is 90th nationally in terms of three-point attempts per field goal attempt.  As a comparison, the Hokies are at 44.3%, which ranks No. 43, so we’ll see a battle of two teams who like to stretch the defense and make outside jumpers.

Using the numbers provided on, Liberty has been an excellent team offensively this year, while their defense has left a little bit to be desired.  Here are their offensive numbers…

Offensive Efficiency (Pomeroy): No. 51
Effective FG%: No. 10
Turnover rate: No. 78
Offensive Reb. Rate: No. 260
3-Pt.%: No. 51
2-Pt.%: No. 8

The Flames can really shoot the ball, though they rarely get second chance opportunities

Here are their defensive numbers…

Defensive Efficiency (Pomeroy): No. 89
Effective FG%: No. 95
Turnover rate: No. 54
Opp. Off. Rebound Rate: No. 100
3-Pt.%: No. 94
2-Pt.%: No. 104

The Flames had the second-best defense in the Atlantic Sun in conference play, but four of the five Power 5 opponents they have faced scored 76 or more points against them, not counting Virginia Tech’s 86-point performance back on November 4.

Overall, Liberty ranks as only the 315th tallest team in the country, per Ken Pomeroy.  The Hokies are 150th in height, and they’ll enjoy a height/weight advantage across the board on Sunday.

Wabissa Bede (6-1, 195) vs. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz (6-1, 170)

Nickeil Alexander Walker (6-5, 205) vs. Lovell Cabill, Jr. (6-3, 170)

Ahmed Hill (6-5, 210) vs. Elijah Cuffee (6-4, 185)

Ty Outlaw (6-6, 220) vs. Caleb Homesley (6-6, 205)

Kerry Blackshear (6-10, 250) vs. Scottie James (6-8, 235)

This matchup seems to have Kerry Blackshear written all over it, as Liberty doesn’t use anyone with his size.  Even Liberty’s bench players aren’t big…

G Darius McGhee (5-9, weight unlisted, freshman)
F Keenan Gumbs (6-5, weight unlisted, senior)
F Myo Baxter-Bell (6-5, 255, r-Jr.)

In the exhibition game, the Hokies hammered Liberty on the glass 35-17, outscored them 34-16 in the paint and 21-5 in second chance points.  They’ll need a similar performance on Sunday, because the Flames are very capable of heating up from the outside.  They went 12-of-25 from three-point range against Mississippi State.

The winner of this game will face either No. 1 seed Duke or No. 9 seed UCF in Washington, DC next Thursday or Friday.

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