Date: Saturday, January 4
TV: RSN (Affiliates List)
Virginia Tech (10-3, 1-1) visits Charlottesville for an in-state battle with No. 19 Virginia (10-2, 2-0) this Saturday. The Hokies put together some solid results in non-conference play despite having a young and inexperienced team, and now those young players will attempt to solve the riddle of Tony Bennett’s pack line defense for the first time.
Virginia lost the core of its National Championship team from a year ago, though two key starters return. Eight different players have started games for the Hoos this season, though this is the lineup Bennett used in UVA’s most recent victory over Navy…
G Kihei Clark (5-9, 163, So.): 8.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg.
G Tomas Woldetensae (6-5, 196, Jr.): 4.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg.
F Braxton Key (6-8, 230, Sr.): 8.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg
F Kody Stattmann (6-7, 200, So.): 4.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg.
F Mamadi Diakite (6-9, 224, r-Sr.): 14.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg
(Note: UVA’s stats aren’t up to date on their website, as they are updated through only the first 11 games of the season.)
Diakie and Clark are the starters from last year’s team, and Alabama transfer Braxton Key played a big role as well. Key had surgery on a broken wrist at the end of November, and his recent return has proved to be a boost to the UVA lineup. He had a team-high 15 points against Navy.
Jay Huff (7-1, 243, r-Jr.) is also a potential starter, though he’s come off the bench in eight of UVA’s 12 games. He’s averaging 9.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and he also leads the team with 17 blocked shots. He’ll be the biggest player the Hokies face on Saturday, though like many teams these days, the Hoos are very capable of going small and playing without a traditional center.
One thing this UVA team doesn’t do as well as last year’s version is shoot the ball from the outside. The Hoos are only 63-of-230 (27.4%) from three-point range this year, and opponents have made 15 more outside jumpers on the season. UVA’s 27.4% shooting rate from the outside ranks No. 340 in the country out of 353 teams. Overall, this team is No. 181 in the country in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency.
However, this UVA team continues to play excellent basketball on the defensive end. Here are their defensive numbers on the season…
Ken Pom’s Adj. Def. Eff: No. 1
Effective FG%: No. 4
Turnover Rate: No. 55
Block Rate: No. 6
Non-Steal TO%: No. 26
It’s very difficult to run an efficient offense against UVA. They don’t get a lot of steals, but they force plenty of turnovers. On the rare occasion that an opponent finds himself in a good position to score on the inside, the Hoos are blessed with a number of good shot blockers such as Huff and Diakite. Scoring on the inside is very difficult against UVA. Just 44.7% of their opponents’ points have come from inside the three-point line, which ranks No. 17 in the country.
Meanwhile, UVA opponents are No. 3 nationally in opponent points from outside the three-point line. If you’re going to score against the Hoos, it has to be from the outside. However, they are still an excellent defensive team against the outside jumper, with opponents making just 27.6% of their three-pointers. Virginia Tech is No. 3 in the country in percentage of points from the outside (43.5%). Can the Hokies get enough good looks from the outside against the UVA defense? They’ll have to, because Tech has struggled to score inside all season. They are No. 328 nationally in percentage of points from the inside, and also No. 328 nationally in points scored from the free throw line.
The pack line defense will be an extremely tough nut to crack for a Virginia Tech team that plays so many freshmen. They’ll go long stretches in this game without scoring. The key is to keep playing defense during those stretches. Against Duke, Dayton and BYU, the Hokies did a poor of job rallying when things got tough, and they’ll have to do a better job of that when they face adversity on the road against a team like UVA.