Date: Saturday, January 2
TV: The ACC Network
NOTE: THE GAME IS POSTPONED, due to a positive COVID-19 test by a UVA staff member.
It’s been a successful start to the season for No. 24 Virginia Tech (8-1, 2-0), but now the Hokies start 2021 with a tough stretch of games starting with rival No. 23 Virginia (5-2, 1-0) on Saturday at 2 p.m.
The Hokies make their first true road trip of the season up to Charlottesville to face the Cavaliers. Tech has played six consecutive games in Blacksburg, with its only trip away from home being the Hokies’ two-game trip to Connecticut early in the season.
Playing in John Paul Jones Arena hasn’t gone well for the Hokies in recent years. In their last eight trips to face UVA, Tech has just one win, which came in 2017 as Justin Robinson led the Hokies to an overtime victory with 20 points and seven assists.
This seems like as good of an opportunity as the Hokies have had in a while to knock off the Cavaliers on the road. Tech has had a phenomenal start to the season, including four consecutive wins since their lone loss of the season against Penn State.
On the other hand, Virginia hasn’t lived up to preseason expectations. After being selected to win the ACC by the media, the Cavaliers have lost to San Francisco and were blown out last Saturday 98-75 by No. 1 Gonzaga. The program was temporarily shut down on December 9 due to COVID-19. Games against Michigan State, Wake Forest and Villanova were either postponed or cancelled. The Hoos did not play a game between December 4 and December 22.
Virginia is led by Marquette transfer Sam Hauser, who was chosen to the preseason All-ACC first team. Hauser is averaging over 12 points and almost seven rebounds per game in his first seven contests with the Cavaliers. Expect Tyrece Radford to shadow Hauser whenever he is on the court on Saturday.
Outside of Hauser, the Cavaliers have three other players in double-figures including junior point guard Kihei Clark. In Virginia’s win over Notre Dame on Wednesday, Clark added a season-high 19 points to lead the Cavaliers to a nine-point win.
The last time these rivals matched up, Clark drained a game-winning three-pointer in the final seconds to ruin the Hokies’ chances at an epic comeback in Cassell Coliseum.
The Hokies will have to avoid the slow start that they had in that game against Tony Bennett’s pack line defense. Tech was only able to score 11 points in the first half against the Cavaliers. Combine that with the 39 points that the Hokies scored in Charlottesville last year and Tech only scored 50 points in three consecutive halves of basketball versus UVA before erupting for 42 in the second half in Blacksburg to close the gap.
Mike Young’s group should have an easier time scoring this year with its added height on the floor. Leading scorer Keve Aluma is coming off of a career-high 26 points against Miami on Tuesday. The Hokies needed almost every single one of those to escape Miami’s comeback attempt and win 80-78.
Aluma will likely be matched up against the Cavaliers’ talented center Jay Huff who is currently second on the team in scoring. The redshirt senior is seven-foot-one and can step out and shoot the three as well. Aluma has responded well against tough matchups all year and will look to do the same against Huff.
The Hokies could have some more help at center on Saturday as sophomore center John Ojiako could be returning to the lineup. Young said that he expected Ojiako to return against Miami from his torn meniscus, but he didn’t see the floor on Tuesday.
With a win, the Hokies would stay undefeated in ACC play and remain tied for the lead in the conference. This would also be Tech’s third ranked win of the season with the previous two coming against Villanova and Clemson.