Date: Tuesday, February 23
TV: RSN (Affiliate List)
After a 17-day hiatus, including four postponements, Virginia Tech (14-4, 8-3) finally retakes the floor in Cassell Coliseum against Georgia Tech (11-8, 7-6) with just two weeks to go in the regular season.
The last time the Hokies were on the floor, Hunter Cattoor’s game-tying buzzer-beater helped them to an overtime victory over Miami. Since then, Virginia Tech has lost two games due to COVID-19 issues within Florida State and Louisville’s programs and two more because of a positive test within the Hokies’ program.
Head Coach Mike Young said that the team was forced to practice with just six players last week due to contact tracing. However, the Hokies have worked through their first issues with the coronavirus this season and look to regroup for the stretch run.
Virginia Tech has now lost five games to COVID-19 issues throughout the year. Although the Hokies missed out on a home game against last-place Boston College in January, the other four cancelled games were all against top-four teams in the ACC, with three coming away from Blacksburg. Not playing those games could end up being crucial when it comes to seeding for the ACC Tournament.
Another advantage of the long break is that the Hokies should be as close to full strength as they have been in weeks. Young mentioned before the time off that senior forward Cordell Pemsl was close to returning from a back injury. The former Iowa Hawkeye was providing valuable minutes off of the bench early in the season but hasn’t played since late December.
There are two question marks entering Tuesday night’s contest for the Hokies that could play huge roles in the game. Sophomore Jalen Cone suffered an ankle injury against Miami and is still in a splint, according to Young. There is still a chance that Cone could be available against the Yellow Jackets, and the sharpshooter would give the Hokies a huge boost.
The larger question is whether suspended guard Tyrece Radford will be reinstated prior to Tuesday’s game. Radford traveled to Coral Gables with the team prior to the time off and looked on track to return to the lineup. On Monday, Young said that the situation with Radford is “still unfolding.”
Combining for over 20 points per game, Cone and Radford being absent would put a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Keve Aluma offensively. Aluma is the Hokies’ leading scorer and is averaging over 22 points per game over the last four matchups.
Cone and Radford’s participation could be the difference for the Hokies against a surprising Georgia Tech team that currently sits just a game out of a possible double bye in the ACC Tournament.
After a tough start to the season, dropping back-to-back games to Georgia State and Mercer, the Yellow Jackets have piled up multiple quality conference wins. Georgia Tech has knocked off UNC, Clemson and, in its biggest victory, Florida State.
Josh Pastner’s squad is led by senior guard Jose Alvarado, who has emerged as a dark-horse contender for ACC Player of the Year. The Brooklyn-native is currently fourth in the conference with 16.7 points per game, while shooting just under 42% from beyond the arc.
Alvarado is paired with fellow senior Moses Wright, who has been dominant on the block for the Yellow Jackets. Wright is just behind his teammate with 16.3 points per game while also racking up 7.5 rebounds per contest. Wright is coming off of his fourth double-double of the season against Miami, his 16th game scoring in double digits this season.
Georgia Tech’s win over Miami was just its first conference win away from Atlanta this season. The Yellow Jackets were 0-5 in the ACC on the road prior to Saturday’s dominant 87-60 victory over the Hurricanes.
The Hokies will look to add to the Yellow Jackets’ road troubles in Blacksburg on Tuesday night, but there’s no telling how the time off will affect Virginia Tech in its return to the hardwood. Tech has plenty of momentum before the break, winning six out of eight, but will have to regain that rhythm heading into the final four games of the season.