Virginia Tech Basketball Travels To Cincinnati To Open NIT

Rodney Rice and Virginia Tech are back in action on Wednesday at Cincinnati. (Jon Fleming)

On Wednesday night, Virginia Tech (19-14, 8-12 ACC) opens its NIT campaign at Cincinnati (21-12, 11-7 AAC) at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Mike Corey and Perry Clark will have the call.

It’s the first appearance in the event for the Hokies since 2016 and the 14th in program history. That year, they hosted Princeton in the first round and won before falling at BYU in Provo, Utah in round two. On top of that, they’re a two-time NIT champion (1973, 1995).

Since that NIT appearance in year two under Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech has played in the NCAA tournament every year it’s been held. Though the Big Dance was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, Tech was in the field for five straight tournaments until it missed out in 2023. It’s also the first NIT appearance in Mike Young’s coaching career.

Young is very familiar with Cincinnati head coach Wes Miller from their days in the Southern Conference. While Young was at Wofford, Miller coached UNC Greensboro from 2011-2022. But while Miller’s Bearcats are similar to his old Spartans, they aren’t the same.

“They’re different than [his teams in] Greensboro,” Young said on a Zoom call on Tuesday. “He’s a really good coach. I mean, he’s a very, very good coach. And I don’t know how many times our teams played one another, but it was a lot. It went back and forth. We had some great basketball games, I could name several off the top of my head. Classics.

“There’s always a healthy amount of respect for him as a person and how his teams play, and I, with the exception of tomorrow night, I’m pulling for him. I think a lot of Wes and his abilities, he’s very, very good.”

Mike Young will coach against former SoCon colleague Wes Miller on Wednesday night. (Jon Fleming)

It took seven seasons for Miller to make the NCAA tournament at UNC Greensboro, but he finally broke through in 2017-18. His group was dominant on the defensive end at that time (No. 26 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom) and that’s been a staple of his teams for quite a while. His Spartans and Bearcats have ranked above 75th in that category in each of the five years since.

“His teams have always played with an edge defensively,” Young said of Miller. “He had a 1-2-2 three-quarter court zone that he played almost exclusively his last four or five years in Greensboro. He’s not doing that now. But they’re very similar, if not identical, in the halfcourt. His teams, defensively, play with an edginess.”

After two seasons at Memphis, Landers Nolley is at Cincinnati. The former Hokie leads the Bearcats in scoring with 16.6 points per game, and he’s shooting 45.5% from the field this year. On top of that, his 3-point game improved; he hit a 42% clip through 32 games, which is a top-100 mark in the country, and was second-best in the AAC at 43% in league play.

He’s taken some large steps after leaving Memphis. As a junior, he shot 33.6% from behind the arc (37-of-110). He nearly doubled his attempts and increased his percentage in 2022-23: 89-of-211, 42.2%. Former teammate and current Virginia Tech guard Hunter Cattoor said Nolley really developed since his time in Blacksburg.

“He has some similarities still, but he’s gotten a lot better over the years since my freshman year when we played together,” Cattoor said of Nolley. “But he’s a great scorer. He’s got a great shot fake that he uses, he can score the ball from the outside, score from inside, and he’s got great size being a wing. He’s had a pretty good year in the AAC.”

Cincinnati guard David DeJulius, a graduate student who transferred from Michigan back in 2021, is another tough guard. At 6-0, 200, he’s crafty and gets to the rim while drawing fouls. He rarely turns it over, and his 35.5% assist rate in conference play led the AAC. 

Virginia Tech sees Landers Nolley once again on Wednesday night in Cincinnati. (Ivan Morozov)

“Their guard play is good,” Young said of Cincinnati. “I really like DeJulius. They’ve got some kids that can shoot the ball, the average nine made threes a game. Typical of Wes’s teams, they’ll guard you, so they present some real issues, but we see some things that we feel good about.”

The opportunity is a good one for Virginia Tech, particularly the young players. It’s an extremely valuable learning experience for freshmen MJ Collins and Rodney Rice, both of whom have never been on a stage of this magnitude.

“Hopefully it’ll be good for them,” Cattoor said. “Just kind of getting more games under their belt, getting more experience and kind of having that pressure of ‘it’s win or go home now.’ We had that feeling last week in Greensboro, but now it’s for real. Once you lose this game, the season’s over. … Obviously, it’s not the NCAA tournament, but it’s something like it. The NIT is postseason, survive and advance.”

Should the Hokies win, they’ll play the winner of Rutgers and Hofstra on Saturday or Sunday.

11 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. In my humble opinion the UNC players selfishly voted to decline their NIT invitation, despite the fact that it would have put $500k into the university’s pocket.

    Oh, and we’re totally capable of winning this game if the 3pt shot fall in excess of 35%!

  2. The fact they have good guard play will be a challenge defensively, especially for Sean

  3. Feels like a loss, with Nolley putting up record points to make the stomach sickness even worse.

    Been watching VT a long time, so I sorta know what to expect.

    Gosh I hope I am just scorned and completely wrong.

  4. Afraid I don’t see a victory here….what we were in the regular season is what we will be tomorrow.

    No reason to think differently….and it really doesn’t matter like it would in the NCAA tournament.

    Good luck Hokies! Prove me wrong!

    1. Agree, highly unlikely. An away game against a physical, defensive minded team, and you know Nolley is going to be jacking them up…hopefully we keep it close so it’s watchable!

    2. Unfortunately I have to agree as well. I don’t see a miraculous change in play starting tomorrow.

      1. Well I’m the 5th guy predicting a “L”–hope we are all wrong. GO HOKIES!!!

    1. REPORT: UNC declined an NIT bid because they mistakenly believed it to be a standardized test instead of a basketball tournament. (Tweet from @RedditCFB)

  5. Cincinnati are a physical group – VT better come ready to play (not like it is a learning event for young players) or it could get ugly. Since the Hokies were not expecting a NCAA bid there should not be too much of a hangover from Selection Sunday.

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