The Virginia Tech Hokies enter the last two games of non-conference play with a record of 8-3 knowing that the intensity and competitiveness of all their remaining games will be significantly higher than their previous two wins over Lamar and Grambling State.
Today, the Hokies face a much tougher challenge against the Saint Joseph’s Hawks at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Both teams have played reasonable schedules up to this point with Virginia Tech’s losses being to Iowa State, Northwestern, and Alabama State while Saint Joseph’s has lost to Villanova and Florida. For both teams, a win today should give them plenty of momentum with conference play looming at the beginning of January.
The Hawks are led by two veteran, undersized forwards in DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles. Bembry and Miles are both averaging over 15 points and just under 8 rebounds a game this season with Bembry leading the Hawks in points(15.9), rebounds (7.9), and assists (4.5).
Bembry is only 6’6” while Miles is only 6’7” so the Hokies should be able to still go with the smaller lineups that have helped lead them to blowout victories against teams like Lamar, Grambling State, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
After sitting out last game due to illness, Chris Clarke likely will be back for this game, and the freshman likely will be matched up against Bembry as a similarly-sized player. Clarke has brought great intensity and some tough defense to the floor so far, but will have to be ready for a challenge against a player like Bembry.
Having Clarke healthy also gives the Hokies an aggressive slasher that can attack the rim; and either draw a foul, make an easy basket near the rim, or kick it out to an open shooter like Justin Bibbs. Clarke has the potential to make a big impact on this game on both ends that could be critical in the end result.
Meanwhile, Zach LeDay and Kerry Blackshear will likely have to cover Miles and Papa Ndao. Miles likely will play the higher bulk of minutes, but Ndao has been seeing some more time and has made 8 of 16 threes in his first four games this season while Miles has made 34.9% of his threes this season.
Both LeDay and Blackshear will have to be able to defend outside of the post with the Hawks likely to try and stretch the floor with their big men. With this threat, don’t be surprised if Buzz Williams runs some 2-3 zone to try to prevent the Hawks from getting a consistent rhythm.
The player that can be the difference maker in this game and for the rest of the season is Justin Bibbs. Bibbs is second in the nation in three-point percentage shooting 64% from beyond the arc, and the Hokies have been getting in him opportunities along with Bibbs becoming more aggressive on the offensive end.
Bibbs had a career-high 31 points against Grambling State, and has shown the ability to take over a game and lead a team on a big run with his impressive three-point shooting. Saint Joseph’s will have to put together a plan to try to keep Bibbs from getting opportunities and force others like Seth Allen and Jalen Hudson to make threes.
The Hawks are led by three seniors in DeAndre Bembry, Isaiah Miles, and Aaron Brown that have the experience for these type of tough, non-conference games. However, the Hokies seem to have a favorable matchup given the two teams’ strengths, and the shooting of Bibbs will not be slowed down.
This game will come down to the end, but the Hokies will get their best win of the season so far in Brooklyn against Saint Joseph’s. However, this game definitely feels like it could go either way.