The Virginia Tech Hokies have gotten off to a strong 3-0 start but face their first quality opponent of the season against the New Mexico Lobos in the opening round of the Wooden Legacy on Thanksgiving in Fullerton, California on ESPN. The Hokies know that this will be a chance to get a solid win to add to their resume before two more opportunities to add even better wins, but the Hokies can’t afford to sleep on a Lobos team that is ready to surprise.
The Lobos have been down the past couple of years after making the NCAA Tournament in their first year under Craig Neal after the 2013-2014 season and having a great run under Steve Alford that included three NCAA Tournament and three NIT appearances in his six years. However, there are signs that the Lobos may have their best team since the last time they went to the NCAA Tournament though New Mexico has been right around .500 the past 2 years so the bar isn’t that high.
There will be a big matchup to watch in the post between Virginia Tech’s star big man Zach LeDay and New Mexico’s star big man Tim Williams. LeDay is averaging 18.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game so far while Williams is averaging 23 points and 8.7 rebounds in 33 minutes per game through three games this season.
Both players are similar sizes and the focal big men on teams that are undersized, making this matchup even more intriguing given how similar they are. This matchup is more important for New Mexico than Virginia Tech given that New Mexico only has Williams averaging at least 5 rebounds per game while the Hokies have LeDay, Chris Clarke, and Khadim Sy averaging at least 5 rebounds per game.
If LeDay can have at least a strong performance, the Hokies should be in good shape but if he can also shut down Williams, Virginia Tech will make life extremely difficult on New Mexico.
New Mexico has been solid defensively forcing 7.7 steals per game so far while the Hokies have been averaging 10.3 turnovers per game through their first three games and it will be of the upmost importance for them to protect the basketball against a New Mexico team that has been solid from the free-throw line and is averaging almost 83 points per game so far.
One big advantage the Hokies have is the fact that they have multiple quality three-point shooters with Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs leading the plus Seth Allen and Ty Outlaw all shooting over 40% from beyond the arc while New Mexico doesn’t have a single player shooting over 40% from deep that has at least taken 6 three-pointers so far this season.
Virginia Tech will need to take advantage of their talented three-point shooting to help open up space for guys like Seth Allen, Chris Clarke, and Justin Robinson to attack the rim and either get a layup or get to the free-throw line. However, the Hokies must improve from the free-throw line as Virginia Tech has shot under 60% in their first three games but this team showed last year that they can step up at the line in some bigger games.
New Mexico will come out ready to go in this matchup with some talented, experienced players that will be ready to make this game interesting, but the Hokies are the better team and their ability to stretch the floor and create lanes will make the difference in this matchup. Led by Zach LeDay, Ahmed Hill, and Seth Allen; Virginia Tech will open the Wooden Legacy with a quality win over New Mexico to advance to the semifinals.