The Virginia Tech Hokies took care of business in their ACC Tournament opener with a 99-90 victory over Wake Forest to advance them into the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament against #16 Florida State. The Hokies were beat by Florida State 93-78 in Tallahassee in these two teams’ only meeting this season, but VT was also without Seth Allen and Khadim Sy in that game.
For the Hokies, this is their second opportunity in this ACC Tournament at getting some revenge for a loss earlier this season with an upset win likely pushing the Hokies more towards a 6 or 7 seed while a loss means they would likely be on the 7 or 8 seed line come Selection Sunday. Meanwhile, Florida State has a very good chance at being a top 4 seed and a win over VT would likely solidify that status.
Key Matchup: Dwayne Bacon vs. Ty Outlaw
Dwayne Bacon has been the star of this Florida State team and has stepped up down the stretch with 16, 12, 19, and 23 in his past four games since he was held scoreless in FSU’s upset loss at Pittsburgh. In this game, Bacon will face off against one of the biggest breakout players over the past few weeks in Ty Outlaw who has averaged 15.3 points in his past 6 games in what has been an impressive breakout from the former JUCO transfer since Chris Clarke went down.
Bacon has been consistent throughout the year, but Outlaw has been highly efficient and is the one VT wing that definitely could go toe-to-toe with Bacon in a scoring contest in this game. Outlaw has shot at least 50% in five of his past 6, and at least 40% in all six of those games while Bacon is a good all-around scorer whether he’s attacking the rim, hitting a mid-range jumper, getting it done at the line, or making some threes.
If Outlaw can stay up with or outscore Bacon in this game, it will spell a lot of trouble for Florida State and give Virginia Tech a very good chance at pulling off a big upset and putting themselves in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
Keys to the Game
1. Slow the tempo down.
Last night, one of the keys was to push the tempo against a Wake Forest team that had played the night before but against a Florida State team with a deep bench that also hasn’t played since Saturday, the Hokies will need to try and find ways to prevent FSU from running up and down the court, and wearing down a thin VT bench that may be somewhat tired from a high-scoring game last night.
While this doesn’t mean that the Hokies should simply play a different style of basketball than normal, what the Hokies do need to do is avoid getting themselves in what equates to basically being a track meet against a more-rested, deeper FSU team. VT is one of the most efficient shooting teams in the ACC and the country, and the Hokies need to try to limit the number of possessions and get quality shots.
2. Crash the boards well.
Last night, Virginia Tech actually outrebounded Wake Forest 38-34 including 12-11 on the offensive glass that also included 15 rebounds from Zach LeDay against a Wake team that has a good amount of size along with arguably the ACC’s best big in John Collins. Now, the Hokies face one of the biggest teams in America in a FSU team that is very long and makes a small Virginia Tech look even smaller than normal.
In this game, the Hokies will need to avoid having rebounding mismatches (like Seth Allen or Justin Robinson against a big) and have guys like Zach LeDay, Ty Outlaw, and Justin Bibbs all crashing the boards well. If the Hokies can keep the rebounding margin to a minimum in this game, Virginia Tech will have a great chance at pulling off the upset in this game.
For Virginia Tech: Justin Robinson is the Hokies’ x-factor for this matchup in large part due to whether he will be 100% for this game after tweaking his ankle and landing awkwardly on his side in last night’s game but being either able to quickly return or stay in the game last night. Robinson has proven to be Virginia Tech’s best passer averaging 4.8 assists per game, which ranks 69th in the nation, and having 6 or more assists in 6 of his last 8 games.
Robinson hasn’t always scored a lot of points, but he has done a great job down the stretch of setting up teammates and effectively dishing the ball around as Virginia Tech’s best passing point guard. Against a Florida State team with plenty of length and size that averages around 7 steals per game, it’ll be important for the Hokies to have Robinson near 100% mainly due to how good of a passer he is. If Robinson isn’t able to play much, it thins an already thin bench and will make life much more difficult for VT.
For Florida State: You could make an argument that Xavier Rathan-Mayes is too important of a player to be the “x-factor” but with FSU having a young team, the Seminoles will need Rathan-Mayes to step up especially after having all 7 of their losses come away from Tallahassee. Rathan-Mayes has had the most efficient season of his career shooting 46.2% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc, but is also averaging the lowest point and minutes total of his career (10.4 points, 27.2 minutes).
While FSU definitely has guys with ACC Tournament experience, these are the type of games where you need your veteran players to step up the most and Rathan-Mayes fits that mold as that veteran that could change the game for FSU. If Rathan-Mayes doesn’t have a great night, it could spell some trouble for the Noles, but don’t be surprised if the veteran junior guard has a big game in Brooklyn.
Playing back-to-back games is not easy and Virginia Tech faces a Florida State team that presents two big mismatches for them, size and depth. FSU is one of America’s tallest teams while they also can go 10 to 12 deep with no players averaging 28 or more minutes per game and having plenty of rest compared to a Virginia Tech team that played last night. That is never a recipe for success.
However, the Hokies are the ACC’s best shooting team and have shot an impressive 40.9% from beyond the arc led by Ty Outlaw shooting 49.1% from three-point range. Outlaw has stepped up in a big way and his strong second half three-point shooting was critical for the Hokies’ comeback while Zach LeDay has been huge in the past few games and showed against Wake that he can be just fine against larger big men including John Collins the past two games.
Florida State’s depth will give the Hokies’ problems and while Virginia Tech may be able to get off to a strong start in this game, FSU has the depth to wear down the Hokies in this game and make life difficult. Virginia Tech should get a strong games from veterans Zach LeDay and Seth Allen, but the Hokies’ lack of depth and size will cause problems against Florida State and cause the Hokies to come up just short in what should be a very high-scoring game.