After months of practice and preparation, gameday has arrived for Virginia Tech as they look to make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since 1985 and 1986.
It begins tonight as the Hokies face the Detroit Mercy of the Horizon League in a campus game for the 2K Classic.
The Detroit Mercy struggled last season finishing at 8-23, but return their top three scorers from last year’s team and could be a sleeper in the Horizon League. While the Hokies are rightfully heavy favorites, they can’t afford to sleep on a Detroit Mercy team that is eager to pull off a shocking upset.
Virginia Tech will have four players making their debuts tonight headlined by Nickeil Alexander-Walker. NAW is one of the most hyped freshman in program history, and showed against South Carolina that he can live up to the hype with 18 points in that exhibition. Many fans will be excited to finally see Alexander-Walker in an official game in Blacksburg and he seems prepared to have a leading role on his debut for VT.
Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear will both make their official returns from injury tonight. Clarke may be Virginia Tech’s best player this season as the versatile do-it-all forward who can score, rebound, pass, and defend. Clarke does have some work to do on his shooting to take the next step but outside of that, he’s one of the ACC’s most complete players.
Virginia Tech will be looking for Kerry Blackshear to step up on the glass with Zach LeDay gone. Blackshear had 8 rebounds in the exhibition win over South Carolina, and the Hokies will look for him to dominate the glass tonight against a Detroit team that wasn’t great on the glass last season, averaging around 33 rebounds per game.
VT will also look for freshman forward PJ Horne to be a strong rebounder despite his lack of size as LeDay was the past two seasons. Horne had 3 fouls in his debut so foul trouble could be an issue, but Horne was also very effective with 11 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 block in his time on the floor.
Clarke and Blackshear may both go up against Detroit senior Jaleel Hogan who has proven to be a very effective shooter in the past shooting 59.1% from the field last season. Hogan wasn’t nearly as good from the line, but the undersized power forward has the offensive efficiency to give the Hokies some problems in the post.
Meanwhile, Detroit has a talented young guard in sophomore Corey Allen. Allen only shot 43.9% from the field last season, but averaged 14.4 points per game largely due to his strong three-point shooting rate of 44.7%. Devin Wilson will likely have a significant role in defending Allen as arguably Hokies’ best perimeter defender while Ahmed Hill may also be used some on Allen when Wilson needs some rest.
Many mid-majors have some talented scorers, but they lack the ability to be efficient. That is not the case for Hogan and Allen, and that may make this game a little trickier for the Hokies than many would expect.
Virginia Tech is the better team and against a Detroit team that struggles on the glass, the Hokies will dominate the boards with Kerry Blackshear having a chance at picking up his first career double-double. Meanwhile, Allen will make some threes, but the Hokies are a better three-point shooting team and it will show with Justin Robinson and Chris Clarke being able to drive and kick it out to Ahmed Hill and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
Alexander-Walker will shine in his debut tonight while Wabissa Bede, PJ Horne, and Tyrie Jackson will all play meaningful minutes against Detroit Mercy in their debuts. Chris Clarke will look like the Chris Clarke we all know well while Hokie fans will be very happy to see Kerry Blackshear back. Detroit will show that they can be a contender in the Horizon League, but the Hokies will comfortably take care of business and get off to a 1-0 start.