After beating Iowa by 24 thanks to a dominant second half, Virginia Tech plays their first true road game of the season at Ole Miss. The Rebels complete what Buzz Williams has said is the biggest non-conference week since he arrived in Blacksburg with VT having a great chance at picking up another quality win.
Ole Miss has gotten off to an okay 4-2 start this season, but is looking to bounce back after losing to South Dakota State at home Tuesday. The Rebels have a tough four-game stretch with a trip to Middle Tennessee after this game and an intriguing home game against Illinois State in two weeks.
This game is the second part of a home-and-home series that started off with Virginia Tech beating Ole Miss 80-75 last season.
One of the most intriguing matchups will come at the point between Justin Robinson and Deandre Burnett. This is an interesting clash of styles as Burnett is more of a scoring point guard while Robinson is more of a pass first point guard. Both players are averaging at least 4 assists per game, but Robinson’s role is more as a ball distributor while Burnett is one of Ole Miss’s key players on offense alongside Terence Davis.
This is one of the key matchups in this game as Robinson will look to contain Burnett’s scoring while Burnett will look to either force turnovers or force other Hokies into being the primary floor general. However, Burnett hasn’t been the most effective at getting steals averaging only 0.3 per game so far this season.
This game is loaded with talented wings as Ole Miss is led by Terence Davis averaging 18 points per game while Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs are both averaging over 19 points per game for the Hokies. The Hokies have one of America’s offenses largely due to their talent on the wings, but Ole Miss has some quality talent themselves beyond Davis with Devontae Shuler and Markel Crawford, both of whom are averaging over 10 points per game.
The depth of scoring talent on the wings should make this game a high-scoring, entertaining affair, but VT has the greater offensive talent on the wings which should benefit the Hokies.
Unlike last year, Virginia Tech has a size advantage in the post with the 6’10” Kerry Blackshear to face a pair of Ole Miss big men no taller than 6’8”. However, these two big men have been productive on the glass with 6’7” Marcanvis Hymon averaging 8.5 rebounds per game, 1.1 more than Blackshear.
Blackshear has been inconsistent, but when he’s on, he’s shown that he can really do some damage on the glass including his 10 second half rebounds against Iowa. When Blackshear gets going, he’s a major difference maker and for the Hokies to have the most success, they’ll also need Blackshear to stay out of foul trouble. As we saw against Iowa, the Hokies were much better on the glass and at defending the interior with Blackshear in the game in the second half than without him during the first half.
One of the most intriguing things to watch will be the Hokies’ impressive passing against an Ole Miss defense that has five players averaging at least 1 steal per game. The Hokies are second in the nation in assists per game while Ole Miss is in the top 60 in the nation in steals. If the Rebels can force the Hokies into running more of an isolation offense, then the Rebels will have a great chance at pulling off the upset.
Free-throw shooting will be something to watch as the Hokies have not only done well at getting to the line, but they’ve also stepped up at the line shooting 74.8% from the charity stripe. Meanwhile, the Rebels are shooting 69.7% from the line, but this is where having the advantage of being at home helps as VT should face a fairly tough environment in Oxford.
Chris Clarke could be an x-factor for the Hokies as the junior forward has been a do-it-all player for the Hokies this season averaging 7.3 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 0.9 steals. With Ole Miss not having as great of a size, this feels like a matchup where Clarke can have more success than normal on the glass while his athleticism and size combination should give the Rebels some problems.
For Ole Miss, it’s senior guard (and Memphis transfer) Markel Crawford. Crawford has given the Rebels another reliable wing, but he’s struggled offensively early this season with his field goal and three-point percentages being noticeably down. However, Crawford has been more effective at getting to the line while also averaging a career high 1.5 steals per game so far. Crawford found some rhythm with 19 points against South Dakota State and is an x-factor that Andy Kennedy hopes can get it going.
With the offensive talent in this game, expect lots of points while Virginia Tech will benefit from having a size advantage this year. The Hokies will need Kerry Blackshear to stay out of foul trouble and if he does, he can make life very difficult for Ole Miss not only on the glass but also by giving the Hokies some much-needed size for their interior defense.
Expect lots of scoring from the wings, but the Hokies have more offensive talent while their defense is starting to gain some momentum after holding Iowa to 55 points and under 20% shooting in the second half. Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs have started to cool off a little, but this duo will be productive and get some help from Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
This may be the first true road game of the season, but this is where the Hokies benefit from having a veteran core that has been through the rigors of ACC play multiple times. With lead scorers like Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis, the Rebels will keep it close, but the Hokies have too much firepower and will pick up a quality road win.