After an impressive comeback win at Ole Miss this past Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies return home to Cassell Coliseum for a New River Valley showdown with neighbor Radford. The Hokies’ schedule eases up for the next couple of games before VT faces their toughest challenge of non-conference play on the road at Kentucky.
Radford hasn’t been too bad this year getting off to a 4-3 start, but their best wins are at ECU and against JMU. However, the Highlanders have tested themselves with a 10-point loss at Ohio State and a 12-point loss at Vanderbilt that show that the Highlanders have the potential to make this game more interesting than you’d expect.
Ed Polite Jr. has led the way for Radford this season averaging 12.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game this season. Polite has been a force on the glass with double-doubles in back-to-back games against Vanderbilt and VMI.
Polite is undersized at 6’5” and likely will see Chris Clarke guarding him a lot tonight. Clarke has seen his minutes increase over the first few weeks of this season with Clarke breaking the 30-minute mark against Ole Miss playing 35 minutes on his way to having his second double-double of the season with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Despite averaging 6 less minutes per game this season, the 6’6” Clarke has averaged 0.5 more rebounds per game (leading the team with 7.8 rebounds per game) and will give Polite plenty of troubles.
If Clarke can slow down Polite, it’ll force Radford to rely on their perimeter players for most of their scoring against a Virginia Tech team loaded with perimeter talent, something that would make Radford’s slim upset hopes even slimmer.
Kerry Blackshear will have a significant size advantage in this matchup against a Radford team whose biggest rotation post player in 6’8”. If Blackshear can stay out of foul trouble, he could dominate this game as he did the past three halves with 10 rebounds in the second half against Iowa, and 17 points and 5 rebounds against a smaller Ole Miss team in only 23 minutes.
Blackshear has also been extremely efficient shooting 66.7% from the field this season with only one game in which he has shot under 60% from the field. Blackshear has stepped his game up in his return from injury last year, and should give Radford lots of problems in the post tonight even if fouls are an issue as they were against the Rebels.
Radford has only give up more than 80 points once this season, but they also haven’t faced an offense like the Hokies who lead the nation in points per game (96.8), assists per game (20.8), and field goal percentage (54.6%) while ranking fifth nationally in three-point shooting (44.9%).
Against the four teams VT has played that aren’t in a power or high major conference, the Hokies have scored no less than 96 points. Radford hasn’t been too bad defensively, but this is a mismatch especially for a Radford team that is shooting a poor 42% from the field ranking tied for 280th nationally.
If Radford is going to have a shot, they have to limit their mistakes to limit VT’s transition opportunities and they have to find a way to slow down the Hokies’ impressive ball movement, forcing them into more of an isolation offense. Many teams have tried to do that, but most have come up short other than Saint Louis who the Hokies appeared to catch on a really off night.
The Hokies also are getting to the line at an insane rate averaging the second most free throw attempts and most free throws made per game in the country. VT’s 74.1% free-throw percentage is also in the top 85 nationally and is a big improvement over past years. Virginia Tech’s aggressive attack the rim style has helped the Hokies draw plenty of fouls, and they’ve done well at taking advantage of their opportunities at the charity stripe.
If you’re looking for an x-factor for VT, it has to be Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Radford will likely focus heavily on Justin Bibbs and Ahmed Hill, but the true freshman has plenty of talent and appears poised for a big game after four-straight games with less than 20 points, three of which he was held under 15 points and 40% shooting. NAW has shown lots of upside and seems poised for a big game soon with this being a great matchup.
For Radford, their x-factor could be Caleb Tanner, a former NRV area star for Floyd High School. Tanner doesn’t do much other than shoot the ball as he averages 7 points in only 12 minutes per game but also averages under a rebound and an assist per game, and is shooting under 40% from the field and only 34.4% from beyond the arc.
However, there’s nothing like getting the chance to play a local rival that didn’t show much interest in you and Tanner has the chance to do that tonight, something that should give him some extra motivation tonight.
Radford has played some quality opponents tough, but it’s hard seeing the Highlanders keeping this game as close as they did against teams like Ohio State and Vanderbilt. Virginia Tech’s high-scoring offense will be on full display led by plenty of shooting from Justin Bibbs, Ahmed Hill, and NAW plus some post dominance from Kerry Blackshear.
Radford will keep it close for a little bit, but the Hokies will run away with the victory in the end with VT having plenty of chances to get their younger backups lots of minutes.