After picking up an important win over NC State, Virginia Tech heads on the road for their toughest two-game stretch of the season with back-to-back road trips to Virginia and Duke. The toughest of those two games comes tomorrow night against a Virginia team playing for the #1 ranking in primetime on ESPN with College GameDay in town.
Virginia likely knows that a win over the Hokies will basically guarantee them a #1 ranking on Monday with the chance to make a statement that could even make them a unanimous #1 team. As the last one-loss team in the country, Virginia has a chance to stay in a tier of its own for a significant amount of time as they continue to build their case for a #1 seed.
Meanwhile, the Hokies gave themselves a slight bit of breathing room from the bubble at best with their win over NC State. That breathing room likely will be gone this time next weekend when the Hokies travel to Georgia Tech unless VT can pull off a massive upset at UVA or Duke. If the Hokies somehow do pull off the upset, they will have the type of signature win that will get them lots of breathing room and make it much easier for them to make the NCAA Tournament with only 9 ACC wins.
Virginia Tech: Justin Robinson
College basketball fans outside of ACC country probably don’t know about Justin Robinson, but they’ll likely know about him after Saturday night’s game. The junior point guard has been the Hokies’ star in ACC play as the only Hokie who has scored in double figures in every ACC game this season.
Robinson’s numbers are also impressive as he is averaging career highs in points (13.6), assists (5.6, 36th in the nation), and steals (1.3). Robinson’s shooting numbers are also very good as he is shooting 48% from the field, 40.7% from beyond the arc, and 77.3% from the free-throw line, all career highs as well.
Justin Robinson has stepped up as this year’s Seth Allen as the guy who VT can turn to in big moments or must win games. In the past 9 games, Robinson has either had 19+ points or 7+ assists, showing how Robinson has found plenty of ways to create offense whether that through his own scoring on his ball distribution.
The junior point has developed into one of the best point guards in the country and should receive plenty of national attention after the Hokies play on their biggest stage so far this season.
Virginia: Devon Hall
Looking for a player that exemplifies UVA’s offensive efficiency, look no further than senior guard Devon Hall. Hall is second on the team in points per game (12.3) but is shooting 47.1% from the field, 45.6% from beyond the arc, and 93.4% from the free-throw line.
Hall may not get the same amount of attention as Kyle Guy, Isaiah Wilkins, or Ty Jerome; but Hall is steady as he has scored in double figures in 10 of UVA’s 12 ACC games. That type of efficiency is paramount for a team like Virginia that tries to limit the number of possessions in a game.
Hall is also a solid rebounder for a guard averaging 4.1 rebounds per game while having 7 rebounds when these two teams first face off. Hall also doesn’t make a lot of mistakes as he averages only 1 turnover and 1.4 fouls per game.
Devon Hall is the type of veteran senior that any coach would love to have. Hall may not be a star on this team, but there isn’t a Wahoo who has been more consistent and efficient than him.
Keys to the Game
1. Crash the Boards
Rebounding has been a key for the Hokies in just about every game in part because of the issues they’ve had on the glass. Against UVA’s elite defense, creating second chance opportunities is one of the few ways to give your chances a serious boost while limiting the second chance opportunities for the Hoos is just as critical.
Fortunately for the Hokies, Virginia’s frontcourt doesn’t have a lot of size with Jack Salt being UVA’s tallest regular player at 6’10” and only two Hoos over 6’7”. Despite this, Virginia is still a quality rebounding team led by Isaiah Wilkins who the Hokies will have to make a priority to mark on VT’s defensive end and prevent from getting those second chance opportunities.
VT’s rebounding has been suspect at times in ACC play with VT failing to box out players that should always be boxed out. Against a UVA team that is fairly efficient on the offensive end and will limit the number of possessions, the Hokies can’t afford to give the Hoos second chance opportunities if they want to pull off the upset.
2. Keep Kerry Blackshear Out of Foul Trouble
Virginia Tech’s defense has had some issues with giving up easy lanes to the rim. Part of that has been some effort issues in the post for Blackshear as seen in the first half against Miami, but a large part of that is due to him simply not being able to be on the floor due to foul trouble. UVA may not have a lot of size, but they have some guys who can attack the rim and will want to get Blackshear out of the game to create some space in the post that PJ Horne can’t replace.
When Blackshear has stayed out of foul trouble, the Hokies have had much more success overall no matter how productive Blackshear’s numbers has been. Blackshear’s size makes a big difference for a team that lacks the benefit of size without Blackshear even with some of the athletic players VT has like Chris Clarke.
If the Hokies want to maximize their chances of pulling off the upset, they not only need quality minutes from Blackshear, but they also need a lot of minutes from their starting big man.
After getting blown out badly the first time these two met, Virginia Tech will have a much better performance on the road as a team that is improved on defense and found some of their offensive rhythm. However, UVA’s defense presents an incredible challenge unlike any UVA defense the Hokies have ever seen in the Tony Bennett area.
If the Hokies are to pull off the upset, there are two things that they likely need: get hot from beyond the arc and keep Kerry Blackshear out of foul trouble. While we’ve mentioned Kerry Blackshear staying out of foul trouble, VT will need to find their rhythm from beyond the arc like they had in non-conference play.
VT has had its struggles from three-point range recently highlighted by Ahmed Hill who has gone 2-17 from beyond the arc in his past three games including 0-6 against Miami and NC State. If VT wants to pull off the upset, they need Hill and company to step up and get hot from beyond the arc as they did during non-conference play.
As much as I want to pick Virginia Tech to shock the world, Virginia is on a whole different level than the rest of the ACC with one of the best defenses in college basketball this century. The Wahoos are also efficient on the offensive end and effective from the free-throw line and beyond the arc. While Justin Robinson will have a big game, Virginia will slow VT’s offense down and prevent the Hokies from pulling off a shocking upset.