Virginia Tech is back in the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight season and for the only third time this century. The Hokies improved upon last year’s seeding earning an 8 seed and facing 9 seed Alabama in their first round matchup in the East Region.
Virginia Tech-Alabama is seen by many as one of the most interesting first round matchups in this year’s NCAA Tournament. With that said, here’s our By The Numbers preview.
Tied for 9th: Virginia Tech’s Ranking in Field Goal Percentage
Virginia Tech may not be scoring as many points as they did in non-conference play, but the Hokies are still one of the country’s most efficient offensive teams. With a 49.8% field goal percentage that is tied for ninth in the country with Kansas, the Hokies are one of the best on the offensive end even if their three-point shooting hasn’t been as good lately.
A big reason for this is the fact that Virginia Tech does a great job of pushing the tempo and attacking the rim. The Hokies are one of the best offensive teams in transition in the country and have been able to turn some defensive rebounds into transition offense opportunities.
Virginia Tech’s major improvement hasn’t only been due to their improved defense, but also has been due to their elite offensive efficiency. Because of this, the Hokies have been able to take less shots and still win games consistently, making it critical for Alabama to either have their most efficient game of the year or find a way to get a lot more shots than the Hokies.
19: Collin Sexton’s Average Points Per Game
As soon as the brackets were revealed, everybody saw the showdown that was coming in Pittsburgh between Justin Robinson and Collin Sexton. While Trae Young grabs the most attention among freshman point guards, Sexton is pretty good in his on right and is likely to be a top 10 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.
Sexton leads Alabama averaging 19 points per game but his shooting numbers aren’t great shooting 44.4% from the field and 34.4% from three-point range. However, Sexton has made his money at the free-throw line shooting 78.2% on an average of over 7 free-throw attempts per game.
Sexton enters this game playing some of his best basketball with four-straight games of 20+ points. While Bama may not win if he has a big game, the Crimson Tide have almost no chance if the Hokies can find a way to contain him.
5.6: Justin Robinson’s Assists Per Game
As good of a scorer as Justin Robinson has been, Robinson has been just as good of a creator for his teammates averaging a team high 5.6 assists, more than 2 more assists per game than any other player in this matchup. Robinson’s numbers are due to his consistency as he had at least 5 assists in 12 of the Hokies’ 19 ACC games (including the ACC Tournament loss to Notre Dame).
Robinson has some of the best court vision in the country and knows when to attack the rim and get a layup, and when to dish it to a teammate. In particular, Robinson is very effective when attacking the rim drawing the defense in to either get a layup, draw a foul, or open up a three-point shooter to kick it out to.
Justin Robinson may not be nearly as well-known as Collin Sexton, but plenty of fans will likely know about his name after this game.
72.1%: Donta Hall’s Field Goal Percentage
Donta Hall is Alabama’s best big man shooting 72.1% from the field while averaging 10.9 points and a team high 6.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. While most of the attention has been on Collin Sexton, and rightfully so, Hall has given the Crimson Tide an efficient anchor in the post who takes advantage of his time on the floor.
However, Hall’s status is up in the air for Thursday after suffering a concussion against Auburn in the SEC Tournament. While Bama wasn’t likely to beat Kentucky anyway, the Crimson Tide lost by 23 points in a game that became out of reach early in the second half.
Hall will be a vital piece for Alabama on a roster that doesn’t have much proven depth in their frontcourt after Hall. The Hokies know that an Alabama team without Hall presents a great opportunity not only for Kerry Blackshear, but also for guys like Justin Robinson and Chris Clarke who love to attack the rim.
Donta Hall is one of America’s most efficient scorers and Alabama’s best big man, making his status for Thursday night something to watch.
14.1: Average Turnovers Per Game For Alabama
Alabama is a young basketball team and their youth shows with the way they protect the basketball. Their 14.1 turnovers per game is tied for 293rd in the country and is tied for the third worst in the NCAA Tournament with Lipscomb and Stephen F. Austin being the only schools averaging more turnovers per game.
As we mentioned earlier, the Hokies are extremely efficient on the offensive end, and Alabama can’t afford to not have the total shots margin be even. However, the Crimson Tide are facing a Virginia Tech defense that has picked up their play significantly and has begun to consistently win the turnover battle.
If Alabama wants to take down the Hokies, they have to avoid making youthful mistakes and clean up their turnovers. If not, it’s likely going to be a long night in Pittsburgh for the Crimson Tide.
-6.3: Rebounding Margin In Conference Play for Virginia Tech
It’s probably a safe bet to say that VT is one of the worst rebounding teams in the NCAA Tournament. Part of that is due to the fact that the Hokies only have one regular player taller than 6’6” in 6’10” center Kerry Blackshear. However, part of that is due to poor boxing out that allowed ACC opponents to average 10.4 offensive rebounds per game compared to 6.9 offensive rebounds for the Hokies.
While VT has been very efficient on offense, that efficiency hasn’t mattered at times when they’ve given teams way too many second chance opportunities.
The Hokies are fortunate to be facing an Alabama team that doesn’t have a lot of size and a great rebounder like many teams they faced in ACC play. However, the Hokies have also allowed some not so good rebounders to look like DeAndre Jordan on the glass at times during ACC play this season.
If the Hokies want to improve their chances of beating Alabama, they have to do better on the glass especially on the defensive end where they are giving up too many second chance opportunities. If they struggle like they did against Louisville when the Cardinals had a significantly higher number of turnovers, the Hokies will open the door wide for Alabama to get to the second round.
5-9: Virginia Tech’s Record Against Alabama
Virginia Tech is 5-9 all-time against Alabama in men’s basketball, but the two schools haven’t played each other since 1989. When these two teams last met, VT beat Alabama 76-75 at Cassell Coliseum to improve to 2-1 to start the 1989-1990 season. While these teams have played 14 times before, these two don’t have any relevant history to a bunch of players who weren’t alive when these 2 last faced each other.