After losing back-to-back games to end 2015, the Virginia Tech Hokies started ACC play and 2016 off with a gritty, comeback win against the North Carolina State Wolfpack 73-68 in overtime. Now, the Hokies face their toughest stretch of back-to-back games yet this season with #4 Virginia coming the Cassell Coliseum tonight before a trip to Durham to face #14 Duke on January 9th.
Last year, the Hokies came close to pulling off the home upset against Virginia, but the Hoos put together a quick, late comeback to send the Hokie crowd home disappointed. This year, Virginia may be better than last year’s team with an improved offense led by Malcolm Brogden and are once again big favorites to beat the Hokies.
However, the Hokies will be ready to pull off a big upset at home after getting blown out by rival West Virginia less than a week ago. There is no doubt that the Hokies will have to play their best game of the season to have a chance to pull off the upset, but this team has the potential to do that.
One area where the Hokies may actually have an advantage is on the glass where Virginia is only averaging 33.7 rebounds per game which is 299th in the nation while also being tied for 228th in offensive rebounds per game. Virginia has some talent on the inside in Anthony Gill, but Zach LeDay, Kerry Blackshear, and the Virginia Tech frontcourt must step up and take advantage of this.
Virginia’s stout defense has only allowed more than 70 points twice to Villanova and George Washington, the only team that beat them. To beat the Hoos, the Hokies will need to play with same defensive intensity that allowed them to beat the Wolfpack along with making some threes as Villanova did (10-for-26) when they played Virginia and scored 75 points.
The challenge with Virginia is that they have developed into a solid offensive team that has scorers all over the floor from Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey on the interior to London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon on the outside who can make the three or draw fouls and make free throws. Virginia is also a good shooting team with a shooting percentage of 75.8% from the charity stripe while shooting 41.1% from beyond the arc.
To pull off the upset, Virginia Tech will need Justin Bibbs to find his sharpshooting form back. In the last three games, Bibbs has struggled from all over the field making only 5 of 18 shots including only one of his eight three-point attempts. Virginia Tech needs Bibbs to get back going in this game as he was earlier this season when his three-point shooting percentage was as high as 63% to 65%.
Virginia Tech will also need Seth Allen and Jalen Hudson to once again play well to help take pressure and attention off Bibbs in this game. Both had 23 points against N.C. State, but have shown some streaks of inconsistency this season with Hudson being Virginia Tech’s most inconsistent player the last two seasons.
Allen and Hudson also will likely be the ones guarding Perrantes and Brogdon for much of this game as long as they play up to expectations offensively. Allen stepped up in his matchup against N.C. State’s Anthony Barber last game, but needs to do it again along with Hudson against one of America’s top backcourt duos.
Many may doubt Virginia Tech’s ability to win, but the Hokies will keep it close and give themselves a shot to pull off the upset. Virginia Tech will have a strong game on the glass with Zach LeDay and Kerry Blackshear being a force in the post, but Virginia is the better basketball team and a national title contender.
However, no one should rule out the Hokies in their attempt to land a signature win on Big Monday to attempt to continue to build on their momentum from a tough win against N.C. State.