The Virginia Tech Hokies are back in the postseason for the first time since 2011 and begin their run tonight against the Princeton Tigers in front of what will be a large, raucous crowd at Cassell Coliseum. Buzz Williams and the Hokies finished the season with a six-game winning streak before a loss in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament guaranteed them a trip to the NIT in a year where hopes were just to finish above .500 overall and get out of last place in the ACC.
Both of these teams are losing very few players after this season and likely will be projected to make the NCAA Tournament at the beginning of next season. Princeton’s best win has come against Yale, but five of the Tigers’ six losses are against teams that made the NCAA Tournament including all four of their non-conference losses.
One thing that will be critical for the Hokies tonight is to defend the perimeter effectively with Princeton shooting 38.9% from beyond the arc this season, and their top two scorers shooting over 46% from deep. Virginia Tech’s defense improved over the final month of the season, and the Hokies will need to play some great defense tonight against the unique Princeton offense.
The Hokies average 2.3 rebounds less per game than the Tigers, but the Hokies were also dominant against non-power conference opponents on the glass earlier this season, and that could remain true in this matchup. The Tigers are fairly small in the frontcourt, but they have a lot of wing players who have been fairly productive on the glass, and players like Justin Bibbs, Chris Clarke, and Jalen Hudson will need to be active on the glass along with the big men.
Zach LeDay has the potential to be a big difference maker against a Princeton team that lacks great size in their regular rotation outside of 6’10” big man Pete Miller. LeDay may have a lot of smaller players matched up against him tonight, and the Hokies would be smart to either get LeDay in the post or try to give him some isolation opportunities to let him attack a smaller Princeton team.
Justin Bibbs has been shooting the ball better lately from beyond the arc and will be ready to be a difference maker tonight if the Hokies can get him plenty of open catch-and-shoot opportunities from beyond the arc. Bibbs has the potential to have a big night, but that all will depend on whether the Hokies can consistently give him those open catch-and-shoot opportunities that make him one of the best three-point shooters in America.
Both teams are averaging about 70% from the free-throw line this season though the Hokies have improved a lot over the last month or so. However, free-throw shooting could make a big difference in this game as it had multiple times for the Hokies throughout season especially with the aggressive mindset of players like Seth Allen and Justin Robinson to consistently attack the rim to get a layup or draw a foul.
The Hokies will have to make sure they don’t sleep on Princeton at all as the Tigers are a solid basketball team that will likely be in the NCAA Tournament next season. However, the Hokies are playing some of their best basketball right now, and will take care of business led by LeDay and Allen in front of a raucous crowd at Cassell Coliseum.