The Virginia Tech Hokies opened ACC play with a dominant home upset victory over Duke 89-75 that launched them into the AP top 25 at 21 for the first time in over 6 years. Now, the Hokies must defend their ranking and it starts on the road in Raleigh against a quality NC State team that definitely looks like a NCAA Tournament team.
NC State is a young team that didn’t gain a signature non-conference win and has lost all three games to power conference opponents (Creighton, Illinois, Miami) by double digits but all of those games were on the road.
For the Wolfpack, this is a big week with this game in Raleigh before going to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina and while Virginia Tech is ranked, there is a possibility that the Wolfpack could overlook the Hokies because of the rivalry game. However, the same could be an issue for Virginia Tech with their big Saturday showdown against #12 Florida State in Tallahassee.
Both Buzz Williams and Mark Gottfried will have to make sure their teams are motivated though given the talent on these two teams, that still shouldn’t be too hard even with the bigger weekend games that loom.
Justin Robinson and Seth Allen will face one of the most talented freshman guards in America in Dennis Smith Jr. who is a projected lottery pick if he decides to enter the NBA Draft after this season. Smith has been the star for the Wolfpack averaging 19.1 points, 6.2 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.9 steals per game while shooting 45.7% from the field and 39.4% from beyond the arc.
Robinson likely will be matched up more on Smith than Allen though both players will be matched up against the NC State star freshman and will look to force him into freshman mistakes especially since Smith is averaging 3 turnovers per game so far this season. Virginia Tech hasn’t necessarily forced a high number of turnovers this season, but the Hokies have been able to turn up the pressure at times and against a freshman point guard, expect Buzz Williams to try to gameplan ways to frustrate Smith.
NC State has some smaller, quality rebounders led by 6’8” Abdul Malik-Abu who is averaging 7.3 rebounds per game, but the Wolfpack’s one non-undersized big man hasn’t proven to be a great rebounder in Turkish freshman center Omer Yurtseven who is only averaging 5.2 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in just over 23.6 minutes per game.
Yurtseven is a unique matchup threat that is fairly skilled for a collegiate big man and can score a few different ways, creating some matchup problems. However, Yurtseven only had 5 points against Miami in his first game this season against a power conference program but despite that, Yurtseven is a potential x-factor in this matchup.
For Zach LeDay and Chris Clarke, this is a very good matchup given how NC State has one of the smaller ACC frontcourts even with Yurtseven and LeDay in particular could thrive in this matchup. LeDay is one guy whose energy is never a concern and with this type of matchup, LeDay seems poised to have a big game.
If LeDay and Clarke can have some big games on the glass along with Khadim Sy putting up a very effective 10-15 minute stint, Virginia Tech will have a great chance to get the win in Raleigh. LeDay and Clarke also both know how to attack the rim and draw and against two big men in Yurtseven and Abu who are both averaging at least 3 fouls per game, this could be an issue especially with the aggressive, attack the rim style that Buzz Williams’s teams bring.
Both of these teams can shoot the ball effectively from deep and are shooting over 38% from deep with Ahmed Hill leading the Hokies at 45% from deep and Torin Dorn leading NC State at 47.4%. In this matchup, it will be critical for both teams to limit the number of open threes and play strong perimeter defense while also taking advantage of the quality three-point opportunities that they do get.
However, the x-factor may be Justin Bibbs who had a big game against Duke shooting 4-from-5 from 3 against Duke and leading the Hokies with 18 points and has been shooting 42.1% from three this season after shooting 45% from beyond the arc against Duke. Bibbs can be streaky at times from deep, but the junior wing also seems to be finding his stroke now at the beginning of ACC play and definitely could be a big difference maker on the road in Raleigh.
NC State is a good basketball team, but the Wolfpack are young and will be a much bigger threat in late February and March than they are right now. Virginia Tech is the better team, but that won’t stop NC State from really pushing the Hokies in Raleigh especially with how the Wolfpack can put up points. However, the smaller frontcourt and the Hokies’ experience will make a big difference while a big game from Zach LeDay and strong outside shooting will help lead VT to victory ahead of Saturday’s huge showdown in Tallahassee.