Earlier this season, the Virginia Tech Hokies picked up their first ACC road win of the season at the Clemson Tigers in what gave the Hokies a solid boost with a win that appeared to be over a likely NCAA Tournament team at the time.
Entering round 2 of this series, Clemson comes to Blacksburg needing to at least 3 and probably all four of their remaining ACC regular season games to give themselves a good chance at making the NCAA Tournament. Meanwhile, the Hokies enter this closing stretch in a strong position with no remaining games against currently ranked teams and three of their last four coming at home with the one road game coming at Boston College.
For the Hokies, they know that they still need to finish out the season well and winning of their last 4 should keep them from having worries whatsoever come Selection Sunday but that starts tonight against a Clemson team who’s NCAA Tournament hopes are on the ropes while Clemson coach Brad Brownell is on the hot seat with anything short of a NCAA Tournament appearance likely to cost him.
Key Matchup: Jaron Blossomgame vs. Justin Bibbs
With Chris Clarke done for the season, Virginia Tech really doesn’t have an ideal fit for matching up against the talented Jaron Blossomgame but the man who may get the most minutes against him may be Justin Bibbs who has been used at times in more of a forward role defensively and has enough length and plenty of athleticism to match up against Blossomgame in this game.
Blossomgame hasn’t shot the ball from deep nearly as well this season, but Blossomgame is still a quality scoring shooting over 50% from the field and averaging 17.3 points per game while being able to crash the boards well averaging 5.9 rebounds per game. For Virginia Tech, Justin Bibbs has shot the ball better recently (50% or better from 3 in three of his past four games) while his rebounding hasn’t been great with only 5 rebounds the past two games after having six against Virginia.
For Bibbs, this will be a difficult matchup that he will likely rotate some with Ty Outlaw but if Bibbs can find a way to slow down Blossomgame in any sort of way, it’ll make life much more difficult for Clemson.
Keys to the Game
1. Limit Clemson’s second chance opportunities.
Clemson is not nearly as good on the glass as Louisville, but what’s clear is that the Hokies must do better on the glass especially after Clemson took 11 more shots than the Hokies when these teams first met and had 9 offensive rebounds compared to 5 for Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ struggles on the glass were only made worse when Chris Clarke went down for the season with a torn ACL, but they’ll need to crash the glass effectively against a Clemson team that doesn’t have nearly as much size as UNC or Louisville.
For Virginia Tech, not only will they need Zach LeDay and Khadim Sy to be productive on the glass but also bigger guards like Ty Outlaw, Justin Bibbs, and Ahmed Hill to all have solid rebounding nights against a Clemson team that has a wing in their star Jaron Blossomgame who can rebound quite well. If one or two of Virginia Tech’s bigger guards can have a productive night on the glass, it’ll make Clemson’s life a lot more difficult.
2. Make life difficult for Jaron Blossomgame.
Clemson is built around Jaron Blossomgame and while they do have some other quality scorers, Blossomgame is the one player on Clemson that can truly beat you on his own. Blossomgame has shot over 50% from the field, but he is only shooting 66.4% on the season from the line and it seems clear that making sure Blossomgame doesn’t get an easy shot off, even if it draw a foul, may not be a bad idea.
Obviously, the Hokies can’t just try to have a “hack a Shaq” policy with Blossomgame as he’s too good from the line to do that, but the Hokies need to prevent him from getting into the lane and force him to tougher outside shots. When Blossomgame does get in the lane, the Hokies need to either let him go or make sure they foul him well enough where he isn’t going to get an “and 1” opportunity.
For Virginia Tech: Ty Outlaw had the best game of his career this past Saturday at Louisville with 19 points and 7 rebounds in the Hokies’ 4-point loss to Louisville in what was truly a coming out party for the former JUCO transfer. Outlaw had been held to about 10 to 15 minutes per game before Chris Clarke’s injury but has become the Hokies’ sixth man and could play a big role in this game especially as he may be used to guard Clemson star Jaron Blossomgame.
Outlaw has a larger role now with Clarke gone and it will be interesting to see if Outlaw can build off his big game Saturday and have another productive game tonight. On top of that, Outlaw is a solid rebounder for a wing and if he can be fairly productive on the glass as he was against Louisville, it’ll likely take away a couple of second chance opportunities that could be critical in the end.
For Clemson: Elijah Thomas was a big transfer get for Clemson from Texas A&M and the 6’9” forward has started to play some of his basketball lately having 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks at Duke a week ago from this past Saturday and then 12 points and 11 rebounds at Miami this past Saturday. However, Thomas has been quite inconsistent with only one other double-double which was also his only other game with double-digit points and one of his two other games with 6 or more rebounds.
The Hokies present a more favorable matchup for Thomas with Virginia Tech only having two players taller than 6’6” in their rotation in Zach LeDay and Khadim Sy. However, Thomas will be playing in a hostile environment against a veteran forward in Zach LeDay for much of this game which could give Thomas some issues and test his ability to stay out of foul trouble as he’s fouled out in 3 of his past 7 games. Thomas has shown the potential to be a difference maker but is someone who will make a big surprise impact or be very quiet.
For Clemson, this is their final road game but a critical game for them to try to pull off an upset to set themselves up to make a big push while Virginia Tech returns home to the comfortable confines of Cassell Coliseum where they’ve only lost once this season. Virginia Tech has proven over the past week that they have been able to adapt to losing Chris Clarke while also having guys like Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs, and Ty Outlaw all heat up from beyond the arc.
Free throws helped the Hokies beat Clemson last time and with the Hokies being at home, it should help again while Virginia Tech’s improved three-point shooting from guys like Hill and Bibbs will be a big boost after three-point shooting nearly won the game for the Tigers earlier. While Clemson isn’t a great rebounding team, they do have more size than the Hokies and will be able to do some damage on the glass against what is a very small Virginia Tech team.
Slowing down Jaron Blossomgame will be hard, but the Hokies have guys like Seth Allen and Zach LeDay that will be ready to step up once again while Virginia Tech’s three-point shooting will provide a big boost that opens up more lanes for Seth Allen and Justin Robinson to attack the rim. Clemson is a good team, but the Hokies will get the job done as Clemson heads closer and closer to locking up a spot in the NIT.