After winning three straight games to improve to 5-4 in ACC play, Virginia Tech started the crucial month of February on a rough note. The Hokies lost a tough game at home to now #25 Miami in what would have been a very solid win for their NCAA Tournament resume. Now, they welcome the NC State Wolfpack to Cassell Coliseum in what may be a must-win game for either team.
NC State has shown a lot of promise this season, and they have a few solid wins to bolster their resume. They have four wins over top 25 teams including Arizona, Duke, Clemson, and North Carolina. With a 16-7 record and these strong wins, one would think the Wolfpack would be a no-brainer for the tournament. However, they are still viewed in many circles as a bubble team that is right on the edge. This is largely due to a couple of bad losses to UNC-Greensboro and Northern Iowa.
Clearly, NC State is looking for a big road ACC win in Blacksburg. Meanwhile, the Hokies are just as close if not closer to the cutoff line for the NCAA Tournament. This is about as crucial a game as they come for the Hokies. Losing two games in a row at home would be less than ideal, especially with the team’s remaining schedule. After this game, the Hokies head on a three-game road trip that includes trips to top 10 opponents Duke and Virginia. The Hokies will be fortunate to come out of that road trip with 2 wins, so a win at home is essential.
Virginia Tech: Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Nickeil Alexander-Walker has begun to show flashes of the potential dominance many fans expected going into this season. He has scored in double figures in each of the last 3 games, including 18 points against Boston College at the end of January. He has struggled for most of the team’s ACC games, so it has been nice to see him find his shot lately.
As a 5 star recruit, he is by far the player with the most raw talent on the team. While the Hokies put a lot of value in their veteran leadership, having this talented freshman playing well will be a key for their future success.
NC State: Torin Dorn
As the team’s second leading scorer, Torin Dorn has been NC State’s most valuable player during ACC play. It’s simple: when Dorn plays well, NC State wins. When he doesn’t, they don’t.
Dorn has scored double figures in 6 straight games, 4 of which have been wins. In 2 of their 4 ACC losses, Dorn was unable to score more than 9.
Despite being a guard, Dorn is actually second the team in rebounds. The Hokies are known for their struggles getting rebounds, so Dorn will likely be attacking the glass from outside to get some second chance points and put some pressure on VT to rebound the basketball at a higher rate.
Keys to the Game
Win the rebound battle
Other than their 7 foot center Omer Yurtseven, the Wolfpack relies somewhat heavily on their guards to get rebounds. This is a matchup the Hokies should feel confident in.
Center Kerry Blackshear will likely spend much of the game matching up with Yurtseven, and it will be important for him to use his bigger frame and strength to out-muscle the skinnier 7-footer.
Beyond that, the Hokies’ athletic guards will continue to have to crash the glass and out-jump opponents for rebounds. Lucky for them, they will not be matching up with players significantly bigger than them. Alexander-Walker and Chris Clarke will need to lead the way on the glass.
Knock down open looks
The Wolfpack do not have an elite defense, so the Hokies will have to outscore them in what will likely be a shootout.
In order to score enough points, the Hokies will have to capitalize on the open looks they will likely get. The Hokies struggled to make 3’s against Miami, and it proved costly for them. Ahmed Hill had the worst shooting night if his career. He will need to move on from those struggles and knock down shots if the Hokies hope to win this game.
NC State comes into this game red-hot. They have won 3 straight, including a 20 point victory over Notre Dame in their last game. There are few teams in the country playing with more confidence than the Wolfpack right now.
On the other side, the Hokies are desperate for a home victory before their tumultuous road trip. Virginia Tech is talented enough to play with anyone in the ACC, it is just a matter of heart. Expect the Hokies to play with resiliency in this game.
With their hopes for the NCAA tournament largely riding on this game, Buzz Williams will have the team fired up and ready to make a statement. Expect Virginia Tech to win this game in convincing fashion.