After beating Boston College 77-66, it’s tempting for Virginia Tech to look past their ACC road opener at Georgia Tech with a showdown with #4 Virginia looming. However, Buzz Williams said after VT’s win over BC that those thoughts won’t even enter his team’s mind.
“None of that ever comes in our locker room.”
That may be tested some by a Georgia Tech that has won three-straight, tied for their longest winning streak of the season, including a win against Wake Forest.
However, there’s a reason why Virginia Tech enters tonight’s game as the overwhelming favorite as the ninth-ranked team in the country on an eight-game winning streak that includes victories over Washington, Notre Dame, and Boston College. The temptation to overlook this game will be there but given the experience on this roster, it would be shocking if they fall for the trap.
With that said, here’s our three things to watch.
1. Battle of the Point Guards
Virginia Tech’s defensive focus will likely start with Georgia Tech’s point guard and leading scorer Jose Alvarado. With Josh Okogie and Ben Lammers both gone, Alvarado has stepped into the Yellow Jackets’ fatured scoring role ableit a year or two earlier than Josh Pastner would have likely wanted.
Alvarado leads Georgia Tech in multiple statistical categories with 13.1 points, 3.3 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. However, the sophomore point guard has seen his efficiency drop as his volume has increased with a shooting split of .420/.247/.773 compared to .448/.370/.802 last season.
Meanwhile, Justin Robinson has shown improvement with career highs in assists, rebounds, and steals per game along with free throw percentage where he’s shooting over 81% from the charity stripe. Robinson hasn’t had to be the number 1 scoring threat this season and has done well as the second scoring option while showing plenty of improvement on the defensive end like VT as a whole.
Additionally, the Hokies have also used Wabissa Bede heavily in a defensive stopper role that he has thrived in and received praise for containing Ky Bowman against Boston College. During that game, Bowman was held to 4-14 shooting which led to Buzz Williams saying that it was Bede’s “best game” in college and that he “couldn’t take him off the floor.”
Tonight, the recipe will be similar as the Hokies face another team led by a high-volume scoring point guard in Alvarado who will be looking to carry his team to success.
2. Can veterans Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw avoid a slump from deep?
Ty Outlaw and Ahmed Hill both were shooting at least 50% from three-point range going in to Saturday’s game yet both struggled against BC as Outlaw was 2-6 from beyond the arc with 6 points while Hill was 0-5 from three-point range and 1-9 from the field as a whole, only scoring 4 points.
Hill was able to get involved in other ways in a fairly significant manner with 5 rebounds and 3 assists while Outlaw struggled with only 2 assists and 1 rebound. While both players still found ways to contribute, the Hokies need both of them to avoid a slump with Virginia looming and efficiency being critical against a Cavalier team that knows how to shorten games and minimized possessions.
The good news is that both players shot over 57% from three-point range in the Hokies’ win over Notre Dame and have a chance to get back in rhythm from beyond the arc tonight.
Regardless of their other stats, both Hill and Outlaw will definitely be looking to regain some confidence from three-point range ahead of the Hokies’ first of several top 25 matchups. If they can, it’ll help make Virginia Tech’s offense reach its maximum potential but if they don’t, expect Wabissa Bede to continue to receive a significant higher number of minutes than Outlaw while Hill may have to adjust and focus on attacking the rim more if he’s struggling from deep.
3. Will VT be able to get their backups extra playing time, key starters rest?
Depth is a long-term concern for Virginia Tech and tonight has the potential to be a game where the Hokies can get their starters some rest if they can open up a big enough margin early in the second half.
While Buzz Williams has been hesitant at times to do so, don’t be surprised if VT looks to give their backups some playing time if the margin is as wide as it has the potential to be.
One guy who could benefit from a few more minutes than normal tonight is freshman Isaiah Wilkins. After averaging double-digit minutes during non-conference play, Wilkins has only played 9 minutes in his first 2 ACC games with only 3 points coming in the Hokies’ win over Boston College.
Though Wilkins appears entrenched in that eighth man, single-digit minute role, this game could present an opportunity to get him some valuable experience that could pay benefits later in the season.
Getting young guys like Wilkins and even Jon Kabongo, who hasn’t made his ACC debut yet, extra playing time could be valuable not only for developing the back-end of their bench, but also for getting featured players like Alexander-Walker and Robinson some much-needed rest. However, that is all contingent on this game getting out of hand during the second half.
Though Virginia Tech is definitely the much better team, expect Georgia Tech to keep it competitive in the first half as Justin Robinson mentioned he expects to happen this season during ACC play.
“I think every team is really good in the ACC so I don’t think there are going to be any blowouts early. Every team is going to stay around whether it’s us on the lower side or somebody else on the lower side so you just got to be able to handle that.”
Though this game will likely be close at halftime, expect the margin to be a little wider than it was against Notre Dame and VT to slowly pull away in the second half. Virginia Tech will be able to get out in transition and have a big advantage there against a Georgia Tech team that has turnover issue averaging around 14 per game.
Expect another big game from Nickeil Alexander-Walker as he makes a case not only to be an All-ACC First Teamer but also to receive All-American consideration when the season is done. Combine that with a VT team that should shoot much closer to their average from three-point range, and the Hokies will comfortably take care of business to put themselves in position for the first top 10 matchup between VT and UVA in series history.