For the third time this season, Virginia Tech took care of business against Miami comfortably beating the Hurricanes 71-56 in the second round of the quarterfinals. Their reward is a top 16 matchup against No. 12 Florida State in what is undoubtedly the most intriguing quarterfinal of the ACC Tournament.
The Hokies nearly took down the Seminoles in Tallahassee last week before a big first half lead turned into an overtime loss. However, Virginia Tech has their eyes on a win that would give them a stronger case for a top 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
With that said, here’s our 3 things to watch for the Hokies and Seminoles.
1. Can Virginia Tech Slow the Tempo Against a Rested Florida State?
There is no denying the fact that Florida State should be well-rested while Virginia Tech is going to have to deal with some fatigue from yesterday even if they were able to take some of the load off late in the second half against Miami. Combine that with the fact that Florida State always is an extremely deep team and there’s no doubt that the Seminoles would be wise to push the tempo early and see what the Hokies have in the tank.
For Virginia Tech, the potential fatigue factor makes it even more wise than normal for them to look to find ways to slow the tempo down and, as they’ve consistently done without Justin Robinson, make their offense go through Kerry Blackshear.
Now that grind out strategy can provide some physical fatigue challenges in its own right, but the bigger thing that it can do is create a mental fatigue battle that Virginia Tech has shown it can win a lot of the time. Combine that with the Hokies’ veteran players who have played in plenty of important games and VT’s plan has to focus on slowing the tempo, picking your moments to attack on the fast break, and trying to grind this game out.
If they can stay disciplined on this strategy against the 12th-ranked team in the country that also didn’t play yesterday, they can prevent this from turning into a battle of who has more in the tank. If they can’t avoid that, it’s a major advantage for Florida State.
2. Can Kerry Blackshear Find His Rhythm Against Florida State’s Immense Size
Kerry Blackshear struggled last week in Tallahassee with only 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 23 minutes while only shooting 2-6 from the field. Now part of that was due to foul trouble, but it’s hard to deny the fact that Blackshear had some issues against Florida State in the first matchup with FSU’s immense size always having the potential to cause some problems.
The Hokies will need Blackshear to find his rhythm against FSU today not only moving the basketball, his 4 assists were a positive, but also as a scorer.
One thing Blackshear can do to give FSU’s bigs problem is his ability to stretch the floor and attack the rim from the perimeter, two areas where he has shown lots of growth shooting a career high 37% from three-point range.
Blackshear’s ability from beyond the arc has forced defenders to step out on him or give him open opportunities that he can make at a solid rate. If Blackshear can get going from the perimeter, it may force Leonard Hamilton to go a little smaller if his 7’+ bigs can’t handle it, opening the door back up for Blackshear to shift back into the post.
3. Can Ty Outlaw, Ahmed Hill Step Up and Have Big Performances?
Part of the reason why Virginia Tech rarely had to sweat during yesterday’s game was the performance of Ty Outlaw who was hot early from three-point range and finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds. Meanwhile, Ahmed Hill struggled with only 5 points, but had at least 17 points and a 50% shooting percentage in each of his three previous games including the Hokies’ upset victory over Duke.
Against FSU, the Hokies will need their senior wings to step up and make a difference as Hill was able to do in a significant way with 18 points last week in Tallahassee.
While Hill has been improved in ACC play this season as a whole, Ty Outlaw has started to break out of a slump and remind us why he’s one of the best three-point shooters in the country going 9-17 in a pair of games against Miami. Now Outlaw has traditionally had lots of success against Miami for some reason, but Outlaw already seemed to be breaking his slump having shot over 40% from three-point range in each of his past two games.
There is no doubt that Florida State has a physical energy advantage given the fact that the Hokies played yesterday. However, since Virginia Tech joined the ACC, there have been only two times where all 4 top seeds advanced to the semifinals and only once this decade (2016).
As tough of a challenge as it is to beat a top 4 seed after playing at least the day before, it’s definitely doable and if there’s a team ready for the challenge, it’s a Virginia Tech team that has some experience in this type of situation having played 3 games in 4 days on their way to winning the Charleston Classic.
There’s no denying the fact that Virginia Tech has the two most talented players in this matchup in Kerry Blackshear and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, but that’s never been a worry for Leonard Hamilton Florida State teams that aren’t afraid to make hockey-esque substitutions on a dead ball. That depth could be a problem if the Hokies don’t manage the game and their energy well during the first half knowing the Seminoles should have the depth to give a worn down team problems in the 2nd half.
However, the Hokies have shown that they can get off to the type of fast start that they’ll need to have today with guys like Ty Outlaw hitting their stride and Nickeil Alexander-Walker starting to find his overall offensive form. Combine that with VT having a consistent half-court offense led by Kerry Blackshear and the Hokies have the recipe to win on back-to-back days.
This will be a very close game and don’t be surprised if this plays out similar to the first game between these 2 in part because of the momentum that winning the day before can give the Hokies and the rest that should help Florida State in the 2nd half. While FSU has a deep team, the Hokies are the more talented team and with their three-point shooting finding their rhythm combined with Kerry Blackshear playing at a high level, Virginia Tech will get the job done in a scrappy, low-scoring game.