The Tech Lunch Pail is excited to announce the launch of the new TLP Insider subscription. Sign up for an account and get the best news, inside scoops, and analysis on the Hokies! Learn more

2024 NCAA Tournament: Virginia Tech vs Baylor Preview and Prediction

Strack Ekh Wenzel Amoore Summiel VT Marshall 2024 From VT
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics

After big wins for both #4 Virginia Tech and #5 Baylor on Friday against Marshall and Vanderbilt, respectively, the date has been set for 8 pm on March 24th for one of the most highly anticipated second round matchups of the entire NCAA Tournament. While these two teams are only seeded as a four and five, this matchup generates so much excitement because of the potential both squads possess.

Virginia Tech is a team that isn’t even a year removed from a magical Final Four run that put their women’s basketball program on the map. Expectations were high this season, as superstars Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore returned, and while it took them a little while to figure it out, the Hokies looked like they could beat anyone in the country when they peaked in February, with huge wins at Syracuse, NC State, and Louisville, as well as a home win against North Carolina with College Gameday in Blacksburg.

Baylor, meanwhile, has a historically dominant women’s basketball program, and started the season 13-0, which included a massive win over the Texas Longhorns.

Injuries, however, hindered both teams' progress, with multiple rotation players going down for the Bears in the middle of the season, and three-time ACC Player of the Year, Elizabeth Kitley of the Hokies, tearing her ACL at the very worst time in their last regular season game. Despite these setbacks, both teams have been able to recover, as Baylor has won seven of their last eight games, and have regained the confidence that they can beat anyone in the country.

“I think this is a team that you saw start going out 13-0," said Baylor senior guard Sarah Andrews. “I see the firepower in our eyes. We’re 1-0 right now. We know the next game is not guaranteed, so we can’t take any plays off. That one play you take off could be the play that cost you the game.”

Virginia Tech, meanwhile, had much less time to readjust following Kitley devastating injury, which made the 43 point massacre against Marshall all the more surprising. Clara Strack, in particular, stepped up in a big way, with a 17-point, five-rebound performance, on a perfect 7/7 from the field.

“We have a lot of confidence in her (Clara Strack). And Carleigh stepped up. I think I referred to it, she played like a big girl yesterday. And she was just so poised and I was very proud of her”, said Kenny Brooks.

Going into the big game, these teams feel like an even matchup in terms of what they bring to the table, so let's take a look at specific details that could swing the game one way or the other.

Rebounding Battle

These two squads should have quite the battle on the boards, as they are two of the best rebounding teams in the country. The Bears are 42nd in the country in rebounds per game, while the Hokies are just above them in 33rd place. While Baylor doesn’t have to face Virginia Tech’s all-time leading rebounder in Elizabeth Kitley, Clara Strack presents many of the same problems, at 6'5'', and Olivia Summiel remains a dominant rebounder, more likely to get in double-digits in the rebounding category than in scoring.

This season, the Hokies are just 3-4 when they lose the rebounding battle, and they are 22-3 when they either tie or win the battle of the boards.

“We know rebounding is a key factor and whoever wins the rebounding battle is going to win the game," Georgia Amoore said.

This season tells a similar story for Baylor, as a loss in the rebounding department is part of the blame for six of the seven losses they suffered this season.

Sarah Andrews acknowledged the importance of grabbing defensive rebounds saying, “We're going to have to rebound because we don't want them to rebound and get kick out threes. That's when they're at their best, is knocking shots from outside. So we're going to have to rebound the ball, especially on defense.”

Baylor has one of the best three-point defenses in the country, but they have to focus to not only get the stop, but also finish the possession with a rebound, or else the Hokies will make them pay.

Three-Point Shooting

The three-point shooting battle will be fascinating to watch as the Hokies rank among the top 10 teams in the country in three pointers made per game, while Baylor is in the top 20 nationally in defending the three point line. Something has to give and that could very well decide who will move on to the Sweet 16. For this reason, it seems like head coach Nicki Collen has already prepared her team for this.

“You know, interesting stats on some of their shooters, there are players that 60 percent of their shots are threes. They've got players that 90 percent of their shots are threes. And so you kind of know like they know their roles, and when they get their feet set, they're really, really good. So we've got to do a good job of taking away and contesting three-pointers," said Collen.

Collen is determined to try to make each individual opponent uncomfortable and take them out of their game, which is easier said than done against the Hokies. With Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech has played a “pick your poison” style of basketball, in the sense that Kitley will score in the post if she isn’t doubled, or will kick out to open shooters if the double team does come her way.

Interestingly, the effectiveness the Hokies will have in terms of getting open three-point looks is very reliant on whether they can penetrate the paint. If Georgia Amoore and Clara Strack can establish themselves around the rim, the defense will have no choice but to collapse, leaving sharpshooters such as Matilda Ekh and Cayla King on the perimeter. If Baylor is able to prevent Clara Strack from getting post touches and keep Georgia Amoore out of the paint, then the Hokies are going to have to rely on a lot of tough shot making from Amoore to stay in the game.

Depth and Rotations

Baylor is one of the most well-balanced teams in the country, with no one averaging more than 12 points per game, but seven players averaging at least seven points per game. The Hokies, on the other hand, only have four players who averaged over seven points a game, with one of those players being Elizabeth Kitley, who isn’t available for the tournament.

While both these styles have worked up to this point, Virginia Tech is at times overly reliant on Georgia Amoore, while Baylor can seemingly have a different leading scorer every game. The challenge for Virginia Tech is who is going to step up and help Amoore.

Against Marshall, the team played beautifully, with five players getting into double figures, while Georgia Amoore only scored nine, as she was often on the bench with foul trouble. The Hokies desperately need players like Matilda Ekh and Cayla King to knock down shots, and Clara Strack to be a dominant inside force, despite being a true freshman.

If Virginia Tech’s role players can play the way they did against Marshall, the Hokies are dangerous even without their superstar center. However, if they have to rely on the Georgia Amoore show, as they did against Virginia in the regular season finale, and in the ACC Tournament, it would take some true Amoore heroics to beat a team as good as Baylor.

Home Court Advantage

Over the last few years, Cassell Coliseum has transformed into one of the greatest home courts in the entire country. This is true, not only in the way games are consistently sold out, but also in the way the team performs on their home court. Over the last two years, Virginia Tech is 31-1 at home, including a perfect 16-0 this season. As good as this Hokie team is, the way their fans have embraced them and supported them really has taken the team over the top.

“Like I feel like we're not just playing against five players tomorrow," said Collen. “We're playing against 10,005. Because I think the energy in this building will be insane. I think the people here will take it very, very personally to help this team and really be kind of a sixth man because of what Kitley has meant to this program.”

While Baylor is only 6-4 on the road this season, Nicki Collen feels like they are ready for the moment in front of the packed crowd.

“Yeah, I think playing at Iowa State, you're always going to play in front of a huge crowd. Winning at Texas in front of 10,000. Like this isn't new to us. We played in Gampel last year in the second round with a bunch of freshmen.”

Regardless of what environments Baylor has played in before, it is almost impossible to go into Cassell Coliseum and get a win, so the Bears have a very tall task ahead of them, if they are going to reach the Sweet 16.

Matchup of the Game: Sarah Andrews vs Georgia Amoore

Despite everything there is to be said about the role players in this game, teams lean more and more on their established veterans in the big games, and Sarah Andrews and Georgia Amoore are two talented guards who have been here before. In fact, they are two of only four players who were around when Baylor blew out Virginia Tech 90-48 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament four years ago.

While Sarah Andrews has taken less of a scoring role this season, with the addition of Dre’Una Edwards, she will be heavily relied on to control the pace and take care of the ball in a game where every possession is going to matter against the Hokies. Nicki Collen had the following to say about Andrews' value to the Bears.

“So I think she's been able to be a little bit of the stabilizer. I feel like as our freshmen turn to sophomores and learned a little better what we do and why we do it, Sarah is still the one that does the best job of not just understanding the play but why we're running it, who we're running it for, and what we're looking for when we run it.”

While Georgia Amoore may be asked to carry more scoring responsibilities than Sarah Andrews, they will both play similar roles in controlling the game and leading their young teams into this high-stakes game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 74, Baylor 72

While Baylor’s elite depth will keep the game close, Clara Strack will dominate the game, just as she did against Marshall, and Georgia Amoore will drop 25 points to help the Hokies remain undefeated on their home court and move on to the Sweet 16.

You must login in order to comment on this post.
Loading Indicator