[caption id="attachment_4875" align="aligncenter" width="700"]
VT will need to create lanes for Robinson, Allen, and Clarke to attack the rim. [Credit: Harley Taylor][/caption]The Virginia Tech Hokies kicked off ACC play with a dominant victory over Duke in Cassell Coliseum that launched them into the top 25 at #21, but the Hokies suffered a major hangover and were blown out in Raleigh by a quality NC State team by 26 while also seeing the Wolfpack's star freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. get a triple-double.
Now, the Hokies head back on the road to Tallahassee to take on what may be the ACC's best team right now, the 12th-ranked Florida State Seminoles, in a game in which a win will definitely keep the Hokies in the top 25 and a loss will send them packing.
This definitely looks like the best team Florida State has had in years with an experienced core along with a talented young freshman in Jonathan Isaac who should only get better as the season goes along. More importantly, Florida State is a very deep team with no player averaging more than 27 minutes per game, and that could give the Hokies some serious problems with how the Hokies have had an eight-man rotation and are unsure of the statuses of Seth Allen and Khadim Sy for this game.
Florida State definitely has more size and length than the Hokies and have some talented forwards including the aforementioned Isaac who is projected to be a top 10 to 15 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and has proven to be a force around the rim having 9 rebounds and 2 blocks in his first 2 ACC games. Isaac is one of three Florida State players averaging more than a block per game with Christ Koumadje averaging 1.5 blocks, Isaac averaging 1.3 blocks, and Michael Ojo averaging 1.1 blocks per game.
Zach LeDay and Chris Clarke are going to have some challenges against these large big men especially if Virginia Tech doesn't have Khadim Sy available to play around 10-15 minutes. However, one thing the Hokies have done well in the past is find ways to stretch defenses out and create lanes along with creating mismatches against less athletic players that they can take advantage to get around get to the rim to get a layup, a foul, or both.
Clarke in particular fits this bill as someone who could give Florida State fits in this type of slashing role as someone who has tremendous athleticism, and will be hard for even a guy like Jonathan Isaac to guard at times given the athleticism of Clarke. Clarke is going to be critical to Virginia Tech's success in this game and if he unleashes the frustration he had at the end of the Hokies' blowout loss to NC State on the Seminoles, Clarke could be set for one of the best games of his career.
However, rebounding could be an issue for the Hokies against Florida State's large frontcourt and boxing out will be of the utmost importance this game along with avoiding serious mismatches in boxing out that create easy opportunities for bigger Florida State players to reach over smaller VT guards without getting a foul. Guys like Clarke, LeDay, Ahmed Hill, Ty Outlaw, and Justin Bibbs will have to be effective crashing the boards while the Hokies really could use a healthy Khadim Sy in this game to provide a productive 13-15 minute stint on the glass but there's no indication at this point as to whether he'll play.
One thing neither team has been great at this season is free throws as both the Hokies and Seminoles are shooting 70.6% from the line. Free throws seem to find their way to making a difference in a lot of games between two closely matched teams and with being on the road in a hostile environment, the Hokies will have a big challenge in this category but need to shoot well from the line.
Florida State has proven to be solid from beyond the arc shooting 37.3% from three led by star Dwayne Bacon who is an emerging star that will be known nationally within the month as he is averaging 18.1 points per game and shooting 38.8% from three while going 6-for-9 from deep last Saturday at Virginia including hitting the game-winner. Bacon is a guy that the Hokies must try to contain as someone who has become much more efficient and dangerous this season.
However, the Hokies do have an advantage from beyond the arc as they have been shooting 40.6% from beyond the arc with five players shooting better than Bacon's 38.8% from three among those who've taken double-digit three-pointers (Ahmed Hill, Ty Outlaw, Seth Allen, Justin Bibbs, Justin Robinson). On Saturday, it will be critical for the Hokies not only to create open threes but to take advantage of them and force Florida State to spread out to allow guys like Allen, Robinson, and Chris Clarke lanes to attack the rim.
This will be a very tough matchup for the Hokies against an extremely good Florida State that some believe may be the best team in the ACC for now. The Hokies will play much better in Tallahassee than they did in Raleigh with a big game from Chris Clarke leading the way, but Florida State has a star in Dwayne Bacon and the combination of a big game from Bacon plus a dominant game on the glass for the Seminoles will lead 12th-ranked Florida State to a win over 21st-ranked Virginia Tech in the day's only matchup between two ranked teams.
Pick: #12 Florida State 80, #21 Virginia Tech 74
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on the Hokies via Facebook and Twitter plus subscribe to our email updates.