There is no bigger showdown on the opening week of college basketball this year than the one taking place tonight in Charlotte between #8 Virginia Tech and #3 Iowa, the only men's or women's game featuring two top 8 teams and two teams that reached the Final Four last season. This also feels like it could easily be a preview of a 2024 Final Four game in Cleveland, given the star power and overall talent of these teams.
So with that said, here are my keys to the game and prediction for the Hokies against the Hawkeyes.
Keys to the Game
1. Feed Liz Kitley
Iowa will want the Hokies to turn this game into a shootout, even though that is a game that Tech can absolutely win given the shooters they have in Georgia Amoore, Cayla King, and Matilda Ekh.
However, this game should be built around feeding Liz Kitley early and often, given the mismatch she'll have in the paint.
The Hawkeyes had a talented center last season in Monika Czinano, who may not have been on Kitley's level but could have provided a solid challenge if the Hokies and Hawkeyes would have faced off.
This year, Iowa has a pair of backups being elevated to 15-25 minutes per game at center in Sharon Goodman and Addison O'Grady. Both have shown potential, but neither has averaged more than 10 minutes per game in a season to date. In game 2 of their first year being relied on more than ever before, they have to take on the defending two-time ACC Player of the Year.
Kitley must love that she not only gets a big stage in her home state but also that it's a matchup where she should dominate. This is a showcase moment for a superstar in Kitley who doesn't get the national attention she deserves even though she is a two-time ACC Player of the Year who just led Virginia Tech to its first Final Four ever in men's or women's basketball last year.
At the core of Tech's offensive approach tonight should be feeding Liz Kitley early and often.
2. Can Georgia Amoore Stay Up With Caitlin Clark?
It's extremely rare when you wonder if Georgia Amoore can "stay up" with a fellow opposing guard, but Caitlin Clark is the exception in this case.
Of course, this isn't a one-for-one matchup, especially with the proven shooters that the Hokies have beyond Amoore in Cayla King and Matilda Ekh. However, we should see a lot of Amoore vs Clark in this game, with both knowing the importance of the other in this game.
Amoore has been fantastic offensively throughout her career, while she has steadily improved on the defensive end. There's no doubt that Clark will present Amoore's toughest challenge to date, given the shooting ability of Clark. Tech may also move Amoore off Clark at times, given the size difference between the 5'6" Amoore and the 6'0" Clark, but we'll see how Tech approaches it on that end of the floor.
Some nationally may have doubts that Amoore can stay up with Clark, but she's been almost as good of a three-point shooter as Clark during her collegiate career so far. Amoore has shot 37% from three on an average of seven three-point attempts per game, while Clark has shot 37.8% from three on an average of 9.2 attempts from three per game. So yeah, these are two special shooting talents who should put on a wildly entertaining show tonight.
And if Amoore can keep it close with Clark at worst, then the Hokies will have a great chance of winning this game.
3. Crash the Boards
Iowa isn't exactly known as a great rebounding team, including on the offensive glass. While they did have 11 offensive rebounds in their season opener, they only averaged 8.5 offensive rebounds per game last season, which ranked 340th in the country. Additionally, they lost their second and third-leading rebounders (who were also their second and third-leading scorers).
Tech only averaged 10.3 offensive rebounds per game last season, but they also averaged 1.5 offensive rebounds per game more than their opponent, whereas Iowa averaged 2.1 fewer than their opponents. Part of that is likely due to Iowa's NCAA-best field goal shooting percentage last season, but Tech should have an advantage on the glass.
It helps that Iowa has the change they do in their frontcourt, while the Hokies have Kitley paired now with 2022-23 All-B1G Honorable Mention Rose Micheaux. The Minnesota transfer had eight rebounds in her debut including two offensive rebounds, after averaging 7.9 rebounds including 3.0 offensive rebounds per game for the Gophers last season.
Add in Olivia Summiel, a multi-year starter at Wake Forest who averaged more than two offensive rebounds per game in 2020-21 and 2021-22, coming off the bench, and you have a trio of excellent rebounders going against an Iowa team that is smaller, less experienced, and which has had issues on the glass.
If Tech wins this game, dominating the glass and creating a significant second chance points advantage off of it will be a primary reason why.
This feels like an excellent matchup for Virginia Tech, to be honest. Yes, the Hawkeyes have Clark, who can shoot the lights out, but the Hokies have a clear advantage in the post and have a greater depth of proven scoring options.
This is an Iowa team with a very high ceiling, given the talents of Clark, but also lost their only other two scorers who averaged double figures last season. Meanwhile, Tech brought back the core of Kitley, Amoore, and King while adding quality transfer pieces to build out a really strong lineup and top of the rotation. Tech should be a team that is closer to what their ceiling can be given that reality compared to Iowa.
Kitley's advantage in the post shouldn't be brushed off either. The fact is that Kitley could be in for a massive night with Iowa not having anyone able to come close to matching her. Meanwhile, the Hokies have Amoore, who can come at least close to matching Clark in this game, plus King, Ekh, and Wenzel to give Gabbie Marshall and the rest of Iowa's backcourt plenty of fits.
Ultimately, I think this is a terrific matchup for Virginia Tech, given the shooting they have to stay up with Clark and the dominance they should have in the paint with Liz Kitley. Additionally, VT will benefit from having a more experienced starting lineup with three returning starters, including two All-Americans, plus a pair of Big 10 standout transfers to round out their starting 5 against an Iowa team elevating a lot of players around Clark into more prominent roles.