After receiving a first round bye for the third-straight season, the Virginia Tech Hokies are set to open their ACC Tournament week against a desperate Notre Dame team that's hoping to make a deep run to improve their hopes of making the NCAA Tournament.
The Hokies suffered a close loss at Miami
last Saturday to end the regular season, but the Hokies enter the ACC Tournament playing some of their best basketball. After a 2-4 start to conference play, VT is 8-4 in their last 12 conference games picking up their four biggest wins of the season in that stretch including their big win at Virginia.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame recently had the return of Bonzie Colson that has boosted their NCAA Tournament hopes. While finishing at 8-10 in the ACC has hurt their hopes, the presence of Colson has opened the door especially for a Notre Dame team that has their best win with Colson against Wichita State
along with a close at UVA last weekend
where ND had one of their best performances of the season.
The winner of this game will face a Duke team that bounced back from their loss to the Hokies with a big win over rival North Carolina despite being in a significant first half hole. The Blue Devils still have a chance to earn a number 1 seed, but they'll have to win the ACC Tournament to do so, making tomorrow's matchup a tough one that the Blue Devils won't overlook.
Virginia Tech: Justin Robinson
Justin Robinson has become Virginia Tech's leading star this season and appropriately earned Second Team All-ACC honors
this past weekend. Robinson has developed into one of the nation's point guards and was impressive in-conference play averaging 16.2 points, 5.4 assists, and 2.7 rebounds in 33.3 minutes per game.
One of the biggest things with Robinson is his development as an all-around scorer shooting a career high 40.3% from three-point range in addition to a career high 46.4% overall from the field. Robinson has become a very good shot creator who can find plenty of ways to score whether that's attacking the rim or shooting from deep.
Robinson has developed into being very effective when working off of ball screens and pick and roll situations. When attacking the rim, Robinson has shown that he's capable of making smart decisions whether it's to make the extra pass or take it to the rim either getting a layup or drawing a foul.
The matchup between Robinson and Matt Farrell should be extremely entertaining to watch between two of the ACC's best point guards.
Notre Dame: Bonzie Colson
There's no player that is receiving more attention in the ACC right now than Bonzie Colson especially as he returns to the Notre Dame lineup after his significant injury. While the Fighting Irish picked up some quality wins against teams like NC State and Syracuse without Colson, their best play came with him including beating Wichita State to win the Maui Invitational.
If Colson didn't get injured this season, Notre Dame would most likely be a top 25 team and one of the top contenders to win the ACC Tournament. Instead, they enter this week right on the bubble with a large part of their case being based around the eye test of having Colson on the floor. Entering the ACC Tournament, Colson had elite numbers averaging 20.9 points, 10.6 rebounds, 2.3 blocks per game; all improvements from last season.
Colson may not have great size at only 6'5'' but he makes up for it as a skilled big man who brings a great intensity to the floor and great hustle that makes a big difference. The Hokies will need guys like Chris Clarke and PJ Horne to be physical against him bringing great intensity to try to contain the Fighting Irish's star forward.
Keys to the Game
1. Push the Tempo
Virginia Tech has a significant rest advantage given how Notre Dame will be playing on back-to-back days while the Hokies will have had three full days for rest and practice in between games. That rest advantage is significant, and is something that the Hokies should look to take advantage of against a Notre Dame team that doesn't have much depth especially after only 6 players played five or minutes against UVA.
The one thing that the Fighting Irish do have is a bunch of size with Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geban who they'll likely look to rely on. For the Hokies, it will be important to get those guys out in space and transition to create lanes for guys like Justin Robinson, Chris Clarke, and others to attack the rim.
This will not only come down to the Hokies taking advantage of turnovers, but also creating transition opportunities with their hustle off some defensive rebounds. If the Hokies can create addition transition opportunities and push the tempo, they can make life difficult for a Notre Dame team without a lot of depth.
2. Crash the Boards
Against a Notre Dame team with one of the best pairs of big men in the country, the Hokies have to be aggressive at crashing the defensive glass. The Hokies have had issues giving up high numbers of offensive rebounds throughout the season, and the Fighting Irish have a pair of elite rebounders and great second chance scorers in Colson and Geban.
VT has to do a better job at the basics of crashing the boards including being more effective at getting clean box outs. While there have been times where VT hasn't gotten rebounds simply because they're the smaller team, they have given up too many rebounds due to poor boxing out.
Notre Dame likely won't have a lot of turnovers, making it even more important that the Hokies limit the number of offensive rebounds and keep the shooting margin close. If not, the Hokies could be in trouble against a ND team that has the big men to take advantage of second chance opportunities.
One of the hardest things to do is to win back-to-back games in a conference with high level play like the ACC. However, Notre Dame talent level help mitigate some of those rest issues though they struggled against Pitt on their way to nearly being upset. That near upset prevented the Fighting Irish from getting their starters some extra rest that most expected they would get.
Notre Dame has a clear advantage in the post, but Virginia Tech's guard play is a big reason why the Hokies once again enter the ACC Tournament without any NCAA Tournament pressure. However, you can bet the Hokies will look to come out firing and prove that they are well underseeded after earning the 7 seed after a last-second at Miami.
If you're looking for an x-factor, it's Chris Clarke who had 14 rebounds and a big bucket in the first game between these two teams. Clarke will likely guard Bonzie Colson for much of this game with Kerry Blackshear on the larger Martinas Geben. If Clarke can have a strong performance trying to contain Colson and limit his production, he can make life more difficult for ND though the Fighting Irish have plenty of options outside of Colson.
Virginia Tech will have an advantage as a fresh team ready to go, but this Notre Dame team is much more dangerous this time with Colson and Matt Farrell back. This is going to be a really close game, but the Hokies having a significant rest advantage will make a difference with Justin Robinson and Chris Clarke leading the charge to take down the Fighting Irish and advance to the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.
Pick: Virginia Tech 73, Notre Dame 71
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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