Virginia Tech took care of business in their first two rounds of the Charleston Classic beating Ball State 73-64 and blowing out Northeastern 88-60. Now, the Hokies get the showdown that everyone expected against Purdue who took care of business themselves with a 92-70 victory over Appalachian State and a 79-58 victory over Davidson.
Both teams know that a win will launch them quite high in the rankings with the Hokies having a realistic at jumping into the top 10 Monday. In addition, if the Hokies win this game tonight, it is not far-fetched at all to start talking about whether this team can go undefeated in non-conference play with only two at least semi-challenging games left before ACC play in a neutral site game in Atlantic City against Washington and their ACC-Big 10 Challenge game at Penn State.
Of course, that will require them to get through a Purdue team that may not be as good as the team that was a top 5 team throughout most of the 2017-18 season, but is still among the cream of the crop in the Big 10.
With that said, here is our preview for today's game.
Matchup to Watch: Justin Robinson vs. Carsen Edwards
Before this tournament started, not only did people have a possible Virginia Tech-Purdue matchup circled, but they also had people wanting to see a matchup between Justin Robinson and Carsen Edwards, two of America's best point guards.
Both point guards have done well so far with Edwards averaging 26.8 points, 3.3 assists, and 3 rebounds per game while Robinson is averaging 15 points, 6 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. Both have shot the ball well so far with Edwards shooting 50% from the field and 45.2% from three-point range while Robinson is shooting 48.4% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc.
These two have different styles as Edwards is a great all-around scorer while Robinson has developed into a well-rounded scorer who is a more effective passer than his Preseason All-American counterpart. This battle at the point should be one of the best player-vs-player matchups that we see during the first month of the season with some NBA scouts likely to be intrigued to see how these guys compete and play against each other.
If Robinson can find a way to contain Edwards, it will make life more difficult for Purdue while the Hokies will need Robinson to be effective as a creator on the offensive end whether that's with his scoring or passing. For those coaching up young point guards, this should be a game to watch and use as a teaching lesson between two of college basketball's best.
Key Stat: 9.33 Steals Per Game (Virginia Tech)
Through their first three games, Virginia Tech's defense has taken a step forward with the Hokies holding all three of their opponents to under 65 points. However, their defensive success goes beyond that to the fact that the Hokies have done a great job of forcing turnovers.
Through the first three games, the Hokies are averaging 9.33 steals per game, tied for 38th in the nation. In addition, the Hokies have four players averaging at least 1 steal per game including Nickeil Alexander-Walker who leads the team in averaging 3 steals per game.
The ability of the Hokies to not only force turnovers, but do so while gaining possession immediately has opened up opportunities for them to score in transition, one of the strengths of this team under Buzz Williams.
For Purdue, it will be important for them to not only protect the basketball, but avoid turnovers that create transition opportunities for the Hokies. If the Hokies can continue their impressive steal rate, the Hokies should be able to get the transition scoring opportunities that can make a difference on the scoreboard.
Keys to the Game
1. Limit Second Chance Points for Purdue.
Virginia Tech has done well rebounding the basketball usually having an advantage including a significant offensive rebounding margin against Northeastern. While turnovers ere a main reason why the Hokies took 16 more shots than Northeastern, their rebounding also proved to be a positive factor.
Against Purdue, the Hokies will need to prevent the rebounding margin from being significant especially given the size the Boilermakers bring to the table.
Purdue may not have a player averaging more than 6 rebounds per game, but that's mostly due to minutes as Evan Boudreaux and Matt Haarms are both averaging over 5 rebounds in 18-19 minutes per game. Overall, the Boilermarkers are averaging around 40 rebounds per game, a margin of almost 8 rebounds per game.
For the Hokies, boxing out will be critical while VT will also need Kerry Blackshear to stay out of foul trouble. That has been an issue at times for Blackshear, but VT will not only need their big man on the floor but also more productive on the glass with the redshirt junior only averaging 4.7 rebounds in just under 22 minutes per game through the first three.
Now part of that has been due to how Virginia Tech has limited his usage in blowouts, but the Hokies will need Blackshear to play like he did against Ball State when he had 18 points and 7 rebounds.
It goes beyond that though as the Hokies need to be more effective collectively in crashing the boards and limiting Purdue's second chance opportunities. While the Hokies have shown improvement, there have been some times when VT has given up offensive rebounds by either poor boxing out efforts or simply losing track of an opposing player.
Against Purdue, the Hokies not only need Blackshear to be more effective for longer minutes on the glass, but they also need to continue to be better collectively and limit the rebounding difference.
2. Attack the Rim
When Virginia Tech is at their best offensively, it's not because the Hokies are shooting the ball well from beyond the arc to start things up, it's because the Hokies are getting to the rim at will off of screens or with good ball movement. When the Hokies outscored Northeastern by 20 in the first half Friday, they had an 18-0 advantage in points in the paint.
The Hokies' offense was able to get going from beyond the arc because they were able to get in rhythm in attacking the rim and creating space on the outside for their open shooters to find rhythm.
Justin Robinson has been one of the best at attacking the rim while Nickeil Alexander-Walker has become significantly more aggressive and because of it, has developed into a dangerous scorer averaging 20.7 points per game.
Purdue will know that they can't afford to give a step to the Hokies defensively especially guys like Alexander-Walker and Robinson who have the athleticism, aggressiveness, and mentality to take advantage of it.
If the Hokies can get to the rim and dominate in points in the paint, they should be able to create the space they need on the outside from three-point range and put together a strong game on the offensive end.
Virginia Tech and Purdue both have shown why they are top 20 caliber teams with strong performances against quality opposition through their first two games including dominant semifinal performances. Both of these teams seem like serious contenders to be around at least on the second weekend of this year's NCAA Tournament and should put together one of the best preseason tournament games this season.
Both teams are driven by their star point guards in Carsen Edwards and Justin Robinson, but the Hokies have a true second option in Nickeil Alexander-Walker who has taken a big step forward this season with three-straight games of 20 or 21 points to start the season. Meanwhile, Purdue has a size and rebounding advantage that could cause some problems for a Virginia Tech team that has plenty of issues rebounding the basketball in past years.
One reason why Virginia Tech looks like they've taken the next step is due to their defensive improvement as the Hokies are forcing more turnovers while also able to not only get hot on the offensive end, but also able to flip the momentum drastically on the defensive end, both of which came together during their 23-2 run against Northeastern. Meanwhile, Purdue has shown they have multiple options even after losing 4 of their top 5 scorers from last season with Matt Haarms and Evan Boudreaux proving to be capable frontcourt scorers.
Virginia Tech and Purdue are both very talented teams, but the Hokies' improved defense and efficient scoring will be critical for the Hokies against the Boilermakers. Combine that with the Hokies having a high-end second scoring option in Nickeil Alexander-Walker and though Purdue has a little more depth, the Hokies' top 5 guys are better than Purdue's, and that will show as Robinson and Alexander-Walker will lead the Hokies to a win and a possible top 10 ranking Monday.
Pick: #16 Virginia Tech 78, #23 Purdue 74
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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