Virginia Tech opened their season with a comfortable 28-point victory over Gardner-Webb led by 21 points each from Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Isaiah Wilkins. Now, the Hokies head to Charleston for the Charleston Classic with the 16th-ranked Hokies considered the tournament favorites with Purdue and Alabama being among the top .
Tomorrow, the Hokies get underway with an opener against Ball State so with that said, here's our three things to watch.
1. Can Kerry Blackshear Stay Out of Foul Trouble?
Virginia Tech's depth of players above 6'7'' is non-existent with Kerry Blackshear being the tallest player at 6'10'' followed by the currently ineligible 6'7'' Landers Nolley who is only ineligible due to an NCAA conspiracy theory that he did too well on his ACT.
In the Hokies' opener, Blackshear was efficient going 6-10 from the field on his way to having 14 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, and 1 steal in only 18 minutes. However, the reason his minutes were limited was because foul trouble was an issue as the redshirt junior fouled out in the season opener.
While that may not be an issue against weaker competition, the Hokies do need him to stay out of foul trouble against potential opponents like Alabama and Purdue, making it critical for Blackshear to get off to a better start against a solid Ball State team that kept it relatively close with Purdue a few days ago.
The concerns about foul trouble for Blackshear aren't new either after he averaged just over 3 fouls in 25.2 minutes per game last season with an average of 4.9 fouls per 40 minutes. In this tournament and beyond, the Hokies will need Blackshear to do a better job of staying out of foul trouble if they want to reach their full potential.
2. Can Justin Robinson Find His Scoring Rhythm?
Justin Robinson was solid in the Hokies' opener with 11 points, 8 assists, 3 steals, and 2 rebounds against Gardner-Webb. While Robinson was 6-8 at the free-throw line, he was inefficient elsewhere going 2-7 from the field including 1-4 from beyond the arc.
While Robinson's ability to get to the free-throw line helped cover his shooting struggles along with his 8 assists getting his teammates involved, the Hokies will need their senior point guard to be significantly more efficient throughout the Charleston Classic.
Fortunately for the Hokies, Robinson has a low pressure opener against Ball State to get him started. In addition, Robinson will also get a good matchup against some of the Cardinals' veteran guards in this game that should help prepare him for tougher competition later on including the possibility of facing off against Purdue's All-American caliber PG Carsen Edwards in the final.
Expect Robinson to put together a stronger shooting performance in Charleston after an opener where almost everything went well for the senior point guard outside of his shooting.
3. What's Next for Isaiah Wilkins After His Debut?
Isaiah Wilkins was impressive in his official collegiate debut with 21 points on 7-10 shooting from the field including 5-7 from three-point range. This came less than a week after he was in double figures in the Hokies' exhibition win over Liberty.
This came after Wilkins wasn't even expected to play this season and months after the North Carolina native was a 2019 recruit who only had a singular offer from High Point. Now, Wilkins has emerged as a sixth man for the Hokies with Chris Clarke indefinitely suspended and Landers Nolley being held out due to NCAA eligibility concerns that have no founding in any evidence.
Whether Clarke returns and whenever Nolley receives clearance to play, it's become obvious that Wilkins will have a role of at least 10-15 minutes when the Hokies get to full strength whatever that may look like. Before then, expect Wilkins to occupy the sixth man role as a scoring spark off the bench who is having an early season run similar to what Ty Outlaw did two years ago after Chris Clarke went down with injury and became a three-point shooting spark.
Ball State is a solid opening opponent for the Hokies that opened their season with a 17-point win over Indiana State and a 9-point road loss at now #23 Purdue. The Cardinals have a solid team that should provide the Hokies a solid test to start this tournament led by senior guard Tayler Persons who is averaging 17.5 points per game through his first two games. The matchup between Persons and Justin Robinson should be a fun one to watch
However, the Hokies are clear favorites for good reason as the most talented team in this tournament with veteran players who not only bring NCAA Tournament experience, but also are used to playing in early season tournaments with games on back-to-back days. The Hokies will know how to approach a tournament like this and will be comfortable playing in an unusual neutral site environment with lighter crowds.
Ball State will be able to keep it close early, but the Hokies have too much talent and shooting with Justin Robinson leading the charge along with quality shooting on the outside from Ty Outlaw, Isaiah Wilkins, and Ahmed Hill to open up space for Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker to attack the rim. Though the Hokies haven't looked perfect early this season, Virginia Tech will take care of business with their best performance to date against a solid Ball State team.
Pick: #16 Virginia Tech 86, Ball State 72
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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