It's been eight days since the Virginia Tech Hokies suffered a blowout loss to Saint Joseph's in Brooklyn. Since, the Hokies have lost Chris Clarke for an indefinite period due to a fifth metatarsal tear in his right foot.
Despite that, the Hokies begin a series of three games within a week in Cassell Coliseum and it all starts with a rivalry game against #19 West Virginia in front of a sellout crowd.
Unsurprisingly, the Mountaineers are heavy favorites with a 10-1 record and a solid start to the season. West Virginia's only loss this season came to Virginia while the Mountaineers' best wins are a 22-point victory against San Diego State and an 8-point victory against Richmond.
Bob Huggins has built the Mountaineers on playing a high-pressure defense that is averaging 12.0 steals and 21.9 turnovers forced per game. Seth Allen, Justin Robinson, and Devin Wilson will have to make smart decisions in this game and avoid playing into the Mountaineers' hands of giving up lots of fast-break points off of steals.
West Virginia's defense has also held opposing teams to under 23% from beyond the arc, but they face one of the nation's best three-point shooters in Justin Bibbs. Bibbs will be looking to bounce back after only having 8 points and going 0-for-2 from beyond the arc against Saint Joseph's.
Bibbs may also come out with a chip on his shoulder after scoring only 4 points on 2-of-7 shooting last year against the Mountaineers. If Bibbs can get going for the Hokies against West Virginia's tough defense, that should create space for the Hokies to attack the rim.
The best battle of the game may come in the post between the star forwards for both teams in Zach LeDay and West Virginia's Devin Williams. Both players are averaging over 14 points and 9 rebounds per game this season and have had plenty of double-doubles.
With both players being juniors, this will not be the last matchup between LeDay and Williams, but the winner of this battle could be critical. LeDay has struggled some defensively this season, and the Hokies will need him to step up some against West Virginia's leading scorer.
If there is one player that could be the difference maker that gives Virginia Tech a serious chance to pull off the upset, it's Seth Allen. Allen has had some of his best games against the toughest opponents with 25 points against Northwestern, 23 points against UAB, and 18 points against Saint Joseph's.
Allen had his most efficient shooting game since the Hokies faced Northwestern against Saint Joseph's but Allen needs to find some consistency. This game will be a big test to see if Allen can find that consistency that could take the Hokies to the next level.
Both Virginia Tech and West Virginia are in the top 40 in rebounds per game, but the Hokies need to improve on the glass after losing Chris Clarke and giving up 19 offensive rebounds to Saint Joseph's with Clarke. However, that challenge will be big with West Virginia leading the nation averaging 18.1 offensive rebounds per game.
This game has the potential to go a lot of different ways, but Buzz Williams and the Hokies will keep this a close game early with Allen and Bibbs making shots. However, West Virginia is a veteran team with tons of depth, and their suffocating defense will be too much for the younger Hokies in this matchup.
However, those that say an upset isn't possible after Virginia Tech's loss to Saint Joseph's shouldn't be too shocked if the Hokies surprise their rivals in front of a sellout crowd.
Prediction: #19 West Virginia 75, Virginia Tech 66