Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech shocked the college basketball world in the opening round of the Maui Invitational beating preseason No. 1 and current No. 3 Michigan State 71-66 for the Hokies' first non-conference victory over a top 5 team since the 1960s. The Hokies have received tons of praise from all across the country with this win allowing expectations to be raised for a Tech team that now looks more than capable of at least reaching the NIT and also making a run at an NCAA Tournament bid.
However, Virginia Tech has no time to celebrate as they now take on a good Dayton team that has the talent to comfortably make the NCAA Tournament team. The Flyers are a part of an Atlantic 10 that looks resurgent already this season with three teams looking the part of NCAA Tournament at-large bids in the aforementioned Dayton, VCU, and Richmond.
So will the Hokies continue their incredible run in Maui to the finals or will Dayton take down Virginia Tech to advance? Here's our breakdown and prediction for tonight's game.
Key Matchup: Landers Nolley vs. Obi Toppin
The numerous NBA scouts inside the Lahaina Civic Center will have their eyes zoned in on the matchup between both teams' stars, Landers Nolley and Dayton's Obi Toppin. Both players have gotten off to impressive starts that have immediately put them on not only the national radar, but also have them already rising up NBA Draft boards.
Toppin is an athleic freak who has been putting it all together on the wing this season averaging 24 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. However, the craziest part for Toppin is his efficiency as he is shooting 72.5% from the field including 50% from three-point range plus 77.3% from the free-throw line.
For Nolley and the Hokies as a whole, trying to contain Toppin will be a serious challenge given his insane combination of athleticism, size (6'9''), and developing skill that has him quickly rising up draft boards.
Nolley may not be the same athlete, but he has shown plenty of offensive refinement and quality defense averaging 20.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Nolley has also been efficient shooting 48.8% from the field including 48.8% from three-point range and 78.3% from the free-throw line.
The matchup between Landers Nolley and Obi Toppin isn't the one most were expecting to be in primetime from Maui, but should be a thrilling one that NBA scouts will have their eyes focused on whenever both are on the floor.
Keys to the Game
1. Control the Tempo
Mike Young mentioned after the Hokies' win over Michigan State how he wanted to control the tempo and make this game more of a battle in the 60s rather than a shootout that got into the 80s. Against a Dayton team that has been putting up lots of points efficiently and will go with smaller lineups like the Hokies, expect Virginia Tech to have the same gameplan.
The Hokies have shown lots of patience at times while also being effective moving the ball in the final half of the shot clock, an impressive for a team as young as the Hokies. Additionally, it helps having a veteran presence like Wabissa Bede and an elite scorer in Landers Nolley to turn to if the shot clock is about to expire.
Virginia Tech will need their veterans to lead the charge in trying to limit the possessions and shorten the game. If not, they'll be playing the loser of Kansas-BYU late tomorrow night.
2. Win the Hustle Plays
One of the biggest reasons why Virginia Tech won yesterday was due to the Hokies making the hustle plays. One of the best examples of this came in the first half when Hunter Cattoor dove for a loose ball to poke it a teammate, keeping a possession alive and creating space for Tech to pick apart MSU's defense with Cattoor scoring seconds later.
Virginia Tech's extra effort on both ends of the floor helped make the difference yesterday, and they'll need it again today. Dayton is the more talented team on paper, but the gap isn't much and these are the type of plays that will make a big difference on the final outcome.
If the Hokies keep making the hustle plays, don't be surprised to see them playing for the title in Maui tomorrow evening.
3. Take Advantage of Second Chance Opportunities
Virginia Tech is facing a Dayton team that doesn't have much size like the Hokies and also is averaging 33.3 rebounds per game, more than 5 less than the Hokies. Virginia Tech was dominated on the offensive glass yesterday with the Spartans having a 17-8 offensive rebound advantage and a 17-6 second chance point advantage as VT also failed to take advantage of some of their second chance opportunities.
Against Dayton, that number should be a lot more balanced and is one area where the Hokies can improve upon yesterday's game. Of course, that is easier said than done but this is one area where the Hokies need to improve against a Dayton team that has been one of the most efficient offensive teams in America so far this season.
Virginia Tech may not have the size, but they've shown the work rate to rebound better than their size would expect. Against another smaller team like Dayton that is extremely efficient, the Hokies will need to step up on the glass and take advantage of second chance opportunities.
After last night's performance, what's clear is that Virginia Tech is a lot better than we all expected. Now, the Hokies get another good test against a Dayton team that has the pieces to comfortably make the NCAA Tournament and win a game in it.
The Flyers are an older team that will want to push the tempo and make this game a shootout. If they do that, I have a hard time seeing the Hokies have much of a chance. Additionally, Virginia Tech will have the challenge of having to play just over 24 hours after a massive victory which could wane the energy Tech has for this game.
However, Mike Young has proven he's more than capable of making sure his team's are ready to go after big victories and I expect that this will be a great game. This should be a really entertaining game to watch but in the end, I'm going with the more experienced team to handle playing the day after a big win better, Dayton.