Photo Credit: Liam Sment
Virginia Tech returns to Cassell Coliseum with loads of momentum after upsetting then #3 Villanova followed by a victory over South Florida to help the Hokies jump to 16th in the AP top 25. Now, Tech will look to build on that momentum against a VMI team looking to pull off a stunning upset in a game that used to be rivalry before the modern athletics era saw Tech being a clear, preeminent athletic power in VA.
So with that said, here are our three things to watch for the Hokies against the Keydets.
1. Jalen Cone's Season Debut
After missing the first three games for precautionary reasons due to an injury, sophomore guard Jalen Cone makes his debut for Virginia Tech against VMI.
Expectations are high for Cone this season after his impressive freshman season where he proved to be a game-changing shooter making 45.7% of his three-point attempts last season including an even more impressive 44.4% during conference play. His three-point shooting was highlighted the most in his breakout game at Syracuse where he led the Hokies to a comeback victory at the Carrier Dome.
It will be interesting to see if Tech does limit Cone's minutes in this game with a focus on getting him enough playing time to knock off the rust, but also not too much with big games against Penn State and Clemson looming. Of course, this should also give us a great opportunity to see how the Hokies will utilize Cone within their rotation.
Most eyes tonight will be on Jalen Cone and rightfully so given the dynamic shooter he was for Tech last season. However, don't be surprised if Cone's minutes end up being somewhat limited with bigger games against Penn State and Clemson looming.
2. Can Cartier Diarra Find His Rhythm?
Virginia Tech has seen Keve Aluma and Nahiem Alleyne emerge as high-end scorers for the Hokies while Tyrece Radford has built on his strong freshman season as well. Tech also has the aforementioned Jalen Cone returning who was Tech's best three-point shooter last season.
Expectations were high for Diarra to be a lead player on this team and while he most definitely has been on the defensive end, he hasn't been as high-end of a scorer as he was during his final season at Kansas State.
Now Diarra does have a very similar style to Tyrece Radford as a slashing guard who is great at using his athleticism and quickness to get to the rim and his length on both ends to cause defensive issues. Despite that, Diarra still hasn't appeared to be a primary offensive guy though that may be partially due to his inefficiency shooting only 42.1% from the field through 3 games.
However, Diarra has worked more on the ball at times and has seemed to fill more of the orchestrator role rather than the lead scoring role. Additionally, Diarra has been a wizard at getting down the court and creating fast break opportunities where he is as good as anyone offensively.
Tonight will be interesting to see if Diarra can maybe find more of his scoring rhythm beyond the fast break opportunities that he has seized so far.
3. Handling Being Ranked With Bigger Games Up Next
Virginia Tech jumped into the top 25 for the first time under Mike Young at #16 this past week while they also have bigger games looming on the calendar with Penn State and Clemson. While VMI is a team that Tech could most likely beat sleepwalking, this will be another good opportunity to see how Tech responds both to receiving loads of praise along with having the allure of bigger games coming.
Tech passed their first test in this category on Sunday night with a convincing victory over South Florida but this time, they have a couple different things that can divert their focus and cause them to be cruising on a high rather than being ready to keep running on the treadmill that they are about to land on.
Of course, Tech should be able to take care of business in this game, but VMI did give Penn State a good test for much of their game recently. They also have an extremely talented scorer in Greg Parham who is averaging 18.7 points per game while shooting over 64% from the field and going 10-16 from three during his first three games. He also had 21 points against the Nittany Lions and is the type of guy who could have a big scoring game and make things more interesting than expected.
While even a sleepwalking Tech should be able to take care of business, this game should still give us our first insight into how this Tech teams handles immense praise and the allure of more flashy games looming.