Three Things to Watch for No. 15 Virginia Tech vs No. 14 Florida State
After a weeklong break following their upset of No. 4 Duke, No. 15 Virginia Tech travels to Tallahassee to take on No. 14 Florida State.
A lot is on the line tonight, as the winner of this game clinches the fourth and final double-bye in the ACC Tournament. This will give the winner one less game to have to potentially play en route to winning the tournament. Since the double-bye began in the 2014 ACC Tournament, a non-double-bye team has won the tournament just once.
If seeding goes as projected, these two teams will likely also have to play again in the tournament, with the double-bye team having a clear advantage from an extra day of rest. Stakes are high in Tallahassee.
Here are three things to watch in this crucial ACC showdown:
1. Blackshear vs. the Florida State Bigs
When looking at the rosters of both teams, one will find that Florida State has eight players taller than 6-foot-6, while the Hokies have only one. That one player is center Kerry Blackshear, Jr., who has been dominating opponents recently (you can read more about how he’s doing that here).
The Seminoles will have plenty of big bodies looking to slow Blackshear down offensively, particularly Mfiondu Kabengele and Christ Koumadje. The latter stands at 7-foot-4, half a foot taller than Blackshear.
Blackshear has faced opponents that are bigger than him during this stretch before, and that has not slowed him down. He is averaging 24 points and 12 rebounds over his last four games against the likes of Jack Salt, Mamadi Diakite, Marques Bolden, and Javin DeLaurier.
Blackshear is not the type of center that tries to overpower his opponents. He is one of, if not the most skilled big man in the ACC, and he knows how to find the right opportunity to score. He has a miraculous ability to make something out of nothing.
Koumadje and the other Seminole big men will have to pay extra attention to Blackshear if they hope to stop him. They can not merely try to out-muscle him, as he will use their aggression to his advantage. The Seminoles will need to play disciplined, balanced defense in order to stop him.
If the Seminoles are playing too aggressively, look for Blackshear to have another great game.
2. Knocking Down Open Looks
Three-point shooting has been the Hokies’ biggest struggle lately, even in winning games. In the win against Duke, the Hokies still shot only 30 percent.
In the two games against No. 3 Virginia and the Blue Devils, the Hokies combined to shoot 11-54, which is 20 percent. Given the level of opponent, one would assume the two games were losses; and big losses at that. However, as we know, the Hokies upset the Blue Devils and only lost to UVA by six.
Had the Hokies knocked down threes at their normal season rate (47 percent), both games likely would have been won, and the VT offense would have turned a lot of heads.
The Hokies will need head-turning offense in order to win this game. They don’t have to get all the way back to that high percentage, but Tech will probably need to make at least 35 percent of their threes.
There’s reason to believe this is possible. Every Hokie player who sees the floor regularly is capable of making threes (outside of PJ Horne). Wabissa Bede finally broke his shooting skid against Duke, making his first and second threes since February 2.
Ahmed Hill has been playing as hard as any player can, he just has not made shots at the level he is used to. Hard work will hopefully pay off and some of his threes will go down.
One has to believe the law of averages will take over eventually. A team with this many shooters cannot continue to shoot so poorly. If Hill, Ty Outlaw, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and the rest of the team are able to knock down some big shots early, look for a hot shooting night for the Hokies.
3. Home Court Advantage
The Seminoles are one of the best home teams in the country. They only have one loss at the Donald L. Tucker Center, which came on a buzzer-beater from Cam Reddish for Duke.
It is also FSU’s Senior Night, so emotions will be high. This will be a special Senior Night, as guard Terrence Mann will be honored. Mann has been crucial in getting the Seminoles to the top-15 level they are now, and he deserves a place in the school’s Hall of Fame.
Add on the fact that VT is also ranked in the top 15 along with the high stakes previously mentioned, and this crowd will be rocking.
The Hokies have not won in Tallahassee since the 1989-90 season, and it will be hard for them to do so tonight. Tech will have to keep their composure and try to steal any momentum they can get.
The Hokies will start to make a few more shots, and Blackshear will still play well. However, this home crowd will be too much, and without Justin Robinson there to navigate through the rough waters, the Hokies will be unable to get this critical road win.
Pick: #14 Florida State 75, #15 Virginia Tech 70
Photo Credit: Bobby Murray