Hunter Cattoor's return saw Virginia Tech put together one of their best offensive games in a while in terms of efficiency, but their defense struggled on their way to their sixth-straight loss 78-68 at #10 Virginia. Now, the Hokies are once again on the road looking to end their losing streak along with avenge a loss from earlier in this losing streak at #19 Clemson, the ACC leaders at 7-1 in the conference.
The Tigers just slipped up for the first time in conference play during the midweek at Wake Forest, but it came without veteran starting guard Chase Hunter who is the second leading scorer for the Tigers averaging 14.0 points plus a team-high 4.3 assists per game. It's unknown if Hunter will play which seems rather significant in terms of trying to predict this game.
This should be a fascinating matchup as the Hokies look to end their losing streak and pick up a valuable Q1 win while the Tigers look to avoid a two-game skid following their 7-0 start to ACC play.
With that said, here are my three things to watch for the Hokies against the Tigers.
1. Can Hunter Cattoor and Darius Maddox Continue to Provide a Shooting Boost
One of the main reasons for Virginia Tech's offensive success at UVA was Hunter Cattoor hitting the ground running in his return and Darius Maddox continuing to show signs of finding his previous form. Cattoor went 4-8 from the field including 3-6 from three-point range for 11 points in his return while Maddox was 5-9 from the field including 3-4 from deep for a team-best 13 points with the Hokies shooting a strong 44.4% (12-27) from three for the game.
One of the biggest issues that Mike Young said Tech struggled in without Cattoor was floor spacing given how much the veteran's guard shooting forces defense to stretch to the three-point rather than compact on Tech's interior scoring threat. Combine that with Maddox not shooting at nearly the same rate from three as he was last year and Tech's offense wasn't able to run in the same manner that had it been.
However, Cattoor coming back and instantly making a big impact offensively combined with Maddox having his second strong shooting performance in 3 games from three following his flurry against NC State is an encouraging sign that offensively, Tech is starting to look like not only who they were offensively, but even pushing towards the higher ceiling that hadn't been reached yet.
There's no doubt that Clemson will test that today and their perimeter defense has been okay with teams shooting 32.6% from three on the season. If Tech can continue what they did at UVA from three though, they'll have a great chance at leaving Littlejohn Coliseum with a victory.
2. Can Sean Pedulla Find His Top Form?
Sean Pedulla had an impressive start to the season, but he's cooled off of late especially since Hunter Cattoor went down with injury for four games. Our Will Locklin discussed some of Pedulla's struggles recently that seemed to point to Pedulla trying to replace what Cattoor brought rather than just playing Sean Pedulla basketball and letting the rest figure itself out.
Now with Cattoor back, this game is a great chance for Pedulla to start playing Sean Pedulla basketball working his way inside out by attacking the rim and then letting the game come to in.
There's no doubt that Pedulla is a talented shooter, but he's also shown to be a guy who gets in rhythm when he's playing aggressive in terms of his willingness to attack the rim not necessarily his trigger happiness to take shots. Pedulla also faces an interesting, unknown matchup at the point that will either be a banged up Chase Hunter or someone else who won't be at Hunter's level. That's a big time opportunity for the Hokies that they have the exploit with Pedulla.
Now part of what Tech needs to do is find ways to prevent Pedulla from playing all 40 minutes and give him at least 5ish minutes of rest in this game. Otherwise, Tech might just run their talented sophomore point guard into the ground.
3. Turnover Battle May be Slight but Significant
This feels like a game that should be close for the whole 40 minutes given Hunter Cattoor's return to health and Chase Hunter not exactly being 100% if he is able to go for Clemson today.
With that in mind, the turnover and points off turnovers battles may be significant in deciding this one even if it's by small margins in both of these categories.
Tech is one of the best in the country in protecting the basketball averaging only 9.9 turnovers per game while the Tigers also protect the basketball well averaging only 10.9 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, neither team excels at forcing live ball turnovers that lead to some of the best transition opportunities with Tech averaging 5.3 steals per game and Clemson averaging 5.0 steals per game, both ranking outside the top 300 in the country.
However, Tech may have an advantage here if Clemson is without Hunter. As you can tell, the presence of Hunter or not is going to likely be significant in predicting this game especially after Clemson without Hunter had 11 turnovers compared to only 6 for Wake Forest who turned that into a 14-9 points off turnovers advantage.
Even if Hunter is able to go, this still could be a decisive area if one team is slightly off their game and could be a defining stat when we look back on how this game played out.