After a tough, close loss to #9 Memphis where the Hokies missed way too many shots inside 5-7 feet, Virginia Tech gets a second chance to pick up a top 25 win that could even give them a chance to jump into the rankings against #25 Xavier who is looking for a quality win to salvage their trip to Brooklyn.
So can the Hokies get the job done against Xavier? Here are my three things to watch for Tech against the Musketeers.
1. Storm Murphy vs Paul Scruggs
Wednesday was not a good day for the starting point guards for either Virginia Tech or Xavier as Storm Murphy had 6 turnovers against Memphis while Paul Scruggs had 5 of his own while shooting 1-14 from the field.
Both point guards will be looking to bounce back in tonight's game with Xavier needing Scruggs even more in terms of his scoring and the Hokies needing more from Murphy in terms of getting the offense in rhythm.
Tech needs Murphy to find his rhythm running the offense while also finding ways to take some of the stress off of him to limit his wear and tear whether that's using Hunter Cattoor or Nahiem Alleyne for short stretches or giving Sean Pedulla his chance. Murphy also has to minimize the turnovers and be a little smarter with the basketball than he was against Memphis.
Meanwhile, Scruggs is averaging 3.6 turnovers per game this season with this being a great chance for Tech to try to force him into mistakes. Don't be surprised if Tech tries to use Hunter Cattoor some against him given how Cattoor is averaging 1.2 steals per game this season. If Tech can slow down Scruggs as Iowa State did, the Hokies should be in great shape especially with Xavier's potential absences elsewhere.
2. Attack The Paint
Xavier and Memphis are two very different teams as the Tigers are led by their frontcourt while Xavier is led by their backcourt with limited frontcourt depth. What doesn't help is that outside of Jack Nunge, the Musketeers may be without a pair of important pieces in the frontcourt including leading rebounder Caleb Jones and starting power forward Jerome Hunter.
Source: Xavier is likely to be without starters Colby Jones and Dieonte Miles tonight against Virginia Tech. Adam Kunkel and Jerome Hunter are game-time decisions. All four are dealing with non COVID related illnesses. Zach Freemantle (foot) is also OUT.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) November 26, 2021
After a tough Wednesday night shooting inside the arc, this matchup favors the Hokies and presents a great bounce back opportunity for Keve Aluma who shot 5-17 against Memphis. Tech needs Aluma to be way more efficient or getting to the free-throw line a lot more, and this matchup should be a better one against Jack Nunge who isn't nearly as good of a defender as Jalen Duren though Nunge shouldn't be underestimated averaging 1.8 blocks per game.
Additionally, the potential absence of Hunter plus the absence of Jones could be huge for Justyn Mutts who could be poised for a big game with Xavier not having great options to challenge him either. Mutts was effective on the glass and in limited shots against Memphis, but could be poised for a huge game given the Xavier injuries.
3. Force Xavier to Beat You From Three-Point Range
Virginia Tech's perimeter defense has been a strength of the beginning part of this season, but this is a game where the Hokies will need to pack the lane.
The fact is that Xavier is going to try to attack the rim and dominate from inside the arc with Jack Nunge, Paul Scruggs, and a physical approach especially given how the Musketeers are shooting only 27.3% from three-point range on the season.
This is going to be a game where Tech should focus on packing the lane even if it means giving up an open three on occasion especially since Xavier hasn't shown they can make those consistently. Given that, Tech might think about trying to go for more length on the floor at times with it being to envision VT going with a three-man frontcourt of Aluma, Mutts, and David N'Guessan.
Tech's defensive strategy should be built around forcing Xavier to beat them from the outside until they prove that they actually can do so. If they can stuff the paint and limit guys like Nunge plus limit the drives to the lane, Tech should win this game.
With Xavier dealing with players under the weather including three potential major absences led by leading rebounder Caleb Jones, this feels like a golden bounce back opportunity for Virginia Tech. Additionally, this is a better matchup for Keve Aluma while the absence of Jones along with the potential absence of Jerome Hunter could be big for Justyn Mutts.
Tech will also shoot much better inside the arc than they did against Memphis and combined with being the better three-point team against a Xavier team dealing with some illness issues, the Hokies will get the job done and leave Brooklyn with a win over a top 25 team that could give them a chance to be ranked next week.