Three Things to Watch for Virginia Tech Against NC State

Three Things to Watch for Virginia Tech Against NC State
Photo Credit: Erin Smith
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Jan 07, 2023

Virginia Tech has lost some nail-bitters without Hunter Cattoor and Rodney Rice against Wake Forest and Clemson. However, the Hokies will have to find a way to end their three-game losing streak that extends back to when Cattoor suffered his bruised elbow against Boston College as Tech takes on a NC State team that has already won more games than it did last season and beat Duke by 24 on Wednesday.

So with that said, here are our three things to watch for the Hokies against the Wolfpack.

1. Will Hunter Cattoor and/or Rodney Rice Play?

Question remain as to when Hunter Cattoor will return and when Rodney Rice will make his debut with Rice warming up the past two games but not playing in either while Cattoor didn't even take part in warm-ups.

Following the loss to Clemson, Mike Young shared that both Cattoor and Rice had suffered setbacks prior to the 68-65 loss to the Tigers. That's not ideal to say the least though both have seemed close to a return prior to the loss to Clemson with Young expressing optimism following the loss to Wake Forest that Cattoor would return against Clemson.

So it's probably safe to bet that both Cattoor and Rice will likely be game-time decisions again though nothing official in any direction has been shared at this time by Virginia Tech.

Obviously, having Cattoor back would provide a massive boost for the Hokies and allow them to get back to their normal rotation that is built around running with three guards and two bigs while Cattoor would also help provide the spacing that has been lacking. Meanwhile, if Rice can debut but Cattoor is out, having Rice would probably allow Tech to run more three-guard lineups as they prefer as well and help with spacing though the Hokies would likely not want a true freshman playing 30 minutes in a debut against a quality ACC opponent.

Having at least one of these two back would be a huge boost for the Hokies to say the least especially if it's the veteran Cattoor, but it remains to be seen if either play tonight or not.

2. Protect The Basketball

Since Hunter Cattoor's injury, Virginia Tech has not had the same offensive rhythm to say the least with the Hokies having double-digit turnovers in the past 3 games after under double-digit turnovers to date. They've showed progress since having to lean on a more frontcourt heavy lineup starting with Wake Forest and improving in that area against Clemson but still has some offensive rhythm issues.

NC State will absolutely test that as the Wolfpack are 36th in the country averaging 9.0 steals per game with four players averaging over 1 steal per game. Kevin Keatts will undoubtedly know about the struggles that the Hokies have had in that area without Cattoor and be looking to pounce on the opportunities that come up.

For Tech, valuing the basketball and not forcing things will have to be a priority given the Wolfpack's ability to create live ball turnovers that create transition opportunities. Of course, the Hokies still need to give Sean Pedulla and Justyn Mutts room to be aggressive because of the creativity that they bring that mostly works out for the better in terms of assists to turnovers.

However, Tech is going to have to be ready for a Wolfpack team that will be hungry to force turnovers and sense a big opportunity especially if they still only have three healthy scholarship guards. Keep an eye on turnovers and points off turnovers because it wouldn't be surprising to see the winner of those stats win this game especially if it's a Tech team not known for forcing turnovers.

3. Finish the Easier Ones

Virginia Tech's finishing around the rim hasn't been great on layups per say with the Hokies hitting a nadir of Clemson as they went 3-19 on layups per Sam Jessee of the Sons of Saturday.

As you can see, that game is clearly an outlier but Tech still hasn't been great on the easy ones against the toughest competition they've faced to date. This is an area they have to improve in to state the obvious.

Now you may say well if they can even shoot just 30-40% on layups (which is not good), they'll be fine which would have been true against Clemson, but they also took 14 more shot attempts than the Tigers. Given that Tech had one of their best offensive rebounding performances in a long time in that one, it's hard to imagine Tech having that big of a shot attempt margin again though it wouldn't be surprising if Tech had a slight one.

If the Hokies are going to win this game, they have to be at least mediocre on those shot attempts because they've shown to be effective elsewhere inside the arc from Justyn Mutts and Grant Basile working off the block to Sean Pedulla and Darius Maddox making mid-range shots.

However, you can't shoot 3-19 on layups and expect to beat any quality team. The good news is that those numbers look like a severe outlier and if Tech can be in the 50%+ range as they have been fairly often this season, they'll have a great chance to win this one.