Three Things to Watch for Virginia Tech Against Notre Dame

Three Things to Watch for Virginia Tech Against Notre Dame
Photo Credit: Erin Smith
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Feb 10, 2023

After suffering a stunning home loss to Boston College, Virginia Tech heads on the road to South Bend to take on a Notre Dame team that has struggled themselves in ACC play after reaching the NCAA Tournament last season. So can the Hokies bounce back or the Irish start to get their season going? Here are my three things to watch for VT vs Notre Dame.

1. Attack The Paint

While the guards struggled to score in the loss to Boston College, Grant Basile and Justyn Mutts stepped up offensively to try to keep the Hokies' hope alive as Basile had 33 points while Mutts added 16. Going into this game against Notre Dame, Tech's gameplan should absolutely be built around the rim against a Notre Dame team that isn't very deep at all especially in the frontcourt.

That shows with how the Fighting Irish rank 320th in 2-point field goal percentage allowed as opponents are shooting 52.8% from inside the arc against the Irish. Meanwhile, Tech ranks 44th in the country with their 2-point shooting as they're making 54.6% of their shots inside the arc with Basile, Mutts, Lynn Kidd, and Mylyjael Poteat all shooting 60% or better from inside the arc.

This feels like a game where Justyn Mutts may be particularly valuable working at the 4 given how Notre Dame likely will run plenty of one big lineups with Nate Laszewski or Ven-Allen Lubin (with some combinations of both as well). The defensive side of things make Mutts a better matchup on the defensive end compared to Basile for a wing 4 while also being a great post-up matchup on the other end of the floor for Mutts to attack.

Basile could also be valuable given the mismatches on the offensive end at the 4 when Mutts is on the bench and Kidd or Poteat is in the game though that could present some challenges on the defensive end.

Regardless, the Irish have shown a clear weakness with their interior defense that the Hokies absolutely need to attack.

2. Protect and Pass The Basketball

These are two of the best teams in America at protecting the basketball as Notre Dame ranks second in America averaging only 8.8 turnovers per game while Virginia Tech ranks 12th averaging only 10.2 turnovers per game. The Hokies haven't been as good in ACC play averaging 10.7 turnovers per game though that would still rank in the top 25 nationally as a season-long average while the Irish are averaging only 8.1 turnovers per game helped in large part by having guard Marcus Hammond healthy now.

There's not a particular weak spot for turnovers for the Irish with no one in ND's seven-man rotation averaging more than 1.6 turnovers per game. Tech has a couple keep players averaging more than 2 but less than 3 turnovers per game in Justyn Mutts and Sean Pedulla, but Tech also balances that out fairly well by averaging over 15 assists per game ranking in the top 50 nationally while the Irish rank outside the top 250 in the country in assists per game.

There's plenty of frustration at times with some of the turnovers that Tech has especially from Mutts, but there's no doubt that more of his passes are positive than negative by a clearly positive net margin. However, Tech will need to tighten some things up a little more than normal given how good the Irish are at protecting the basketball.

3. Tighten Up Defensively

Virginia Tech's defense has had its ups and downs with this latest game against Boston College being the latest example.

Yes, the Eagles had an insane shooting day for their standards, but the Eagles also made 49.2% of their shots overall including 12-24 from three-point range with Tech's defense not exactly looking the sharpest. This came after last week's midweek game against Miami being another time where Tech's defense wasn't exactly the sharpest and helped the Hurricanes stay right in it till Nijel Pack took over.

Tech has shown some great fight backs defensively after bad performances this season as we saw with their impressive defensive performance at Clemson after struggling defensively at UVA in the game prior. There's no denying that this isn't the best defensive team in general, but the Hokies have shown that they can be better than what we've see during Tech's recent midweek games on the defensive end.

Now Notre Dame isn't the highly efficient Fighting Irish team that we've become used to seeing under Mike Brey though their three-point shooting has been good as they are shooting 36.6% from three this last season ranking in the top 60 nationally. They also have 3 of their 7-man rotation shooting over 39% from three in big man Nate Laszewski plus guards Dane Goodwin and Marcus Hammond. The Hokies will have to be sharp with their perimeter defense with Hunter Cattoor certain to have a key role in that area while Mutts and Basile may be forced to step up on Goodwin given ND's smaller rotation.

If Tech can step their defense up, they should be able to go on the road and pick up their first true road game victory of the season. If not, even the slimmest path to a NCAA Tournament at-large bid will be gone.