After reaching the Elite Eight for the first time, 1 seed Virginia Tech has their eyes on trying to reach their program's first Final Four, but have a strong 3 seed Ohio State that is fully healthy now and finding their form after cooling off following a 19-0 start. The Buckeyes have also been to only one Final Four back in 1993 so either the Hokies will make history or Ohio State will end a long drought
So with that said, here's my three things to watch for the Hokies vs the Buckeyes for a spot in the Final Four.
1. Use Your Defense to Limit the Press
Virginia Tech struggled a lot with the press against Tennessee and have had some ups and downs against it throughout the season. Well if they want to get to Dallas, they're going to have to step their game against an Ohio State team know for their 2-2-1 press that helped them force 25 turnovers in their way over Connecticut.
Tech ranks in the top 50 country in fewest turnovers per game, but had their struggles against Tennessee with 18 turnovers. One thing that helps the Hokies is the fact thay they have two very experienced ball handlers in Georgia Amoore and Kayana Traylor with Traylor having plenty of experience facing Ohio State from her time at Purdue.
The best way to beat a press though is by playing great defense that doesn't always your opponent to get into their press. The good news for Tech is that they've been doing just that.
ESPN recently shared a stat that states it best as the Hokies have held their opponents under 20% from the field outside of the paint. That is a genuinely absurd number, but also not a complete shocker because Tech's defense has been a big reason for their recent success. We saw it most recently on Saturday when the Hokies held likely top 5 WNBA Draft pick Jordan Horston to an inefficient 6-16 from the field in their win over the Lady Vols.
Tech's defense will be tested by an Ohio State team that scores at a high level with five healthy players averaging double figures per game. Part of the challenge will be containing their athletic frontcourt combination of Cotie McMahon and Taylor Thierry with Liz Kitley likely to be tested in space. If Tech can give Kitley some help outside the paint with whichever one she's matched up with, that could be a big boost for the Hokies and allow her to protect the rim at her peak ability against an undersized Buckeye frontcourt.
We've seen Tech slow down plenty of strong offenses lately and there's no doubt that Tech can be up to the challenge that the Buckeyes present.
2. Feed Liz Kitley
Liz Kitley has been averaging 12.7 points per game so far this NCAA Tournament, solid but not the high-end scoring output that Tech fans maybe expect from the two-time ACC Player of the Year. However, part of that has been due to the fact that Georgia Amoore has been scoring the ball at a really high level and other teammates have also stepped up their games including Kayana Traylor.
Kitley feels due for a big game and Ohio State lacks a clear matchup that can go against Kitley size-wise, either forcing the Buckeyes to leave some space from behind the arc or give Kitley her fair share of one-on-one chances.
The likely matchup for the Buckeyes for much of the game is 6'4'' who only averages 3.7 rebounds and 0.2 blocks in 22.5 minutes per game off the bench though she only played 4 minutes against UCONN. Otherwise, the Buckeyes will be forced to go way small with either talented 6'0'' freshman Cotie McMahon or 5'11'' sophomore Taylor Thierry who are both solid shot blockers for their size averaging 0.7 per game, but are undersized compared to the 6'6'', two-time ACC Player of the Year.
Now the challenge may come on the defensive end for Kitley who is a great rim protector but does have some limitations outside of the post. However, the size advantage on the offensive side can definitely outweigh the defensive concerns with Ohio State's versatility.
Liz Kitley has been solid throughout the postseason, but seems poised for a showcase game with this matchup being a ripe opportunity for a showcase game that puts the nation on notice.
3. Keep Your Composure
The number of players between these 2 teams who have played in the Elite 8 before: 0.
Yes, neither of these teams have ever been on this stage before with this being Virginia Tech's first Elite 8 appearance ever and Ohio State's first Elite 8 appearance this century.
This is where Virginia Tech's age should be an advantage even if they haven't been on this stage before. Georgia Amoore is the only Hokie in their regular rotation who is not a senior with Taylor Soule, Kayana Traylor, and D'Asia Gregg being 5th year seniors; and Liz Kitley, Cayla King, and Taylor Geiman being 4th year seniors. The Buckeyes only had 4 seniors among their 7 who played against UCONN with 1 of those 4 playing only 4 minutes. On the positive for the Buckeyes, much of that experience is with the backcourt duo of Jacy Sheldon and Taylor Mikesell.
Tech has been put into situations where they've had to grind out victories when things have gotten tight and have done well as the season progressed especially the past 2 games keeping their lead over South Dakota State in double digits and then responding against Tennessee with a 15-4 run after Tech's lead got cut all the way down to 1.
Yes, there's plenty of quantifiable basketball things that will determine who wins this game, but that will likely be influenced by the team that keeps their composure, and handles this moment and stage better.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 72, Ohio State 67
This should be a great game between a Virginia Tech team in their best form and an Ohio State team looking more like the team that started this season 19-0. Don't be surprised if we see plenty of runs both ways in this game given how hot the Hokies can get for stretches on both ends of the floor and the well-executed press that the Buckeyes run.
However, Tech has a clear matchup advantage in the post with Kitley that they can absolutely take advantage of and combined with a backcourt that should shoot better from three than they did against Tennessee, the Hokies will have just enough to stave off the Buckeyes and reach the Final Four for the first time in program history.