While Virginia Tech football wraps up their 2017 season at the Camping World Bowl on Thursday, the Hokies' basketball team will be finishing up their non-conference schedule with a home game against North Carolina A&T.
After a long break, this game gives Virginia Tech a chance to get back in rhythm before they head to Syracuse to open ACC play on New Year's Eve. With that said, here are our three things to watch for VT against North Carolina A&T.
1. Will Virginia Tech be rusty?
Virginia Tech had their longest gap between two games this season with there being nine days between their games against Presbyterian and North Carolina A&T. This was a great move by VT to give their players some extra rest around the holidays, but it wouldn't be surprising given the days off.
Now the Hokies have had some practice over this break, but this game is a great opportunity is the best chance to get VT back in rhythm ahead of the start to ACC play. VT was rusty against Presbyterian after a tough road trip and that could be a concern against a North Carolina A&T team.
However, VT should benefit from having a longer time off that should mean they're more rested ahead of the start of ACC play. That extra energy should help them keep the pace up, but it may take some time for them to get in rhythm from long range given the long gap between games.
VT should be able to comfortably take care of business against NC A&T, but there could be some rust early on from the long break off. However, there should be no concerns about this game being close as the Presbyterian game was.
2. How is the rotation on the wing shaking out?
Virginia Tech is loaded with plenty of talented wing players and has started three of those guys throughout most of the season. However, VT also prefers to go with a lineup including Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear down the stretch of games with only two spots for wings.
Kentucky gave us some insight into what that rotation may look like with Justin Bibbs and Ahmed Hill gaining most the playing time, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker not coming in till Kerry Blackshear fouled out inside the final four minutes. Devin Wilson has also worked into that wing discussion some as more of a defensive specialist when Justin Robinson is also on the floor as the point guard.
While this game is still competitive, we may get some insight on which wing players are a part of the Hokies' featured 5 is. It would be surprising to see VT go with a different starting lineup even with Chris Clarke being back at 100%, but Clarke should be in VT's primary 5 that you can expect to see down the stretch in close games.
Right now, NAW appears to be right behind Bibbs and Hill which shouldn't come as a surprise given their greater amount of experience. However, that could change as NAW continues to gain more experience with playing at Kentucky being positive for his development even if he didn't play well.
However, the Hokies' rotation could also be affected some by who has the hot hand especially with all three of the Hokies' top wings averaging over 12 points per game. If one of the Hokies' wings is struggling shooting the basketball, it could have a big impact ahead of VT's big road trip to the Carrier Dome where efficient shooting will be important against the Orange's renowned zone defense.
3. How much do the freshmen play?
Buzz Williams has tried to get his freshmen some playing time together down the stretch of blowout non-conference games. Outside of the Kentucky game, we've seen the Hokies' four-man freshmen class receive some playing time in almost every game with Nickeil Alexander-Walker starting and receiving the most significant minutes.
While NAW has established himself well in the Hokies' rotation, the other three freshmen are still working to earn playing time in bigger games with any experience they can get being valuable. We've seen Buzz slowly use all of his freshmen in more prominent ways including PJ Horne as a starter against Presbyterian.
Horne, Wabissa Bede, and Tyrie Jackson are averaging between 10 to 13 minutes per game, but have all had more limited roles in bigger games with Bede not playing in either road game so far. With VT heading on the road Sunday to open ACC play, this is the last obvious chance for VT to get their younger backups some playing time in a game that shouldn't be competitive.
Don't be surprised if the Hokies get their freshmen a good amount of minutes especially in the second half as long as this game isn't close.
Virginia Tech learned their lesson about coming out flat even for a team like Presbyterian. The Hokies were able to avoid an upset unlike other ACC teams like North Carolina while still getting the wakeup call they needed to not overlook some weaker competition.
North Carolina A&T is looking like a frontrunner to win the MEAC, but the MEAC has been one of the weakest conferences in the country with A&T having the best record currently of any MEAC team at 7-7.
The matchup to watch will come in the post as Kerry Blackshear will match up a lot against A&T star big man Femi Olujobi. The 6'8'' Olujobi is averaging 21.9 points and 9.0 rebounds in 33.9 minutes per game, but will be tested by Blackshear. If NC A&T wants a shot at pulling off the upset, they'll need Olujobi to have a huge game.
There is a big offensive difference that features one of the best shooting teams in the Hokies and a NC A&T team that shoots less than 30% from three-point range. VT will be ready for NC A&T and take care of business with a comfortable victory led by an offense that will be firing on all cylinders by the second half ahead of a tough New Year's Eve trip to Syracuse.
Pick: Virginia Tech 94, North Carolina A&T 71
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