Going into the Charleston Classic, many had the early Friday semifinal circled as the game of the day with Virginia Tech and Alabama poised for an NCAA Tournament rematch. While the Hokies took care of business beating Ball State 73-64, Alabama was unable to do so with Northeastern spoiling the party and upsetting the Crimson Tide 68-52.
While some may feel the Hokies ended up with an easier matchup, the Huskies have shown they are a dangerous team with wins over Alabama and Harvard and a team that remained mostly in tact after winning a share of the CAA regular season title last season.
With that said, here are our three things to watch for the Hokies against Northeastern.
1. Can Ty Outlaw Find His Rhythm From Three-Point Range?
When Ty Outlaw broke out two years ago for the Hokies, it was because he instantly became one of the best three-point shooters in America. This season, Outlaw has had some early season struggles from beyond the arc shooting 1-5 from three-point range in his first two games while averaging only 3.5 points per game.
While the Hokies' offense has kept on going without Outlaw, Virginia Tech knows the x-factor that Outlaw can be from three-point range when he gets it going.
Buzz Williams has tried to change things up with his starting lineup moving Outlaw into a role coming off the bench to see if that can help him find some rhythm. We'll see if that continues going forward and if Outlaw is more comfortable in a sixth man type role.
While Ty Outlaw has struggled in his first two games, there's no doubt that he's at least one of the ACC's best three-point shooters and once he does find his three-point shot, he'll be back to that high-level of shooter. If he does today, the Huskies' upset hopes shrink significantly.
2. How Will Virginia Tech Deal With Vasa Pusica?
Northeastern is led by senior guard Vasa Pusica who was impressive against Alabama with 20 points, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 3 rebounds while shooting 6-10 from the field including a perfect 4-4 from three-point range. Pusica currently leads the Huskies in points, assists, and steals; and will be the focal point for Northeastern in this game.
The question is how will the Hokies approach Pusica especially given how he is only one of two Northeastern players currently averaging more than 9 points per game?
If the Hokies want to avoid an upset as Alabama did, they'll need to find ways to force Pusica's teammates to beat the Hokies as they did against Ball State star Tayler Person yesterday who had 21 points and 5 assists in the losing efforts.
If the Hokies can contain Pusica enough to force his teammates to step up and win the Huskies the game, Virginia Tech should be in comfortable shape to avoid an upset and advance to the Charleston Classic finals.
3. Can Nickeil Alexander-Walker Keep Up His Strong Start?
While senior PG Justin Robinson has been good for the Hokies through the first two games, it's been sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker who has been the star through the first two games. So far, Alexander-Walker is averaging 21 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2.5 steals per game while shooting 56.7% from the field and being a perfect 5-5 at the free-throw line.
Alexander-Walker has been aggressive and opportunistic being effective in transition opportunities while also being more than comfortable attacking the rim. That aggressiveness in getting to the rim and getting easy opportunities is something that Buzz Williams always puts a priority on, and the sophomore from Canada has made a large stride in that area so far this season.
In addition, Alexander-Walker has also shown improvement in other areas including as a passer and a rebounder with a strong start in both of those categories.
Though Justin Robinson may be the focal point of many scouting reports, Alexander-Walker may be on the verge of a breakout season that reminds us of how it was less than two years ago where he was a five-star recruit and one of the most hyped-up freshman in Virginia Tech basketball history for a reason.
Though the Hokies won't be facing Alabama, they still have an opportunity to pick up a quality win against a Northeastern team seen as the favorite to win the CAA this season. The Huskies are led by quality guard play that should make this is an interesting matchup.
If there's one surprise area where the Hokies may have an advantage, it's on the glass where Virginia Tech has been okay so far averaging around 33 rebounds per game while Northeastern has struggled averaging only 28 rebounds per game. If the Hokies can keep the margin around even at minimum, Virginia Tech should be in good shape to avoid the upset.
Part of what helped Northeastern pulled off their upset yesterday was the fact that they were hyper efficient shooting the basketball going 52.4% from the field and 52.9% from beyond the arc while the Crimson Tide were 37.3% from the field and 15.8% from beyond the arc. That massive shooting differential covered up the fact that Northeastern lost in the turnover department 13-9.
Looking at today's game, don't expect the Huskies to be as efficient against an improved Virginia Tech defense while the Hokies' offense should be much more efficient from the field than the Crimson Tide were.
Expect this to be a competitive game as the Huskies are a quality opponent, but the Hokies are starting to pick up their game and after a strong performance against Ball State yesterday, they'll build on that against the Huskies with another solid win to advance to the finals of the Charleston Classic Sunday night.
Pick: #16 Virginia Tech 78, Northeastern 67
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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