After coming up just short against Boston College for their fifth-straight loss, Virginia Tech has had a full week to hit a midseason reset button and try to find the level of play that had them on the NCAA Tournament bubble just a a few weeks ago. The Hokies aren't the only ones who have struggled of late with Pittsburgh coming to Blacksburg having lost 4 of their past 6 games.
Both teams know that a win today could be a big step in the right direction towards making the NIT along with trying to avoid playing on the opening Tuesday of the ACC Tournament. Virginia Tech will also look to have a strong showing to impress the talented group of recruits visiting Blacksburg this weekend.
With that said, here are our three things to watch and prediction for the Hokies against the Panthers.
1. Be Effective From Three-Point Range
Virginia Tech's struggles have been due in part to the fact that Virginia Tech hasn't done as well from three-point range lately as a team. In each game, we've seen a couple players be more than efficient for a half or a full game, but the Hokies have struggled to find that high level as a team for 40 minutes.
However, the Hokies will need their three-point shooting today against a Pittsburgh team that shoots under 31% from behind the arc with no player shooting better than Ryan Murphy's 35.5% from three. Additionally, Pittsburgh ranks outside the top 200 nationally in three-point defense with opponents making 33.6% of their threes against the Panthers.
It starts with Landers Nolley who found his top end form last Saturday with 29 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 54.5% overall including over 42% from three last week. However, the Hokies will need more than just Nolley and likely turn to Nahiem Alleyne and Jalen Cone, Tech's top two three-point shooters.
Cone, in particular, could be poised for a large minutes day with Pitt having a seven-man rotation with no guard above 6'6'' and two bigs in the 6'8''-6'9'' range. Cone's size shouldn't be as much of a worry on the defensive end against Pitt team and seeing his usage go up would make sense.
Mike Young has said a lot this season that the Hokies will live or die at the three-point line. Today, the Hokies will need to resurrect themselves from deep to avoid a sixth-straight loss.
2. Protect The Basketball
This game presents an interesting matchup between a Virginia Tech team that ranks second in the country in fewest turnovers per game at 9.8, and a Pittsburgh team averaging 7.6 steals per game to rank in the top 75 nationally. The Panthers also have done well protecting the ball themselves averaging only 11.8 turnovers per game, which ranks just outside the top 50 in the country.
It hasn't just been one player for Pittsburgh as their top 5 scorers also all average at least one steal per game. That means every player for the Hokies will be tested and will have to be decisive with their decision-making and their passes, or the Hokies will have turnover issues.
Additionally, Virginia Tech will need their volume ball-handlers to keep the game slow and not try to force things. Landers Nolley has made his fair share of great plays, but he's also had issues with rushing things and then compounding mistakes possession after possession. Expect Pittsburgh to try to see if they can get Nolley to speed things up, and force passes that aren't there and become turnovers.
One of the main reasons for Virginia Tech's success has been the exceptional job they've done at protecting the basketball. Failure to do that against Pittsburgh will lead to disaster for the Hokies.
3. Wabissa Bede Running The Show
Wabissa Bede has received lots of criticism because of his offensive struggles, and some of that is deserved. However, he has been one of the ACC's best at running the show and without Bede, the Hokies lack a second guy truly capable of running the Hokies' offense at the high level that Bede has done so at.
What has been most impressive about Bede is his efficiency as he's fourth in the nation in assist-turnover ratio at 3.4, just ahead of San Diego State star Malachi Flynn. When Bede is at his best, not only is he having a high volume of assists, but he is minimizing the mistakes the way you can expect from a veteran point guard as shown by his average of 6 assists per game.
However, Bede has exceeded his current season average in assists once during the past 5 games. Meanwhile, his assist-turnover ratio has been his season average in the Hokies' past 5 games after being above that average or right at it in the five previous games, during which the Hokies went 4-1.
The fact that Bede was playing at that high of a level as a distributor was extremely impressive, but the Hokies will need Bede back at that level to find their top form once again and end their five-game losing streak.
Pittsburgh has gone from this very young team at the beginning of the Jeff Capel era to being a very junior-laden team and as such, shouldn't be as intimidated by a tough road environment. However. there's something to be said about being at home and with a week to rest up and reset, I expect that Virginia Tech will find the form that has been lacking recently.
One player who seemed to break their slump coming into this gap week is Landers Nolley who seems poised to get back to the level that made many wonder if he could be an All-ACC First Team pick this season. Nolley could still get there with a strong finish and that will start today while Wabissa Bede will start to clean up some of the mistakes. Additionally, Tech's three-point shooting will be improved against a Pitt team that struggles to defend the three and doesn't have the same length to get the Hokies out of rhythm from deep.
That combination combined with a week to reset will be enough for Virginia Tech to hold off a Pittsburgh team that, while having plenty of quality scorers like Trey McGowens, Justin Champagnie, and Xavier Johnson all averaging double figures, will come up just short.