Virginia Tech will play their final regular season home game this evening against Clemson. Here are three things to watch when the Hokies take on the Tigers.
Can Virginia Tech Slow Down Aamir Simms?
Throughout the season, Virginia Tech has consistently been much smaller than their opponents. That is a trend that began under Buzz Williams, and it has carried over into year one of the Mike Young era.
At times, the small ball has worked for Virginia Tech. For example, the Hokies exploded for 42 points in the second half against Virginia last week because everyone on the floor was able to make outside shots.
However, the size disadvantage has also cost the Hokies in many games. Players like PJ Horne and John Ojiako will need to have good outings to prevent that fate against Clemson.
The Tigers, on the other hand, have a very capable big in Aamir Simms. His team high 8 rebounds played a big roll in Clemson's upset over Florida State this weekend.
Over the last four games, Simms has scored in double digits three times. That includes a double-double against Boston College on February 22. Simms also brings plenty of versatility to the floor which may force Tech to use a longer wing that Landers Nolley on him at times.
In the first matchup between these two teams in the season opener, the Hokies out-rebounded the Tigers 44-36. If Virginia Tech wants to pull off the season sweep, they will most likely need a similar performance on the boards.
Can the Hokies Consistently Make Shots?
During the recent slump for Virginia Tech, streaky shooting has been a big issue. While the Hokies have gone through stretches where the shoot the ball well, they have been unable to shoot well for a full 40 minutes.
Take the Louisville game this Sunday, for example. In the first half, Virginia Tech shot 42% from the field. They were not lighting it up by any means, but they were making the open looks they were given.
Because of that, the Hokies were right in the thick of the game against a top-15 opponent. At halftime, Virginia Tech and Louisville were tied at 27.
In the second half, the Hokies shooting fell off. They went just 35% from the field in the final 20 minutes, and only four of their baskets came from inside the arc. Virginia Tech was unable to make shorter-range shots, and that led to the Cardinals being able to pull away.
Against Virginia in the previous game, it was the opposite. The Hokies offense was abysmal in the first half and scored just 11 points. As a result, even their great shooting performance in the second half was not enough to pull off the upset.
The Hokies can no longer afford to have long scoring droughts. If they want to break their four-game skid, they will need to put together a full 40 minute performance.
Will Virginia Tech Protect the Ball?
Much has been made of Virginia Tech's lack of turnovers this season. The Hokies are averaging just under 10 giveaways per game, which is impressive for such a young team.
With that said, the Hokies had trouble protecting the basketball in their last contest. Their 16 turnovers against Louisville were a season high.
To make matters worse, Virginia Tech's turnovers seem to always come at inopportune times. One that comes to mind is Landers Nolley's offensive against Virginia when the Hokies had a chance to stretch their lead to two possessions late in the game.
To out in plainly, Virginia Tech is not talented enough to win games when they shoot themselves in the foot. The recipe for the Hokies to win games consists of protecting the ball and preventing extra possessions for the opponent.
Virginia Tech definitely has a good chance to win this game. They are currently listed as 1.5 point favorites, and they have already defeated Clemson once this season.
With that said, Clemson comes in with a lot more momentum. The Tigers have won three of their last four games, including wins against both #10 Louisville and #7 Florida State.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has lost four in a row and nine of their last ten. Some of those have been heartbreakers, while others have been blowouts.
This game will not be a blowout, but it has all the writings of a heartbreaker. Virginia Tech will hang around all game, but the young team's inability to close out games will once again rear its head.
Final Score Prediction: Clemson 68, Virginia Tech 64