Virginia Tech has seen their NCAA Tournament hopes mostly implode recently with a four-game losing streak that started with a loss at Boston College. Now, the Hokies have a chance to avenge that loss and get their season back headed in the right direction.
Meanwhile, Boston College has been playing well over their past four games including victories over Virginia Tech and at North Carolina plus a close home loss to Duke and a loss to Louisville. Jim Christian knows that the Eagles need a strong February to try to escape his hot seat becoming too hot to rescue with this being a big opportunity against a struggling Virginia Tech team.
With that said, here's our three things to watch for the Hokies and Eagles.
1. Protect The Basketball
Virginia Tech struggled doing one thing they've done well all season in the first game, protecting the basketball.
The Hokies had 14 games in the first matchup between these two teams. The bad news for the Hokies is this hasn't been a one-time occurrence for Boston College opponents as the Eagles are averaging an impressive 8.4 steals per game with four different players averaging at least 1 steal per game.
Since that game, the Hokies have cleaned their turnovers issue on that day up, but there's no doubt that the Hokies will have a challenge protecting the basketball. One thing that should help is being able to feed off playing in front of a loud home crowd at Cassell Coliseum rather than playing in the quiet environment that is Conte Forum.
Of course, it shouldn't take a high energy home environment for a team to get motivated, but young teams sometimes have to fail in the ACC's quieter road places to learn about the challenges of bringing the required level of energy. That shouldn't be an issue tomorrow afternoon.
If Virginia Tech can protect the basketball better than they did in Chestnut Hill, they should be in great shape to end their longest losing streak of the season.
2. Three-Point Shooting Must Improve
Part of the reason for Virginia Tech's four-game losing streak has been because of their poor shooting from three-point range. That came to a front last Saturday when despite the fact that the Hokies played fairly well, their failures from deep combined with a strong three-point game for Florida State, led the Hokies to coming up short against the Seminoles.
The focus of that has been on Landers Nolley and understandably so as Nolley hasn't shot over 33.3% from three in a game over the past 7 games while going 5-26 from three during the Hokies' four-game losing streak. While Mike Young's shoot at will mindset has definitely given his players' confidence, the Hokies may need Nolley to be more selective until he can find his rhythm or at least try to create more catch-and-shoot threes for him.
Nolley isn't the Hokie that has gone cold from three lately as Jalen Cone is 3-10 from behind the arc in the past four games while Nahiem Alleyne is 5-14 during that stretch. While those numbers aren't as good, the Hokies will need them closer to the levels that they were at earlier this season especially Cone who has shown he can be a high level three-point shooter.
Hunter Cattoor and P.J. Horne have been brighter spots at times from three, but those two have also had some moments of inconsistency from three-point range. If the Hokies are going to end their losing streak, they have to start shooting the ball better from deep as a team, not just a couple of individuals.
3. Feed Tyrece Radford
If there's one guy who has played well lately, it's Tyrece Radford.
The last-minute scholarship offer in the 2018 class and redshirt freshman guard has been a very pleasant surprise for the Hokies and emerged as the leader in recent weeks. In each of the past four games, Radford has shot over 55% (including 75% or better in 3 of them) while averaging 14.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game during that stretch.
Radford has been highly effective at getting to the rim showing so much effort and will power that few players are able to match while playing with no fear even if that means dunking on Wake Forest's Olivier Sarr or trying to replicate that on Georgia Tech's James Banks III. Radford has also mentioned in postgame comments after the Georgia Tech game how his team has to be better at fighting back in his game, with Radford being one player who has consistently modeled that well.
Given Radford's effectiveness on the offensive end especially attacking the rim, the Hokies would be wise to feed him early while trying to create transition opportunities where he thrives. Boston College could be a good team to do that with the Eagles averaging 13.9 turnovers per game, and the Hokies needing to take advantage of that BC weakness.
There's something about being at home that can be a refuge for a struggling team. Even in last Saturday's loss to Florida State, we saw Virginia Tech play much better than they did in their three road losses with FSU's win largely due to the fact that they are a legitimate national title contender.
Boston College is definitely not Florida State, but the Eagles have gone on the road and beat a Cole Anthony-led North Carolina recently, showing they can't be underestimated away from Chestnut Hill. However, the Eagles are not nearly at the same level as FSU nor do they have an NBA talent that can take over like FSU's Devin Vassell did last Saturday.
Landers Nolley may not be back to the Nolley we've seen previously, but expect Nolley to play better at home against weaker competition while the Hokies will start to find their rhythm from three-point range playing at home against a team not as long as Florida State. Combine that with Tyrece Radford leading the charge and though BC has played better since the return of Nik Popovic, the Eagles don't have enough offensive firepower to stay up with the Hokies.