Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
After losing their third-straight game this past Saturday against Florida State, Virginia Tech heads on the road to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech as they look to snap their longest losing streak of the season. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets are hoping not only for leading scorer Michael Defoe to return tonight, but also to bounce back from a loss at Notre Dame.
For the Hokies, they've seen their NCAA Tournament hopes decrease significantly over the past couple of weeks due to their season-long losing streak. However, Virginia Tech can start to turn things around tonight with a Quadrant 2 road victory that would add some depth to their resume and most importantly, get VT back to winning ways.
With that said, here are our 3 things to watch and pick for Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech.
1. Turning Turnovers Into Transition Points
Georgia Tech is a very good defensive team led by James Banks III, one of the nation's best rim protectors who averages 2.7 blocks per game. However, they've had offensive issues largely due to the fact that they are averaging 15.9 turnovers per game, ranking 329th in the nation.
Given the Hokies' size disadvantage, Virginia Tech will have to not only force plenty of turnovers, but also turn them in transition opportunities to take Banks out of the picture.
Fortunately, that's one area where the Hokies have had success lately including Saturday where they had 18 points off only 9 Florida State turnovers. That was the third-straight game where Tech has had the advantage in points off turnovers, but this game was bt far their best yet in that area.
The #1 reason for this improvement: Tyrece Radford.
The redshirt freshman has been a big reason for keeping the Hokies in a couple of their recent losses in part because of his ability to effectively attack the rim especially in transition. Over his past 3 games, Radford has shot at least 75% from the field in each appearance while also averaging 20 points per game over his past 2 games.
If the Hokies are going to get the job done, they need Radford at his best attacking the rim while turning as many Georgia Tech turnovers into transition opportunities for Radford and others.
2. Can Landers Nolley Find His Shooting Form?
Its safe to say that this has been the worst stretch of Landers Nolley's season to date in terms of his shooting as he hasn't shot better than 33.3% from three since going 4-7 from behind the arc against N.C. State. Since that game, Nolley has also failed to exceed 42% from the field in any of the following 6 games with Tech going 2-4 during that stretch.
More notable is the fact that in the 2 victories, Nolley made up for his inefficiency by attempting at least 5 free throws in each game (and making 80%+ in both games). In the four losses, Nolley has attempted only 4 free throws total while failing to reach the line against Syracuse and Miami.
For a star like Nolley, the Hokies either need him to be efficient or if he's inefficient, to be getting to the free-throw and getting the job done as he did against Wake Forest and UNC. Given his volume of shooting, that means shooting at least over 40% from the field though as we saw at Boston College and Miami, that isn't a guarantee.
If Landers Nolley isn't able to either be efficient from the field or consistently get to the free-throw line, the Hokies will have a hard time winning this game. If he does both, this game could get ugly in the Hokies' favor.
3. Where is Jalen Cone?
Jalen Cone has been one of the hottest shooters to start ACC play, yet his playing time has oddly decreased as the freshman has only played 27 minutes over the past 2 games. More importantly, Cone has only attempted shots including 4 threes over that stretch with Tech having 2 of their lowest 5 scoring outputs of ACC play (Cone played 10 or fewer minutes in 2 of the other 3).
While Cone hasn't necessarily been a great distributor, he has been one of Tech's best shooters and someone who the Hokies need on the floor. Given Tech's recent downturn from three, it's crazy not to have their best three-point shooter on the floor for only 12 minutes as was the case against FSU.
Yes, Tech does have a size issue in those scenarios with a backcourt that needs to have Wabissa Bede ideally to run the show and may have a smaller guard like Tyrece Radford paired with him as well. That does present some challenges but against a Georgia Tech that has had plenty of offensive issues, it seems like a risk worth taking given the offensive potential and needed three-point shooting Cone brings.
After a pair of bad road losses, Virginia Tech played a lot better at home with their three-point shooting proving costly overall. The good news is Tech seems to be playing better as a whole while continuing with the type of effort and intensity that you want to see from a struggling team that can find their ways again soon.
Georgia Tech has been without leading scorer Michael Devoe lately though it does seem like a return could be likely. If he does return, it remains to be seen if Devoe will be at full strength though Georgia Tech has plenty of backcourt options to turn to including Jose Alvarado, who will provide plenty of problems in his own right for the Hokies.
One area where the Hokies have the clear advantage is with their depth including their strong group of scoring options beyond just Landers Nolley. Combine that with the strong play of Tyrece Radford lately plus Tech's improvement in scoring off turnovers and in transition, and the Hokies have the capability to get the job done.
This will be a close game, but the Hokies three-point shooting will be better against a team without as much length while they will take advantage of Georgia Tech's issue with protecting the basketball and end their three-game losing streak with a Quadrant 2 win in Atlanta.