After a disappointing loss at Duke over the weekend, Virginia Tech will look to bounce back at home against rival Virginia. Here are three things to watch in the second matchup of the year between the Hokies and the Cavaliers.
Can Landers Nolley Break Out of His Slump?
Over the last three games, Landers Nolley's overall shooting percentages have been 20%, 19%, and 12.5%. Not only are those numbers concerning, but they have also been dropping with each successive game.
Against Miami, Nolley still scored 18 points and grabbed 11 boards. In the games against Pittsburgh and Duke, he scored just seven and three points, respectively.
Even with the 18 points against Miami, Nolley is averaging less than 10 points per game during that span. For a Virginia Tech team that does not have a lot of natural scorers, they cannot afford for their leading scorer to have those sorts of numbers.
Despite his shooting woes, Nolley has shown some positive signs over this stretch, as well. One of those positive takeaways is his improved play in the post.
Against Miami in particular, Nolley was able to make things happen down low. Even though he only made 4 shots from the field, he was able to draw fouls and get to the line. Nine of his 18 points in that game came from the charity stripe.
Obviously, the best case scenario for both Nolley and Virginia Tech would be for him to get back to shooting at a higher percentage. However, if Nolley continues to struggle with his jump shot, the Hokies will need to find other ways to get him involved tonight including feeding him down low.
Will Tomas Woldetensae's Tear Continue?
As much as Nolley has struggled for the Hokies, Tomas Woldetensae has done quite the opposite for Virginia. After scoring in double digits just twice in his first 20 games, the freshman has done so in four of his last five outings.
"He has really come into his own," Virginia Tech head coach Mike Young said of Woldetensae this week. "He is moving better, seems to be a lot more comfortable in their offense, really searching for shots."
The biggest concern for the Hokies is Woldetensae's threat from outside the three point arc. He has made 20 three pointers over his last five games, and is shooting 44% from outside during that stretch.
For the Hokies, three-point defense has been a concern all season. Their lack of size causes them to double in the post often, which leads to open shooters on the outside.
Over the last four games, Virginia Tech has allowed their opponents to make 34 three pointers. If Virginia continues makes eight or nine three pointers tonight as other opponents have been averaging, they will most likely win the game.
For the Hokies to pull off the upset tonight, they will need to limit the Cavaliers offense, especially from long range. That starts with shutting down their hottest shooter and right now, that person is Tomas Woldetensae.
Did the Hokies Learn from the First Matchup?
Most Virginia Tech and Virginia fans alike probably remember the first game between these rivals this season. The Hokies put up a measly 39 points, and a Cavalier offense that had been struggling up to that point broke open and led Virginia to a 26-point victory.
So, why should today be any different? Veteran Hokies guard Wabissa Bede says experience will play a big factor.
"We're more confident now than we were before, that's the biggest thing," Bede said. "Our game plan is a lot better than before and we just have to go out there and execute it and just believe in ourselves."
The freshman-laden Hokies have an opportunity to use the loss earlier in the season to fuel them to better things this time around. For one thing, the first year players on the Hokies roster will have at least seen the infamous pack line defense once before.
"It was definitely a blow in the face for the first time," Jalen Cone said of facing the pack line defense in January. "Those guys were big, very big...You could see that it was a new experience for us, it was a learning experience, so I think we'll handle ourselves better in that situation."
To be quite frank, it would be tough for the Hokies to do a whole lot worse. In January, they were 13 for 48 from the floor including 4 for 25 from three-point range. If they want to turn the tides this evening, they will have to be not just better but much better.
Virginia Tech will be able to keep the game a lot closer this time. The home fans will be loud, and I believe that the experience the players have gained really will help them.
With that said, Virginia is simply more talented than this Virginia Tech team. They have players on the roster who experienced winning a national championship last season, and even those who didn't aren't having too much trouble fitting in after a slow start to ACC play.
In the end, the three-point shot will win the game for Virginia tonight. Everyone knows how good the Cavaliers defense is, and that means that the way to beat them is to limit their offense. I just don't see the Hokies being able to slow down Woldetensae and the rest of the team quite enough.
Final Score Prediction: Virginia 61, Virginia Tech 52