Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech has gotten off to a fast 2-0 start thanks to victories over Clemson and Coppin State with the Hokies looking to add another win against a 1-2 USC Upstate team who's only win has come against an NAIA opponent. Of course, as Kentucky and Evansville showed last night, crazy things can happen on any given night in college basketball.
With that said, here's my three things to watch and pick for tonight's game.
The one thing about a young team is that consistency can take a while. The Hokies have shown plenty of talent and potential from their strong second half to beat Clemson to a 27-3 start against Coppin State. However, the Hokies haven't shown the most consistency with VT not being able to really pull away much from the Eagles after that strong start.
Of course, some of that is due to this being early in the season where offenses are still getting their timing and rhythm while defenses usually start off stronger. However, there is some inconsistency that showed especially on the offensive end after their fast start didn't lead to a mass scoring output.
Part of that may be due to how the Hokies didn't shoot the ball from three-point range nearly as well after their fast start during the first 10 minutes of the game where everybody, especially P.J. Horne seemed on fire from deep.
Don't be surprised to see Virginia Tech continue to show inconsistency as you would expect from a basketball team playing 6 true and redshirt freshmen, but the thing to watch is whether the amount of inconsistency decreases overall over the progression of non-conference play and throughout the 2019-20 season.
2. Expect Plenty of Jalen Cone and John Ojiako
Virginia Tech has played all of their true freshmen, especially Nahiem Alleyne and Hunter Cattoor, during their first two games. However, Jalen Cone and John Ojiako haven't had the largest roles though both players played significantly more minutes against Coppin State than they did against Clemson.
Expect Cone and Ojiako to play more tonight against USC Upstate especially with Mike Young looking to get both of these guys more experience against weaker competition as they adapt to the collegiate game.
Cone is somewhat limited due to his size and usually has to be the point guard when he comes in the game. So far, the Hokies have used Cone to mostly give Wabissa Bede a break, but it will be interesting to see if we see Bede and Cone together tonight for a couple stretches with Bede likely sliding off the ball. Cone has shown great ball handling in his brief appearances and lots of potential, but could use more experience.
Ojiako also has a high ceiling, but needs time and patience with in-game experience being even more valuable than what he can gain in practice against guys like P.J. Horne and Keve Aluma. Expect Mike Young to try to get Ojiako around 15 minutes of playing time especially after he seemed happy to have Ojiako play 14 minutes in the Hokies' home opener against Coppin State.
3. Cleaning Up Turnovers
Virginia Tech's youth has shown with how the Hokies have averaged 14 turnovers per game to start the season. The Hokies were able to force a good amount of turnovers against Coppin State, but their high number of turnovers against the Eagles were a big reason why the Hokies weren't able to do much to widen the margin against Coppin State after the 27-3 start.
Mike Young also mentioned how that the area of turnovers will be one area where the Hokies will be looking for improvement in the coming weeks. While Young hasn't started his balloon popping tracker yet for evaluation, Young did hint that all of the balloons would be popped due to the numerous turnovers.
It also hasn't been limited to Landers Nolley, who is averaging 4 turnovers per game, but a pair of older players in Wabissa Bede and Isaiah Wilkins are each averaging 2.5 turnovers per game. If the Hokies are going to continue to take the next steps, they have to do a better job of protecting the basketball starting against inferior competition.
USC Upstate will come out with lots of energy but this is a bad USC Upstate team that is currently ranked outside the top 340 teams in KenPom. Virginia Tech most likely won't replicate the 27-3 start they had against Coppin State, but it's safe to expect the Hokies to have a healthy advantage by halftime.
Don't be surprised if Mike Young priorities trying to get his younger guys farther down the depth chart lots of playing while giving some rest to veterans like Wabissa Bede and P.J. Horne. Virginia Tech will comfortably take care of business and remain unbeaten with another dominant victory over a very inferior opponent.