Photo Credit: Liam Sment
Virginia Tech travels to Winston-Salem to play Wake Forest in an ACC road test that gives the Hokies a chance to add another Quadrant 2 victory to their NCAA Tournament resume.
The Hokies (12-4, 3-2) are on a two-game win streak after defeating Syracuse on the road and N.C. State in Blacksburg. While Tech has all the momentum as of late, the Demon Deacons (8-7, 1-4) have lost two in a row at the hands of No. 10 Florida State and No. 2 Duke.
For Wake, it’s a chance to pick up a solid ACC win as Danny Manning looks for a surprising team that can help him keep his job. For Tech, it’s a game they should win but one, but one that could be tricky as a young team on the road in the ACC.
Here are three things to watch in tonight’s contest in Winston-Salem.
Can Tech Hit from Behind the Arc?
Through five ACC games, Virginia Tech has the second worst shooting percentage from behind the arc, only better than Virginia, at 26.1 percent. The Hokies have shot better in Cassell Coliseum in their two ACC home games, shooting 33.3 percent, but have not been able to put it together behind the arc on the road.
With that, here are the #Hokies three-point shooting numbers in ACC play. They've shot much better at home versus on the road. They're going to need to bring that hot shooting from Cassell into Winston-Salem tonight. pic.twitter.com/axLg3vnmZA— David Cunningham (@therealdcunna) January 14, 2020
That might change tonight.
The Demon Deacons are ranked 14th in three-point field goal percentage defensively in the conference through their five games, allowing ACC opponents to shoot 39.3 percent from downtown.
For comparison, N.C. State shot 54.5 percent (12-22) from behind the arc in Winston-Salem and Duke shot 47.8 percent (11-23) from three against them in Cameron Indoor.
As you can see with Tech's three-point distribution, Jalen Cone is the only Hokie shooting better than 35 percent from behind the arc in ACC play. He's going to be a key to Tech's success on Tuesday, but igniting the three-point shooting game will be important too.
If the Hokies want to have success, they need to keep their improved three-point shooting going after shooting 40.9% from three this past Saturday.
Protecting the Ball
Against N.C. State, the Hokies were facing a team that was third in the ACC in steals per game. Wake Forest is the complete opposite.
The Demon Deacons are last in the ACC in turnover margin with -3.1 and 14th (out of 15 teams) in turnovers per game, averaging 14.9. Wake Forest is also last in the ACC in turnovers forced per game, averaging 11.8.
Tech has done well in the first two categories this season, ranking 6th in the ACC in turnover margin with 2.7 and leading the nation in fewest turnovers per game with 9.7. The Hokies don’t force too many turnovers either, but they protect the ball on offense like no one else.
In their last seven games, Tech has only had more than nine turnovers twice. Their high for turnovers in ACC play was 14 against Duke, and even then, nine of the turnovers (uncharacteristically) came from Landers Nolley.
Forcing Tech to turn the ball over starts with forcing Wabissa Bede to turn the ball over, and that is not an easy task. Bede is the main reason why Tech is so consistent in the turnover category – he ranks fourth in the nation in assist to turnover ratio (3.75) and 17th in assists per game (6.3).
If Wake Forest wants to win this game, they need to force turnovers. They forced 17 against N.C. State (Tech forced nine against the Wolfpack) but did not force more than ten in any of their other ACC games.
For Tech, it just needs to be another evening of Bede taking care of the basketball.
Control the Boards
Wake Forest ranks fifth in the ACC in rebounds per game, averaging 38.13. The Hokies aren’t too far behind, sitting in eighth in the ACC with an average of 35.81 per game.
The Demon Deacons will have a clear size advantage against the Hokies this evening, though. Oliver Sarr stands at 7’0” for Wake Forest, while Ody Oguama (6’9”), Isaiah Mucius (6’8”) and Ismael Massoud (6’8”) are taller than every player on the Hokies roster besides John Ojiako (6’10”).
If Tech wants to pick up their third ACC road win of the season, they’ll have to go after it on the boards, which starts with Tyrece Radford.
The 6’1” guard from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, leads the Hokies in rebounding, averaging 6.1 per game and has emerged as a rebounding and paint force despite his size.
Along with Nolley (6’7”), who is also averaging almost six rebounds per game, the Hokies have a strong duo crashing the glass. They will need a team effort, though, if they are to outrebound Wake’s lengthy bigs.
Mike Young will need his guards to crash the glass and get their usual share of rebounds on the glass, while a big day on the boards from P.J. Horne would be a huge lift for Tech.
The Hokies have all of the momentum coming off two straight ACC wins. Danny Manning and Wake Forest will try to shut down Bede in the backcourt and force turnovers, but I think there will be two X-Factors in the game for Tech – Jalen Cone and Tyrece Radford.
Cone has provided a spark off the bench for the Hokies that carried them to victory at Syracuse and helped Tech back into the game against N.C. State. Mike Young has paired Bede and Cone together in the backcourt more, giving the Hokies’ offense a new dynamic. I think Cone, who is playing fifteen minutes from his hometown of Walkertown, North Carolina, will give Tech a huge lift off the bench against Wake Forest.
I also think Radford will have another solid performance in the maroon and orange. He’s recorded 18 rebounds in his last two games and scored 25 points while shooting 10 of 13 from the field. As Tech’s most efficient shooter (he’s shooting 79.2% in ACC play), I think he’ll score in double figures again in a game where Tech might need his scoring. His play will also be needed on the boards against Wake Forest’s length, but that’s where he’s the most successful. As Wabissa Bede said, “he’s always at the right spot at the right time.”
This should be a pretty close game in Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Wake Forest should keep it close for the majority of the game, but I think the Hokies get after it on the boards and limit their turnovers to pick up their third ACC road win of the season.