After a grueling road trip in which they surprised many doubters by going 2-1, Virginia Tech returns home to Cassell to host the Clemson Tigers. The Hokies faced the ACC’s top 2 teams, Virginia and Duke, along with Georgia Tech, all on their home floors. Despite what experts said, they were able to get wins against Virginia and Georgia Tech.
The Hokies are one of the ACC’s hotter teams, and have inched their way into a tie for 6th in the conference. Now, they face a Clemson team that has quietly been one of the biggest surprises in the nation.
Clemson has certainly shocked many basketball experts this season. In what was likely a do-or-die season for coach Brad Brownell, his experienced roster has slowly inched their way into the top 15 with a 20-6 record. Now, Brownell is a top contender for ACC Coach of the Year alongside UVA’s Tony Bennett. Many expected a decent season from the Tigers, but few expected this much success.
Clemson’s NCAA status is not dependent on this game. However, this matchup still brings urgency as they are fighting for a top 4 seed in the ACC Tournament. They are only half a game ahead of NC State and a game ahead of the Hokies for the final double-bye.
Meanwhile, the Hokies would love to capitalize on this opportunity for a Quadrant 1 victory against a RPI top-30 team. In addition, they too are only a game behind 4th place. While this game is not necessarily vital for their NCAA hopes, their chances at a double-bye would take a big hit with a loss to the Tigers.
Fortunately for Tech, the Tigers have lost two in a row.
Not only that, but Clemson is also dealing with critical injuries. Senior leader and all-around star Donte Grantham tore his ACL in January, and point guard Shelton Mitchell is dealing with a concussion. Mitchell is still listed as questionable, but Brownell said Tuesday evening that he would not play. Clemson has not been the same team without Grantham, and Mitchell’s absence will certainly hold them back.
Virginia Tech: Justin Robinson
The point guard battle will be crucial, as Virginia Tech’s Justin Robinson has been one of the best in the league this season. Robinson recovered from a rough outing against Duke with 18 points in just 23 minutes against Georgia Tech. Robinson is leading the Hokies in scoring, assists, and steals. He is averaging 16.6 points in ACC games, and has scored in double figures in all but one game.
As Robinson goes, so does Virginia Tech. Mitchell’s absence will be a huge opportunity for Robinson to give the Hokies the boost they need.
Clemson: Marcquise Reed
With the Tigers missing two of their top 4 scorers, it will be essential for their best remaining player to show out. Reed is first on the team with 15.6 points to go with 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. In a time when his team is riddled with injuries, this is Reed’s opportunity to put the Tigers on his back.
Keys to the game
1. Win the battle of the benches
One of Clemson’s greatest weaknesses is their lack of depth. Due to their injuries, the Tigers will only have three players suit up who average double-digit points per game. Their next leading scorer averages 4. The Hokies’ bench, led by Chris Clarke and Ahmed Hill, has an opportunity to give the team a huge advantage while the second units are on the floor. The Hokies don’t necessarily have the deepest bench, but Clarke and Hill are certainly better scoring threats than anyone from Clemson’s bench. Wabissa Bede, PJ Horne, and Tyrie Jackson also have opportunities to make decent contributions.
2. Limit offensive rebounds
One of the biggest pitfalls for the Hokies this season has been their inability to crash the boards on defense. In many of their losses, they have allowed far too many offensive rebounds. ACC opponents average 9.3 offensive rebounds in wins vs. the Hokies.
Clemson is not one of the better rebounding teams in the ACC, and they will be missing a large chunk of their rebounding Wednesday night. Grantham and Mitchell combine for 9.7 of the Tigers 36 rebounds per game. In theory, the Hokies should be able to limit the Tigers ability to get second chance looks, but one can never be certain with the Hokies' rebounding.
These are two of the most experienced teams in the ACC, so both teams are already very familiar with each other. While Clemson is probably the better team, the Hokies have a lot of momentum on their side.
The Tigers have lost two in a row and are crushed by injuries. Meanwhile, the Hokies are feeling pretty good about themselves after a highly successful road trip.
Earlier in the season, Clemson would have likely been a runaway in this matchup. However, with higher stakes, more momentum, and home-court advantage, the Hokies will have the upper hand.
Expect the Hokies to take care of business at home and quite possibly cement their place in the Field of 68 by picking up one of their best wins of the season.
Pick: Virginia Tech 75, #15 Clemson 70