After struggling in their ACC opener at Syracuse
, Virginia Tech returns home in search of their first ACC win of the 2017-18 season. However, the Hokies will face one of their toughest opponents of the season against an eighth-ranked Virginia team that has been better than expected so far this season.
This game presents a fascinating clash of styles between the up-tempo Hokies built around their high-scoring offense and the methodical Cavaliers built around their defense and much slower tempo on offense.
Tony Bennett has built Virginia into one of the ACC's best programs over his nine season in Charlottesville and may have one of his best teams yet. Meanwhile, Buzz Williams has the Hokies on the right track and looking to make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for only the third time in school history.
UVA: Kyle Guy
With London Perrantes graduating, Virginia needed someone else to step up and take the lead on the offensive end. So far, that's been Kyle Guy who is leading the Cavaliers in averaging 15.7 points per game. Guy has seen his shooting volume increase significantly this season, but his shooting percentages have only marginally decreased as Guy is shooting 43.7% from the field and 45.7% from beyond the arc.
Kyle Guy was held to only 11 points on 4-14 shooting against Boston College, but the sophomore guard has had some of his best games against the toughest competition including 29 points at VCU, 18 points against West Virginia and Vanderbilt, and 17 points against Wisconsin. Guy has been the go-to scorer for UVA this season, and it will be important for VT to try to contain him and force someone else to step up in this game.
VT: Justin Robinson
Justin Robinson has developed into one of the best floor generals in the country and while he only averages 10.4 points per game, he's become the hub of the Hokies' offense averaging 5.6 assists per game. More often than not, Robinson runs the VT offense like a seasoned veteran who seems to know exactly where to go or what to do.
However, Robinson has made some sloppy mistakes of his own and has looked out of rhythm at times in recent games. Robinson has been the man who gives the Hokies up-tempo offense a sense of control that often disappears whenever Robinson leaves the floor even when his stay on the bench is only for a few seconds.
Virginia will know the importance of Robinson, and you can expect that Bennett will try to put his best defender on Robinson. If UVA can find a way to get Robinson out of rhythm, it will give the Hokies some problems.
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Virginia Tech clean up the sloppy offense?
Virginia Tech has had some offensive issues with sloppy play that have manifested themselves not only in turnovers, but in some disjointed possessions that lead to some less than ideal shot selections. Those offensive struggles showed the most against Syracuse as the 2-3 zone knocked the Hokies out of rhythm and their sloppiness turned their high-powered offense into looking like a small conference school with Syracuse holding the nation's ninth best offense to 56 points.
The Hokies did find some rhythm late in the game, but the question is can they build on that against a tough UVA defense. Part of that will rely on whether the Hokies can avoid making stupid risky passes when they go into their half-court offense. Virginia has four guys averaging at least one steal per game and will take advantage of any easy opportunity to force a turnover.
If VT has another sloppy offensive performance, they'll miss their opportunity to get that signature win.
2. Who dictates the tempo of this game?
The contrast of styles is what makes this game even more interesting than it would normally be for a rivalry game. Both teams know that they can make a big difference on this game if they can control the tempo in the way that they prefer to given their strengths.
For the Hokies, it will be important for them to find ways to even turn defensive rebounds into transition opportunities. The UVA defense loves to force teams into their slower tempo knowing that they can force a team into a bad shot with only a few seconds left on the shot clock. UVA also has done a great job of protecting the basketball averaging only around 9 turnovers, something that could limit VT's chances to get out and run.
If the Hokies are going to pull off this upset, they have to create transition opportunities even if it's simply by pushing the pace off of a defensive rebound. As VT has shown in the past, they have the athletes and chemistry to effectively do this.
3. Can Virginia Tech get going from beyond the arc?
Virginia Tech was one of the best three-point shooting teams in America, but they've struggled lately from beyond the arc shooting 6-23 from three-point range against North Carolina A&T
and 10-30 against Syracuse. This poor shooting has caused the Hokies' high-scoring offense to cool off significantly and led to their lowest scoring output of the season against Syracuse while also dropping them down to ninth in the nation in points per game.
Against a tough Virginia defense, the Hokies will need to be more efficient than they've been with Ahmed Hill being the only efficient three-point shooter against NC A&T and Nickeil Alexander-Walker being the only effective three-point shooter against Syracuse. The Hokies will need their talented three-point shooting wings to find their rhythm and get going. Otherwise, VT could have some issues scoring if UVA can simply focus on clamping down in the post defensively.
Virginia Tech will benefit a lot from this game being at Cassell Coliseum despite some being concerned about the environment due to the fact that students are on break (trust me, the place will be pretty close to full if it doesn't sell out). The home crowd has made a difference the past two years and should be beneficial this time around as well.
Virginia has found a go-to guy in Kyle Guy with Ty Jerome showing the potential to be a second option if Guy is struggling after having 31 points against Virginia. However, both of these guys also haven't dealt with the go-to kind of pressure on the road in ACC play, making this a tougher test.
The Hokies have always seemed to play better at home, being better at getting into rhythm and feeding off the crowd well. UVA has done well at limiting turnovers, but expect the Hokies to force some mistakes with Chris Clarke and Justin Robinson creating transition opportunities off of some UVA turnovers.
Virginia Tech's rebounding has shown signs of improvement and against a UVA team that doesn't have a lot of size, expect the rebounding differential to not be significant. UVA will slow down the Hokies' offense, but the VT offense will still be effective with Justin Robinson finding a rhythm in front of the Hokie faithful.
If this game was in John Paul Jones Arena, it would be nearly impossible to not pick Virginia in this matchup. However, this game is in Blacksburg, and the Hokies will take advantage of it. Kerry Blackshear will be the x-factor in this game and have a Kentucky-level performance against a UVA frontcourt that lacks size. That combined with improved shooting will be the difference to get the Hokies their first signature win of the season.
Pick: Virginia Tech 71, #8 Virginia 68
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