Virginia Tech at #8 Louisville Preview and Pick

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Feb 18, 2017
[caption id="attachment_4760" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Can the Hokies upset Louisville? [Credit: Harley Taylor][/caption]The Virginia Tech Hokies have finally been able to catch their breath over the past few days after a wild three days that started with Sunday night's incredible comeback win at Virginia, followed by finding out Monday that Chris Clarke had torn his ACL and would be out for the season, and then bouncing back Tuesday with their second-straight win and first without Clarke on the road against Pittsburgh. Now, the Hokies faced undoubtedly their toughest game left on the schedule on the road at an eighth-ranked Louisville team that is in contention not only to win the ACC regular season title but also is a serious contender to earn a #1 seed. For the Cardinals, protecting home floor will be critical in their pursuit of a top seed and that includes this game against Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, the Hokies are in very good shape to make the NCAA Tournament and if VT can pull a big upset over Louisville, not only would the Hokies likely be headed for the top 25 but talk of a 6 or 7 seed would likely start for the Hokies.

Key Matchup: Zach LeDay, Khadim Sy vs. Louisville Frontcourt

The Hokies will need some production from the paint in this game, and Zach LeDay and Khadim Sy will be facing a difficult challenge against a Louisville frontcourt that doesn't have a star but one that has plenty of quality and depth. On top of that, Louisville has proven to be fantastic on the glass on both ends and in this matchup, the Hokies will need LeDay and Sy doing damage in the post especially on the glass. One good sign is that LeDay seems to be rebounding the ball well again with two double-doubles in his past three games with the Hokies needing another double-double from him to have a chance at upsetting Louisville. Sy likely will only play 10 to 15 minutes but the Hokies could definitely use him to create some lanes in the post by drawing big men away from the basket along with being effective on the glass which he has been able to do in big games with 10 points and 4 rebounds in VT's win over UVA and 6 rebounds in only 9 minutes against Duke. Virginia Tech needs the big men to play against a Louisville frontcourt that is loaded with talent including Jayden Johnson and Mangok Mathiang who are both averaging over 6 rebounds in 20 to 22 minutes per game. Virginia Tech's pair of forwards has lots of responsibility in this matchup to try and slow down a Louisville team that knows how to crash the glass and get second chance opportunities along with trying to get Louisville's big men to the free-throw line in case of a late-game deficit. If LeDay and Sy both have big games and win this battle, Louisville will definitely have plenty of reason to be nervous about being upset.

Keys to the Game

1. Take advantage of transition opportunities.

Much like Virginia, Louisville does a great job at protecting the basketball, limiting the amount of transition opportunities that the Hokies will get in this basketball game. For a Virginia Tech team who has been quite good in transition and on fast breaks this season, they will have to take advantage consistently when they get transition opportunities by either getting a bucket or getting to the line. Louisville also has their fair share of quality athletes that can make scoring on fast breaks more challenging given how they have the athleticism to get back into the play defensively when they get caught in transition. Fast break efficiency is going to be important for the Hokies and missing those transition opportunities will prove costly for the Hokies in this game.

2. Be competitive on the glass.

While Virginia Tech is definitely not nearly as good of a rebounding team as Louisville, they are going have to rebound much better than normal if they want to have a chance to pull off the upset against a Louisville team that relies a lot on offensive rebounding and second chance points especially since they shoot 44.9% from the field and 35.8% from three compared to the Hokies shooting 48.1% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc. However, Louisville is quite good at crashing the boards being tied for 13th in the nation in total rebounding (40.3 rebounds per game) and tied for 15th in the nation in offensive rebounding (13.5 offensive rebounds per game). Louisville has done this largely to how they have plenty of talented rebounders with five players averaging 4.5 rebounds per game compared to only one healthy player for Virginia Tech. While Louisville should win the battle on the glass in this game, the Hokies can't afford to get obliterated on the glass as they did by North Carolina.

X-Factors

For Virginia Tech: Ahmed Hill showed some signs of life offensively and from three-point range against Pittsburgh as he led the Hokies with 17 points while also shooting 3-for-6 from beyond the arc, the first time Hill made more than 1 three-pointer in a game since the Hokies beat Syracuse on January 10th. Hill entered the Pitt game in a very bad slump after a great start to the season especially from beyond the arc, but now Hill may be getting back going. For the Hokies to pull off the upset, they're going to have to be effective from beyond the arc and if Hill has his confidence back, he could be the guy to make the difference on the final outcome. Of course, Hill will have to deal with a hostile environment and a Louisville team that has plenty of depth to make life difficult on the Hokies' shooters. For Louisville: Anas Mahmoud is one of the best shot blockers in the ACC and we've seen Virginia Tech have issues with quality shot blockers including Georgia Tech's Ben Lammers who had 8 blocks against the Hokies earlier this season. While Mahmoud doesn't average as many blocks per game overall but per 40 minutes; the Louisville junior average over 4.5 blocks compared to 3.8 for Lammers. Mahmoud is only averaging 19.4 minutes per game but against a small Virginia Tech frontcourt, Mahmoud seems set to be in line to get more playing time with Rick Pitino likely seeing how Lammers was significantly able to affect Virginia Tech offensively in the first half of Georgia Tech's one-point loss to the Hokies. Don't be surprised to see Mahmoud play a much higher than normal amount of minutes this game and potentially make a big difference.

Prediction

This is going to be a very difficult matchup for the Hokies on the road against an elite Louisville defense that ranks best in the nation in points allowed per 100 possessions. The Hokies also will be facing a Louisville frontcourt loaded with size that can cause plenty of issues and allow the Cards to have two big men on the floor consistently and either force VT to use Khadim Sy more or try to find a way to use their lack of size to an advantage against a Louisville team that also has plenty of very good athletes. For Virginia Tech to pull off the upset, they are going to have the shoot the ball well with Seth Allen, Justin Bibbs, and Ahmed Hill leading the charge from beyond the arc while they will also need veteran leaders like Allen and Zach LeDay to go on the road and have the type of strong performances that can make a game a lot more interesting than expected. Louisville isn't a great shooting team but their defense and rebounding are both impressive and will give the Hokies' problem while Louisville's deep rotation will help as well. Virginia Tech will have a fairly efficient day from the field led by Allen and LeDay, but Louisville is undoubtedly the better team and led by one of the biggest breakout stars of the ACC this year, Donovan Mitchell, Louisville will comfortably take care of business against the Hokies.

Pick: #8 Louisville 87, Virginia Tech 72