Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Preview and Pick

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP | Feb 14, 2017
[caption id="attachment_4760" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Can the Hokies take down Pittsburgh? [Credit: Harley Taylor][/caption]The Virginia Tech Hokies have had a wild couple of days starting on Sunday when the Hokies came from down 14 at halftime to beat Virginia 80-78 in double overtime thanks to a five-foot shot from Seth Allen inside the final four seconds of the second overtime. However, the Hokies received some tough news yesterday that Chris Clarke is out for the season due to a torn ACL suffered against Virginia. After only a day off from Sunday's game, the Hokies head up the road to take on a Pittsburgh team that needs to get hot if they want a chance to make the NCAA Tournament with their record being 14-11 overall, but 3-9 in the ACC. Pittsburgh has only won two home ACC games in their first season under new head coach Kevin Stallings and seem very likely to end up in the NIT if they can finish a couple games above .500 overall while the Hokies are still in good position to make the NCAA Tournament despite the loss of Chris Clarke.

Key Matchup: Zach LeDay vs. Michael Young

The two senior forwards face off in a matchup of each team's leading scorer that could make a big difference on this game. Michael Young is having the best year of his collegiate career averaging 20.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while Zach LeDay is leading the charge for the Hokies averaging 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. LeDay should be one of the more rested players for the Hokies after not playing in either overtime against UVA due to fouling out right at the end of regulation against the Cavaliers. That rest could make a big difference in a difficult matchup against Young who has had at least 20 points in each of his last three games and has only been held to single digits in points once this season in Miami. LeDay and Young are two of the best veteran forwards in the ACC and this should be a great matchup to watch that could make a difference if one of these two guys goes off for a huge night.

Keys to the Game

1. Prevent mismatches on the glass.

There have been times this season where Virginia Tech has given up offensive rebounds not because no one was boxing out but simply because a mismatch of a box out with a Seth Allen or Justin Robinson boxing out a big man, and that forward being able to basically reach over Allen or Robinson and take the rebound without getting a foul either. With Chris Clarke out, the Hokies will not only need Zach LeDay and Khadim Sy being consistent at grabbing rebounds but will also need wings like Ty Outlaw, Ahmed Hill, and Justin Bibbs to be more consistent in crashing the glass. Bibbs had a strong game on the glass against UVA with 6 rebounds and the Hokies will need their wings to be pulling down rebounds at a more consistent rate especially against a Pitt team loaded with length and size.

2. Protect the perimeter.

Pittsburgh is loaded with guys who can stretch the floor and shoot the three with four of their top 5 players in minutes per game shooting over 35% from beyond the arc including big men Michael Young and Sheldon Jeter. Virginia Tech will have to do better defensively in this game especially on the perimeter where the Hokies have had some issues in the past. Help defense will be critical as Virginia Tech will have to be smart in how their defense handles a Pittsburgh team that will likely look to stretch the floor offensively to create lanes with the size that they possess. The Hokies will be at a size disadvantage in this game, but VT's athleticism could be beneficial here in closing out on open shooters.

X-Factors

For Virginia Tech: Ty Outlaw will likely see a big jump in his playing time after the Hokies lost Chris Clarke for the season and Outlaw could be in line to jump from around 10-15 minutes a night to around 25. Outlaw has been fairly quiet all season, but came up with the big tip to force overtime against Virginia and now will be vaulted in a larger role. Outlaw has the potential to be a big difference maker as someone who will definitely fly under the radar into this game, but as someone who may be used some as the five when both Zach LeDay and Khadim Sy need rest. Outlaw has shown at times that he can be a quality rebounder and he has shot a respectable 37.5% from three but with a new larger role, it'll be interesting to see if he steps up and takes his game up a notch. For Pittsburgh: Cameron Johnson flies under the radar behind Pittsburgh's star senior duo of Michael Young and Jamel Artis but Johnson is the future for Pitt and presents a potentially significant mismatch at 6'8'' as a guard that could give a smaller Virginia Tech some problems. Johnson has been quite shooting the basketball shooting 44.7% from the field, 42.3% from beyond the arc, and 82.1% from the free-throw line while averaging 12 points per game. Johnson has shown that if he gets hot from three, he can make a big difference as he did with 22 points against Syracuse that included 6-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc and 24 points at North Carolina that included 6-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc. If there's a player that could be the x-factor given this matchup and the focus that will likely be on Young and Artis, it's Cameron Johnson, the only Pitt player other than Young or Artis averaging 8 or more points per game.

Prediction

Pittsburgh has the advantage of having had an extra day of rest and having back-to-back home games after a big home win over Syracuse this weekend, but the Hokies will be ready to go for this game tonight. Virginia Tech knows that getting a win tonight would be another boost that would give even more confidence about their NCAA Tournament hopes and allow to start talking about whether this team could climb as high as the 6 or 7 seed line. Pittsburgh has been tough at times at home this season, but also has been inconsistent upsetting Virginia and beating Syracuse but also getting beat by 55 by Louisville and by 26 by Miami, both of which came at home. Pittsburgh does seem to be heating up now with a dangerous duo of Michael Young and Jamel Artis leading the charge but if the Hokies can slow one of them down, it could cause some big issues. The Hokies still have their veterans in Zach LeDay and Seth Allen ready to lead the charge and have big games tonight while this team seemed to get back to the aggressive, high octane style. This is a matchup of speed vs. size with Pitt having the size advantage and Virginia Tech having the speed advantage. However, Pitt doesn't have anyone taller than 6'9'' in their rotation and Virginia Tech has shown that they can rebound effectively against a team like that. This will be a very close game, but Pittsburgh doesn't have the same depth of scorers that the Hokies do even without Chris Clarke and that will make a difference in this game as the Hokies will go on the road and get a big win over Pittsburgh in what will be a nail-bitter.

Pick: Virginia Tech 75, Pittsburgh 73