Editor's Note: This story was written prior to a report by CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein that Hunter Cattoor would be available. That has since been disputed by observations of on-site reporters including Tech Sideline's David Cunningham who showed Hunter Cattoor in sweats seemingly out while Rodney Rice was warming up. Check out the latest here.
As the New Year approaches, one game remains on this calendar year's slate for Virginia Tech.
2022 was a kind year for Hokies men’s basketball as the team won an ACC Tournament title and only suffered one non-conference loss on this year’s campaign. That said, the Hokies are coming off a loss to Boston College in Chestnut Hill, a recurring thorn in Mike Young’s side.
However, Tech still has a chance to bookend 2022 on a high note when they travel to Winston-Salem to take on 9-4 Wake Forest on New Year’s Eve at noon.
The brutal 70-65 loss Tech suffered at the hand of BC dropped the Hokies out of the AP Top 25 after climbing as high as #21. The Hokies looked slow and sluggish over a week ago, but the holidays have afforded them and the Demon Deacons some much needed rest.
A lot of the outlook on this Wake Forest game will be decided by the availability of Hunter Cattoor. The senior captain suffered a right arm injury in the second half of the Boston College game. Cattoor is questionable for the Wake Forest game and game to game overall. Initially, it was feared that Cattoor would be out with a fracture until February but those fears seem like they may not be true fortunately for the Hokies.
Wake Forest is 9-4 overall and 1-1 in ACC play so far. Get the Deacons away from home and they’re 2-4 but when they play at home, WF is a perfect 7-0 inside LJVM Coliseum.
Wake is 3-3 against major conference opponents with losses to Rutgers, LSU, and Clemson plus a loss to Loyola Marymount outside of the major conferences. The loss to Clemson stands out as it was the Deacons first test of ACC play to which they were taken down a couple of pegs.
However, Wake has some notable wins to their credit so far. They beat Georgia at the start of the season and took down a previously ranked Wisconsin team in Madison. Most recently, the Demon Deacons defeated #17 Duke in Winston-Salem. Unlike the Hokies, Wake is riding high off a statement win but that could play into Tech’s hands.
According to the advanced metrics, Wake Forest is a top 100 team in the country. They rank 83rd in both NET rating and KenPom’s analytics. The Deacons are also 74th according to Bart Torvik, an additional college basketball analytics site that ranks the Hokies 20th. Through a more zoomed in statistical lens, we can see how Wake stacks up to the rest of the ACC.
Currently, Wake is sixth in scoring offense in the ACC, scoring 75.5 points a contest. The Deacons allow 70.8 points a night which is good for fourth in the conference. Furthermore, Wake Forest is top five in both three-point shooting and free throw shooting, hitting 35.5% of their threes and 75% of their free throws respectively. Rebounding is an area where Wake is middle of the pack, they rank eighth in the ACC with 35.5 rebounds per game and 11th in offensive rebounding grabbing 8.7 per game.
The Demon Deacons rely on some old faces and a few new to do their damage. Last year, they had the ACC Player of the Year in Alondes Williams and sharpshooting wing Jake LaRavia. However, with both of those guys gone to the NBA, Wake Forest had done their best to replace that production.
Tyree Appleby is Wake’s leading scorer and assister, averaging a clean 18 points, and 5.3 assists per game while shooting over 42% from three. The fifth year senior and transfer from Florida has done a stellar job of stepping into the primary initiator role for the Deacons. Sophomore guard Cameron Hildreth has stepped up to fill in the shoes of LaRavia so far. He’s averaging 12.3 PPG, second on the team, and a team-high 6.5 RPG. Additionally, Wake has two more double digit scorers in Damari Monsanto at 10.6 and Andrew Carr at 10.1 PPG.
The strength of Wake Forest is their guard play. Three of their four top scorers are guards and the Deacons make a living off scoring that outside in perimeter attack. If the Hokies don’t have Cattoor, their best on-ball defender, that could spell big trouble for Tech as they would be without a lot of options to cover Wake’s trio of guards.
However, one area the Hokies can exploit is in the paint. Wake isn’t a team that’s interior focused on either end and because they lack effective size, mismatches can be created. This could very well be a game where Justyn Mutts scores at will in the post and Grant Basile gets his own inside too.
If Cattoor is a no go Saturday, then Mike Young will more than likely be forced to start MJ Collins, likely regardless of whether Rodney Rice is available or not. Collins has shown flashes of strong defensive potential which can aid the Hokies on that end.
However, the major key will be Tech’s depth in the frontcourt. Not only should the Hokies throw the ball to Mutts and Basile and let them work inside, but they should throw the whole kitchen sink at Wake Forest with the bench play of Lynn Kidd and Mylyjael Poteat.
The size, strength, interior scoring and rebounding advantage that Tech will have must be enough to overcome the difference in guard play. Additionally, Sean Pedulla will be forced to shoulder a heavier creation burden and like any other game this season, he will be up to the task. Virginia Tech ends their 2022 with an important ACC road trip to Wake Forest but in a tight one, the Hokies will end a strong 2022 with a quality road victory on New Year's Eve.