After losing to Saint Louis
and beating Washington
at the 2K Classic, Virginia Tech returns home to face a struggling Houston Baptist team. The Hokies are expected to blow out the Huskies, but the Huskies kept it competitive against a solid Belmont team last week, and might be able to stay in this game longer than expected.
Houston Baptist is led by Ron Cottrell who is in his 27th season as the head coach of the Huskies. Cottrell has had a fair amount of success with his teams making appearances in the CBI and CIT the past two seasons, and making 10 straight NAIA Tournaments before beginning to make their climb to Division I within the past decade.
So far this season, the Huskies look like a rebuilding team. Houston Baptist is 1-3 entering this game with a blowout loss to Providence, and two losses in Nashville to Belmont and Detroit Mercy. Houston Baptist doesn't have a lot of experienced talent, but they do have some talent in their frontcourt.
Senior center Josh Ibarra is averaging a double-double so far this season averaging 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game. Ibarra had a pair of big games in Nashville, but struggled at Providence with only 8 points and 5 rebounds.
Kerry Blackshear has had a very up-and-down start to the season with no points and 1 rebound against Washington after having at least 10 points and 6 rebounds in each of his first three games. Blackshear will look to bounce back in this matchup against a solid big man in Ibarra with this being a great confidence for him to build up some confidence with the ACC-Big 10 Challenge game with Iowa looming next week.
The matchup between Ibarra and Blackshear should be the premier matchup to keep an eye on as the Huskies will need Ibarra to play well in order to have any chance at staying in this game into the second half.
The other matchup to watch also comes between two undersized, athletic forwards who are great at attacking the glass in Chris Clarke and Houston Baptist's David Caraher. Caraher is averaging 16.8 points and 6.3 rebounds so far this season including 19 points and 7 rebounds against Providence. Meanwhile, Clarke leads the Hokies in rebounds with 8.8 per game in addition to averaging 8.8 points per game.
Caraher has been a pleasant surprise for the Huskies, but Clarke is always a difficult matchup as the junior forward knows how to make life extremely difficult on both ends. Chris Clarke hasn't played more than 22 minutes yet with that not being likely to change in this game, but he has been extremely efficient shooting 60% while averaging more rebounds and assists so far this season despite playing nine less minutes per game.
Expect another stat-stuffing performance from Clarke even if he doesn't play more than 20 minutes while Caraher will be significantly challenge by Clarke.
The big difference in this matchup is the fact that Virginia Tech is a significantly more efficient team offensively than Houston Baptist. The Huskies are shooting only 43.6% from the field while the Hokies are shooting 57.3% from the field and 47.6% from beyond the arc. Virginia Tech's significant shooting advantage will show in this matchup with the Huskies having a big challenge keeping the Hokies under 100 points.
Justin Bibbs missed the first two games of the season due to failing to meet the standards that Buzz Williams holds him to. Bibbs returned at the 2K Classic and shined averaging 22.5 points while shooting 66.7% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. Bibbs played like he was in midseason form and will be a key player for the Hokies on both ends of the floor this season, taking on some of the lead scoring role left by Zach LeDay and Seth Allen.
Ahmed Hill also shined in New York City and is averaging 22 points and 5 rebounds per game on 66.7% shooting and 60% from beyond the arc through 4 games. Freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker has showed tons of promise averaging 19.3 points per game while shooting 53.2% from the field and 45.8% from beyond the arc. NAW has also scored at least 20 points in three of his four games.
This trio of wings will give plenty of teams problems and their impressive shooting makes it hard for any opponent to focus on just one of them, creating space for all three and lanes for guys like Chris Clarke and Justin Robinson to attack when two or more are on the floor.
Virginia Tech is by far the better basketball team with this game presenting another opportunity for Buzz Williams to get young backups like Wabissa Bede, PJ Horne, and Tyrie Jackson significant playing time. All three of these players have shown plenty of potential and will benefit from receiving some extra playing time tonight.
Houston Baptist might able to keep it close for 7-10 minutes, but this game should be a blowout as VT's first two games were. The biggest question is whether the Hokies can break the 100-point mark for the fourth time this season?
After an up-and-down 2K Classic, Virginia Tech will win their fourth game by a margin of 20 or more points against Houston Baptist.
Pick: Virginia Tech 102, Houston Baptist 70
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