Virginia Tech has struggled mightily in their first two ACC games with a rough loss at Syracuse and an ugly blowout loss to Virginia. Their high-flying offense has gone into an unprecedented rut being held to 58 and 52 points respectively in their past two games.
VT's recent struggles has put them on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble with a bigger than normal need to start winning some tough games.
While next week's road games are important to building their resume, this game is critical for avoiding what would be a bad home loss to a Pittsburgh team likely to finish last in the ACC. A loss to Pitt would be a second bad loss this season that would be difficult for the Hokies to overcome without a massive amount of quality victories.
Pittsburgh has struggled under Kevin Stallings who has made more headlines off the court than on it including some interesting comments when Pitt played at Louisville this past week.
While the Hokies have simply had a couple of losses, Pittsburgh has become a complete mess with Stallings's remarks overshadowing the fact that Pitt has gone from a regular NCAA Tournament teams 2 years ago under Jamie Dixon to the ACC's worst team with Stallings. If VT fans think a pair of bad games is bad, they can look at what is happening at Pitt and be very thankful that VT is in the shape that it's in.
Pittsburgh: Shamiel Stevenson
Pittsburgh is full of freshmen who have shown their youth this year including Shamiel Stevenson. Stevenson hasn't proven to be a big threat from three-point range, but he has been an efficient shooter overall shooting 52.4% from the field and averaging 10.3 points per game. Stevenson has also had double-digit points in his first two ACC games, and put up a strong stat line against Louisville with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 1 assist.
This is a team that lacks a star, but Stevenson is the most efficient shooter as an undersized forward at 6'6'' and around 230 pounds. . Stevenson is Pitt's version of Chris Clarke and looks like he has a bright future ahead, but this could be a tough matchup against the talented Clarke who can just about do it all outside of stretch the floor as a shooter.
Virginia Tech: Kerry Blackshear
Pittsburgh doesn't have a lot of size, but they'll once again be without their star player, 6'10'' senior forward Ryan Luther. Pitt will only have two players above 6'6'' who are averaging 10 or more minutes per game in 6'9'' freshman Kene Chukwuka and 6'10'' freshman Terrell Brown. This is about as close as you can get to an ideal matchup for Kerry Blackshear who was the one Hokie who had a productive, efficient shooting day against Virginia.
Blackshear hasn't always been consistent, but he has been dominant when he's been at his best including 17 points against Kentucky where he looked almost automatic in the post at times. Blackshear has had some other strong games against quality competition including his 14-point game against UVA, 17 points against Ole Miss, and 20 points against a Radford team that is VT's second best RPI win according to ESPN.
Kerry Blackshear has shown that he can be dominant in the post when facing teams that either have lots of youth in their frontcourt or don't have a lot of depth. Pittsburgh has both of things, making this an ideal matchup for Blackshear. No one should be surprised if Blackshear has one of his best games this season against the Panthers.
What to Watch
1. How does Virginia Tech respond from a blowout loss?
Virginia Tech was humbled this past Wednesday by Virginia in what was the most lopsided game between those two teams since the 1950s. For the Hokies, this is a big moment in their season as VT needs to start winning some basketball games or else they will bury themselves in a nearly impossible hole to dig themselves out of for an at-large bid.
This game will tell us a lot about the character and leadership of this team. With students still on break, this team will have to feed off itself to give themselves energy. The intensity and energy we see from the Hokies will give us some insight into whether this team has the character, discipline, and leadership to right the ship.
Now one thing that shouldn't be taken as "apathy" is the calmer demeanor of Buzz Williams. Buzz was also kind of on the more extreme end in terms of his outward energy so don't take his calmer demeanor as a sign that he doesn't have the same amount of energy. That would be one of the worst hot takes of 2018 when the year is all done.
We will learn some about the character of this team today and how they are responding to the adversity that are facing with the 0-2 hole they've dug themselves in the ACC. While the opponent isn't a big challenge, this game will still teach us a lot about the character of this team.
2. Can Virginia Tech get their offense back going?
Virginia Tech's offense has gone into a funk unlike any that we have seen from this team in years. The Hokies' offense had impressed many across the nation, but their struggles have drawn just about as much attention recently.
The Hokies' offense has largely been plagued by sloppy play and poor turnovers including 16 against Virginia that mitigated the lack of difference in rebounding to leave to a significant gap in the number of shots taken in favor of UVA. Turnovers have been a plague for a couple of weeks while VT's ball movement has been non-existent with the Hokies' assist numbers being down significantly including for Justin Robinson who only had 1 assist against the Cavaliers.
While the Hokies' defense hasn't been too bad, their offense has suddenly become anemic at best. If the Hokies are to get back to playing like the team that had a solid lead over Kentucky at halftime a few weeks ago, they have to get their offense going and it starts with cleaning up the turnovers and increasing their ball movement. This game is about as good of a chance as any to get their offense back on track.
Buzz Williams said after that game that the Hokies' character is being tested. Fortunately, this is a veteran team that has shown in the past that they can win some big games when they need to. Now Zach LeDay and Seth Allen may not be on this team anymore, but these guys know how to win, and you can expect that they will not accept their recent struggles.
This is not only a complete mismatch, but the Hokies will also be a team focused on trying to get an ACC win that they desperately need in a game they know they can't lose. Pittsburgh will also come out desperate for a win in just about every game they play, but they will struggle once again on the road against a team that is by far better than them.
However, the Hokies will have to show it, but I expect veteran guys like Justin Bibbs, Ahmed Hill, and Justin Robinson to step up and make a statement that this team is far from dead. VT's shooting has struggled, but they should find some rhythm again from the outside against the ACC's worst, youngest team. With all those factors plus a big game from Kerry Blackshear, the Hokies will comfortably take care of business against Pitt.
Pick: Virginia Tech 85, Pittsburgh 64
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