After picking up an important win against Pittsburgh
, Virginia Tech heads on the road for an intriguing ACC game against Wake Forest. Given the tough home ACC slate, VT will likely need at least 3-4 road victories to make the NCAA Tournament with this game being one of the best opportunities.
The Demon Deacons have shown plenty of potential at times but have had a very up-and-down season befitting of their 8-7 record that includes win over Syracuse and Illinois, but losses to Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Drake. Right now, Wake Forest is in bad shape to make any postseason tournament after making last year's NCAA Tournament, but they can start to give themselves a shot if they can pull off the upset.
Wake Forest wouldn't be a great resume win for the Hokies, but it's one they need to get given the tough home schedule they have in ACC play this season with 5 ranked teams still to come to Cassell Coliseum.
Wake Forest: Bryant Crawford
It may seem like Bryant Crawford has been around for a while, yet the Demon Deacons' star guard is only a junior and still has another year of eligibility after this season. Crawford has consistently been one of the lead scorers for this Wake team, and currently leads the Demon Deacons this season averaging 16.2 points per game.
Bryant Crawford hasn't been the most efficient scorer shooting only 40.7% from the field and 36.5% from beyond the arc, but Crawford has been lights out at the free-throw line shooting 90.7% from the charity stripe. Crawford has had Keyshawn Woods to help lead the charge in the backcourt for most of the season, but Woods was out for Wake's game at Boston College and his status for tonight's game is unknown.
If Woods is out, Wake will need a big game from Crawford, their veteran guard. Crawford did step up in Woods's absence against BC with 24 points including 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc, but Wake will need Crawford to be much more efficient than 8-24 against VT.
Virginia Tech: Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Nickeil Alexander-Walker was quiet towards to end of non-conference play, but the Hokies' star freshman has picked up his play as ACC play has gotten under way. In the past three games, NAW has scored at least 16 points twice with a disappointing 3-point performance against UVA in between.
The talented freshman has picked up his play and while his three-point shooting has been inconsistent (4-8 vs. Syracuse, 1-8 vs. Pitt), his scoring has been as NAW has found ways to score including a pair of tough and-1s in the second half against Pitt. Alexander-Walker could be relied on down the stretch against the Panthers to find ways to score, filling in the gap for Justin Bibbs who had one of the worst shooting days of his career going 1-8.
The question is can Alexander-Walker keep this going throughout ACC play? If he can, NAW can be a difference maker for the Hokies that helps push this team to a strong performance in the ACC that quiets fans' concerns about making the NCAA Tournament.
Keys to the Game
1. Can Virginia Tech get its three-point shooting going?
Virginia Tech had one of its worst three-point shooting performances in recent memory if not program history against Pitt. The Hokies shot a pitiful 4-23 from beyond the arc with Kerry Blackshear being the only Hokie who made more than 25% of the three-pointers he attempted (2-3).
Despite that, the Hokies were still able to beat a bad Pitt team by 14 points, but could have easily beat them by 25-30 points if they even shot a disappointing 30-35% from three. The Hokies' poor three-point shooting covered up the fact that their offense looked a lot more like the one that had impressed many during non-conference play with their ball movement and consistent attacking of the rim in addition to cleaning up the turnovers.
Against Wake, the Hokies can't afford to have another nightmare three-point shooting performance. While VT dominated Pitt, the Panthers were able to stay in the game because of the large disparity in three-point shooting. Against a Wake team that has a lot more talent than Pitt, the Hokies can't afford to have another
2. Can VT continue to limit the turnovers?
The Hokies took a significant step in the right direction after only having 6 turnovers against Pittsburgh while the Panthers had 17. Tonight, they face a Wake team that is averaging 13.6 turnovers per game, but is also forcing 6.5 steals per game.
We saw lots of improvement with the Hokies' ball movement with the Hokies not only increasing their ball movement, but making smart passes that limited PItt's opportunities to force turnovers. Against Wake, the Hokies will need to be smart with the basketball not only to avoid giving away opportunities, but also to help limit the margin of shots taken in this game.
Wake has a good amount of size and while Kerry Blackshear has played well recently, VT's lack of size likely will lead to at least a minor rebounding disparity that will give Wake some extra shots. With Wake not being as efficient as the Hokies on offense, keeping that margin close will make a difference.
With the Hokies facing a tough home slate, VT needs to have a good amount of success on the road beating the teams they're supposed to and that starts tonight against Wake Forest. The status of Keyshawn Woods will be a factor as it would be a significant loss for the Demon Deacons to not have Woods against the Hokies.
Kerry Blackshear shined against Pitt, but will face a tougher challenge tonight against Wake's 7'1'' center Doral Moore. While Blackshear should have a solid performance in the post, the Hokies shouldn't be expecting Blackshear to have another 30-point game.
Virginia Tech will need their guard to step up including Justin Robinson who appears to be out of his funk and back to being one of the best floor generals in the country after having a double-double against Pitt (11 points, 10 assists). The battle at the point between Crawford and Robinson should be fascinating to watch, but the Hokies' junior PG found some rhythm against Pitt and seems poised for another strong performance.
VT had an atrocious three-point shooting performance against Pittsburgh, but don't expect the Hokies to have that bad of a game from beyond the arc against Wake. If VT can get guys like Justin Bibbs, Ahmed Hill, and NAW firing from all cylinders from beyond the arc; Wake will have a tough time staying in this one.
The Demon Deacons are a solid team and should make this game interesting but without Keyshawn Woods, Wake doesn't really have a second guy to take the lead load off of Crawford. VT is also a more efficient team shooting the basketball even when they are struggling from three as they went 30-57 overall against Pitt. The Hokies should be better from 3 in this game and that combined with a big game from Robinson and Wake being without Woods will make the difference in VT's first road ACC victory of the season.
Pick: Virginia Tech 84, Wake Forest 78
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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