The first high profile meeting between these two schools since the streak came an end, this should be a heated matchup. Both programs are in transition years, Virginia Tech welcoming a new coach and new system, while Virginia looks to recover from the departure of the stars of last season’s team.
So far this season, Virginia Tech is 10-3 with a signature win against Michigan State. Outside of that game though, the Hokies have one win against a top-200 team on KenPom, against Clemson (#98) in the season opener. In their remaining games against quality opponents, Virginia Tech has faced Duke (#1), BYU (#36), Dayton (#8), and Michigan State (#4).
While the win against the Spartans was impressive, they followed that up with three straight losses, losing by an average of eighteen points per contest. Now, those games were against very good teams so few expected them to win. But, what became apparent is that because this team is so young, they are very inconsistent. One night they can beat an elite Michigan State team, and on another they’ll have to scrape out a five-point win at home against Chattanooga.
Head Coach Mike Young runs a nine-man rotation, punctuated by six freshmen. They’re a relatively small team, only playing one true big in 6’10” freshman John Ojiako, who plays 12.1 minutes per contest. Star redshirt freshman Landers Nolley starts at the five for Virginia Tech, and at 6’7” is undersized in comparison to the lineups Virginia can use. That said, Tech relies on a five-out offense where each man can hit the deep ball, so going big for offensive purposes could create issues on the defensive end for the Wahoos.
Overall, Virginia Tech is ranked 60th on KenPom with the 38th most efficient offense (107.6 rating) and the 84th best rated defense in the country (95.3 rating).
On the offensive end, the Hokies are led by Nolley, who scores 17.4 PPG in numerous ways. He’s an elite three-point shooter, at 43.5% on 6.5 attempts per contest. He’s also shifty enough to get to the rim, especially when matched up on the opposing team’s centers in Tech’s smaller lineups. Braxton Key and Mamadi Diakite will likely be the matchups for Nolley. Given he plays so frequently at center, this will likely be a game where Caffaro and Huff ride the bench in favor of Justin McKoy, Key, and Diakite. That said, if Huff or Caffaro could survive defensively against the quicker Nolley or another of Tech’s smaller players, it would be a massive advantage for the Wahoos as they’d be able to exploit Tech’s lack of height on the other end.
As a team, Virginia Tech relies heavily on three-point shooting, taking 46.2% (22nd most) of their shots from deep, and getting 43.5% (4th most) of their points from behind the arc. Fortunately for the Hokies, they are an elite shooting team at 39.4% from three-point range, 10th in the nation. They also rarely turn the ball over, posting a 14.2% turnover rate, 3rd in the country. These aspects of their offense make them deadly, as they can make shots, and don’t hurt themselves by giving up opportunities.
The offense is predicated on off ball screening, similarly to Virginia’s mover blocker set. But what make’s Young’s schemes so unique is that all off ball players have the freedom to screen and cut, keeping the defense guessing as to the intent of each action.
Junior Wabissa Bede is the Hokies’ primary ball handler, as he acts as a distributor, dishing out 6.4 assists per game, and only scoring 6.5 points per contest. Tech’s offense is predicated on driving and then kicking for three-point tries, and Bede is the driving threat who then works to find open men on the perimeter. The Hokies’ other main offensive contributors are Nahiem Alleyne, P.J. Horne, and Hunter Cattoor. Horne and Cattoor shoot 44.6% and 43.2% from deep, acting as floor spacers to the drives of Bede and Nolley. The helping nature of Virginia’s defense could be exploited by Tech’s shooting prowess, as Tech is consistently looking for the open man on the outside.
Defensively, despite using smaller lineups, the Hokies find a way to stay out of foul trouble. In fact, they’re 18% defensive free throw rate (opposing team’s attempted free throws divided by opposing team’s field goal attempts) is second only to Notre Dame nationwide (for context, Virginia is fifth best at 20.2%). The Hokies are also a surprisingly good defensive rebounding team, only allowing offensive rebounds on 25.2% of opposing teams’ misses, 66th in the country.
Again, if Huff and/or Caffaro could play significant minutes in this game by surviving defensively, it would be a huge help to the Virginia offense, both on the offensive boards, and in the post. That said, we could see a four-guard lineup for the first time this season (considering Key as a hybrid big man, not a guard), perhaps with Stattmann at the four. Of course, Diakite is likely a favorable matchup for Nolley on defense, and can probably bully the freshman in the post and then force Tech to send help, when Diakite could then kick and allow the guards to attack closeouts or shoot over them.
Virginia will win if: They can prevent Tech from touching the paint, as VT bases their offense on kick outs off of drives. Throwing the ball inside early should also be a point of emphasis for Bennett, as they’ll need inside scoring to keep up with such a high-volume shooting team in Tech.
Virginia Tech will win if: They can consistently hit from three and not let Virginia exploit the size disadvantage on the other end. In my opinion, Nolley is the key in this game, and his ability to drive on the pack line could be the deciding factor.
Score Prediction: Virginia 59 – Virginia Tech 55
I went back and forth on this prediction, but VT’s lack of experience and the fact that this game is in JPJ is what decided it for me. Tech will get hot, but UVA’s defense will be disruptive enough to prevent an absolute scoring barrage. On offense, I like the matchup down low enough that UVA will be able to score a sufficient number of points.