(Image – Ryan Hunt – Roanoke Times)
In the first contest of this season’s Commonwealth Clash, UVA tips off versus Virginia Tech in Blacksburg at 6 PM eastern time. In a day of jubilee for UVA basketball fans following top-2022 recruiting target Isaac McKneely’s commitment to the university, the ‘Hoos will look to put the cherry on top this evening and improve to 8-0 in the ACC.
What Virginia Tech has done so far
The Hokies have had an up and down season. Opening the year with a statement win over Villanova, Tech impressed early in the season and have picked up some nice ACC wins over Duke and Clemson. But, they’ve also dropped a couple of head-scratchers as they lost to Penn State by 20 points and to Syracuse by 18. As of now, the Hokies are 12-3 overall with a 6-2 ACC record which has them sitting third in the conference behind UVA and FSU.
Breaking Virginia Tech down
Big man Kevin Aluma leads Tech on both ends of the floor. As a physical, 6’9” 235 pound center, Aluma averages over 13 points per game, grabs more than seven boards per contest, and blocks 1.4 shots per game. He’s active on both ends of the floor and, while he’s not a very good perimeter shooter (he’s 9-32 from three-point range on the season), Aluma is a willing shooter as head coach Mike Young looks to try and spread the floor.
In the backcourt, the recent indefinite suspension of guard Tyrece Radford following his arrest for drunk driving and concealed carry hurts Tech in a number of ways. Now, other guards including Wabissa Bede, Nahiem Alleyne, and Jalen Cone will be relied upon more to make up for Radford’s absence.
Cone, at 5’10”, is a very questionable defender which limits his minutes. But, when he’s in, he’s a dangerous shooter on the offense end and can make defenses pay for giving him space. Bede isn’t the most dynamic of offensive players and, in contrast to Cone, is on the floor for defense and to just keep the offense running. Then, Alleyne and Hunter Cattoor are two additional shooters in the backcourt. The 6’7” Justin Mytts is the second guy in the Hokie frontcourt and provides some additional athleticism.
The Hokies have some nice length which can be bothersome defensively. That said, their offense is highly reliant on Aluma battling inside and then that their guards will make shots on the perimeter.
UVA will win if: the ‘Hoos can keep feeding Sam Hauser and Jay Huff. The Virginia starting frontcourt is combining to average over 32 points per game in ACC play and if those two can maintain that level of production, it’ll be hard for the Hokies to keep up. On the other end, it’s all about stopping Aluma.
Virginia Tech will win if:
Aluma can play bully ball and put Tech on his back. Defensively, the Hokies will hope to force the UVA guards to beat them and look to quiet Huff and Hauser down with Aluma and Mytts matched up with them.
Score prediction: UVA 71 – Virginia Tech 63
I expect this to be fairly back and forth for a while. Games between these two squads in Castle Coliseum always seem to be tight. That said, look for the ‘Hoos to pull away late.