The 6th ranked Virginia Cavaliers will make the annual trip to Blacksburg on Saturday to face their rival Virginia Tech Hokies. It’ll be the second meeting between the teams this season. UVA won the first one in Charlottesville by a score of 78-68. Tipoff is scheduled for noon Saturday, televised on ESPN 2.
About Virginia Tech
Head Coach Mike Young is in his fourth season at VT.. The highlight of which was last year’s surprising run to the ACC Tournament title. He has two starters and several other important contributors back from that team/ A couple transfer portal additions were made, and they have a nice crop of freshmen.
The Hokies enter with a 13-9 overall record and a disappointing 3-8 mark in ACC Play. They’ve dealt with some injuries, and lost a handful of very close games. All the rating formulas say this is still a pretty good team. They’re at 54th in the NCAA’s NET rankings, making this a Quad-1 game for the Hoos on the road.
Virginia Tech Personnel
It all starts with sophomore point guard Sean Pedulla (15.7 PPG). He had been in a bit of a shooting slump lately, but had a nice 20-point outing in Tuesday’s loss at Miami. Three-point specialist Hunter Cattoor (10.9 PPG) has been on fire from behind the arc since his return from injury five games ago. And 6-5 junior Darius Maddox (8.5 PPG) typically starts alongside them, although he’s missed the last two games due to personal reasons.
Both frontcourt starters are super seniors taking advantage of their extra season. Wright State transfer big man Grant Basile (14.9 PPG) has turned it on lately. He’s the most recent ACC Player of the Week after a pair of big outings in last week’s wins over Duke and Syracuse. And forward Justyn Mutts (12.7 PPG) has been a fixture in the Hokies lineup for three years now.
The Hokies don’t have a lot of depth. Freshman guard MJ Collins (3.9 PPG) has been in and out of the starting lineup when they’ve had injuries. And they’ve occasionally gotten a nice scoring lift from junior forward Lynn Kidd (5.5 PPG).
Point Guard Battle
The point guard battle has been a real story in this series recently. Virginia’s Kihei Clark got the better of VT’s Sean Pedulla in the first meeting. Clark scored a season high 20 points in that game. And just as importantly, he clearly bothered Pedulla defensively all night. The Hokie star was held to 10 points, and just did not have his usual impact.
Last season, it was Kihei who struggled against the Hokies. He only scored eight total points in the two meetings, including a horrid 1-9 performance in the loss in Blacksburg. He’s also had some great moments there, hitting the game winning three-pointer at the buzzer in 2020.
Mike Young’s team has been hit hard by injuries this season, particularly at guard. Senior Hunter Cattoor is back playing well now. But they lost four straight conference games in his absence. Darius Maddox has missed the last two games while dealing with a family situation. And prized freshman Rodney Rice was expected to be a key contributor. He returned from injury in early January, only to be set back again by a broken finger after playing just one game.
They’ve only had all of the usual starters for five ACC games so far. And I expect that’s the lineup we’ll see on Saturday. There’s no official word on Maddox’s situation, but Mike Young seemed to have hope of him playing on Tuesday. So, it’s likely he’ll be in action on Saturday. Other than Rice, we’ll probably get the full-strength Hokies.
Rivalry Game With Implications
It’s always a hostile environment in Blacksburg. This is the circled game of the year for Hokie fans. And this time around, they feel like the season could be riding on Saturday’s outcome. I expect it to be especially intense.
Despite the poor conference record, there’s still legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes for Tech. Their schedule lightens up after this. They already have quality wins over Duke and North Carolina. If they can knock off the Hoos and finish league play strong, they’ll be right back in the tourney picture.
For UVA, they’re in control of their own destiny for the ACC regular season title. With Boston College’s upset of Clemson this week, the Hoos are tied in the loss column with the first place Tigers. This trip to Blacksburg is one of the biggest hurdles left on the schedule. If they can come out with a win on Saturday, the path to another banner looks pretty favorable
(Featured Image Credit: Getty Images)