#21 Virginia Tech looks for road victory in tilt with #12 Florida on Saturday
The 21st-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies (12-2, 1-1 ACC) hit the road for the second time this week to face-off against the #12 Florida State Seminoles (14-1, 2-0 ACC), looking to rebound from an ugly, ugly effort in a loss against unranked NC State earlier this week.
The fear of many entering the season without Kerry Blackshear was the depth in the frontcourt, a fear that turned into reality on Wednesday night against the Wolfpack, as freshman big Khadim Sy could not play after rolling his ankle in warm-ups. The loss of Sy was deflating, and left the Hokies scrambling with no true big men in the frontcourt other than Zach LeDay.
As a result, the Hokies were dominated on the boards in the 104-78 road loss. Tech was out-rebounded 40-25, which killed the Hokies chances of mounting any sort of comeback in the second half. The Hokies also shot 36% from the field in the first half in comparison to NC State’s 70% mark, which helped the Wolfpack build a lead that Buzz Williams’ squad could not overcome.
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Since the loss, questions have swirled surrounding Sy’s status for Saturday against Florida State, and at this point, all indications point to Khadim Sy being questionable for the match-up. If he can’t go, expect the Hokies to be much better prepared to play a different style of basketball on Saturday in Sy’s absence against another sizable frontcourt in Florida State.
The Seminoles will roll out freshman Jonathan Isaac, a 6’10” forward who has looked like one of the ACC’s best young players to date. He is averaging 12.2 points and 7.3 rebounds on the season and his length could present problems for an undersized Hokies frontcourt. Expect Florida State to pound the paint regardless of whether or not Khadim Sy plays for Virginia Tech.
The recipe of working the offense inside-out has proven to be effective in the Seminoles’ 14-1 start. When Isaac isn’t getting the ball worked to him down low, the Florida State scoring punch comes largely from leading scorer Dwayne Bacon, as the sophomore guard enters play on Saturday averaging 18.1 points per game.
As for the Hokies, it is expected that the team defense will focus on double-teaming the post with a guard when Isaac gets the ball in the paint. While this may leave open perimeter shots for some of Florida State’s shooters, it may be the only effective way to get bodies down low to assist with the rebounding. If Buzz Williams employs this strategy defensively, it becomes paramount that Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs play better perimeter defense than they did on Wednesday, when NC State freshman Dennis Smith Jr. dropped 27 points and 11 assists to torch the Hokies.
Offensively, the Hokies need to take better care of the basketball than they did against NC State. Virginia Tech turned the ball over 17 times in the loss to the Wolfpack, and the Hokies cannot afford additional performances like that in ACC play considering the lack of depth and how often they will be out-manned in the paint.
The Hokies will look to score paint points of their own with Zach LeDay on Saturday, who is leading the team with 16.1 points per game on the season. The Hokies will also be looking for a more consistent scoring punch from Justin Bibbs, who has been extremely streaky of late. After scoring a game-high 18 points in the upset win over #5 Duke last Saturday, Bibbs only managed three points in the loss to NC State. It was the fourth time this season in which Bibbs followed up a double-digit performance in points with a game in which he scored nine points or fewer. Tech is at their best when Bibbs is confident and playing aggressively, as he gives the Hokies an added scoring edge to help the offense click.
The Hokies and Seminoles will tip-off at 2 PM on Saturday afternoon from the Donald L. Tucker Center in Tallahassee. The game will be televised on ACC Network.