Hokies look for their third straight win as they seek an upset on the road against #8 Louisville
What a difference a week makes.
The outlook was pretty grim at this time last weekend. The Hokies were preparing to play #12 Virginia on Sunday as losers of three out of four, and were itching to get back on the court after a brutal loss against Miami that despite the score, was never really competitive.
The Hokies had just one Top 50 win at the time, and knew that a Virginia victory would likely put the team back in the good graces of the Selection Committee with exactly one month to Selection Sunday.
Not only did the Hokies upset #12 Virginia in double overtime at Cassell Coliseum, but they overcame a short turnaround to defeat Pittsburgh on the road on Tuesday night, without their best all-around player Chris Clarke, lost for the season with a torn ACL that he suffered on Sunday.
Entering Saturday a bit better rested and winners of two straight games, the Hokies and their shorthanded lineup will now head to the KFC Yum! Center to face #8 Louisville.
The contrasting defensive styles of these two teams will be one of the most interesting aspects of the game to watch.
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Virginia Tech ideally would like to play man-to-man sometime in the future when they are more healthy, but in the meantime, Buzz Williams has employed a variety of zone defenses this season to ease the burden.
Louisville is a full-time man-to-man defensive team that uses full-court pressure after baskets and coming out of timeouts. They set up a high-tempo fast break offense with turnovers that they create with their defensive intensity.
Because of this, the Hokies will need to limit the turnovers on their end in order to stay competitive against a deep Louisville rotation. Virginia Tech is playing with a short bench to begin with, and turnovers will lead to fast break points for Louisville and unwarranted defensive stress for the Hokies.
In addition to limiting the turnovers, the Hokies will need to do their best to stay out of foul trouble in this game, and in every match-up for the rest of the season. This is especially true for forward Zach LeDay, who will need to play big minutes in this game and provide energy on both ends to give the Hokies a chance.
He is the team’s best offensive and defensive threat in the post, and will be tasked with defending much athletic post players in Jaylen Johnson (8.2 points, 6.3 rebounds per game) and Mangok Mathiang (7.0 points, 6.2 rebounds per game).
LeDay staying out of foul trouble will reduce the burden put on the shoulders of Hokies freshman forward Khadim Sy. Sy has played well for the Hokies as a freshman, but is still an incredibly raw collegiate player, and extended minutes against Johnson and Mathiang will not be the best match-up in the world for the slender Sy.
The defense has been much better in the last couple of games by the Hokies backcourt of Seth Allen and Justin Robinson. They have done a good job of keeping opposing guards from slashing through the paint in the zone defense, which was the root of the Hokies’ problems defensively in the previous four games. Another steep test awaits those two defenders, as they will look to limit the offensive production of Louisville guards Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider. The duo leads the Cardinals in points at 15.2 and 12.2 points per game, respectively.
In regards to the Virginia Tech offense, the continued strong play of Justin Bibbs and the turnaround offensively by Ahmed Hill will need to stay present against Louisville. Bibbs was the hero of the upset against Virginia, hitting acrobatic layups and timely threes to finish with 16 points.
Over the last five games, Bibbs is averaging 11.2 points per game, which is second on the team in that stretch to Seth Allen. As for Hill, he had been mired in a shooting slump that stretched over a period of about a month after a torrent start to the season. He got back into the mix on offense with 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the floor against Pittsburgh, and was a major cog in the second half comeback.
Seth Allen should lead the way by seeking out his own offense and creating his own shot, but any additional scoring from Bibbs and Hill would help, especially if Zach LeDay finds himself in foul trouble against Louisville’s stout front line.
The Hokies and Cardinals tip at 1 PM ET today in Louisville. The game will be televised on the ACC Network (check local listings).