Virginia Tech (12-4, 1-2) is fresh off of an 81-67 win over Pittsburgh in Blacksburg, and heads to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest (8-7, 1-2).
The Deacs played one of its worst games of the year in a loss to Boston College on Saturday in Chestnut Hill. Despite making just five field goal attempts in the first 19 minutes of the second half, Wake had a slight chance to pull off the stunning comeback before eventually falling 77-71.
Wake was led by freshman Chaundee Brown with 20 points and 6 rebonds in 28 minutes. Brown was sensational from behind the three-point line, going 6-7 and boosting his season average from 28% to 37% from behind the arc. This will hopefully open up his slashing game and allow him to be more effective in getting to the hoop.
Unfortunately for the Deacs, the point guard combination of Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress struggled tremendously, combining to go 4-20 (20%) from 2’s and 5-14 from 3’s (36%, but many of them were in the final minute by Crawford and ultimately didn’t matter). Point guards combining to shoot 9-34 (26%) is unacceptable, particularly with just 5 assists between them.
It is unclear at this point whether or not Danny Manning will have the services of redshirt junior Keyshawn Woods tonight. As of yesterday at noon he had not practiced since the injury he sustained last week in the win over Syracuse.
In better news, sophomore Rich Washington was medically cleared to practice and it will be interesting to see how he is worked into games moving forward.
Tonight the Deacs will have a tall task in limiting a very good Virginia Tech offense, which ranks 45th nationally in offensive efficiency. The Hokies shoot 40% from behind the arc and 60% from 2’s to rank 4th nationally in effective field goal percentage at 60%.
While the Hokies have not exactly played the toughest schedule in the world through 16 games (304th in the nation), they have wins over Mississippi on the road in early December, and also pushed Kentucky to the brink in Rupp Arena in mid-December.
That being said, the best team that Virginia Tech has knocked off this season according to KenPom is a home win over Iowa (88th), and the aforementioned win over Mississippi on the road (89th). Wake Forest is 73rd in KenPom and is the 4th best team the Hokies have played all season.
This is a typical Buzz Williams roster and lineup, where nearly everybody on the roster is between 6-1 and 6-6. Junior Kerry Blackshear, Jr. is the only player on the roster listed above 6-6 (at 6-10), and this would seemingly benefit the Deacs a lot inside, although we have seen this not necessarily play out as we want it to with Thompson and Moore recently.
The Hokies are led by junior point guard Justin Robinson and junior shooting guard Ahmed Hill. Hill leads Virginia Tech at 14.8 PPG, while Robinson leads the team in assists at 5.6 per game. Hill is a huge threat from downtown, shooting nearly 50% on the season on 90 attempts.
Kerry Blackshear, Jr. averages 13.4 PPG and 6.3 RPG, who, along with Chris Clarke provides most of the interior attack for the Hokies.
Freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker is also one of the best freshmen in the ACC, averaging 12.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 1.8 APG. He also shoots nearly 42% from behind the arc (27-65).
The Virginia Tech offense thrives on getting up and down the court, where it ranks 10th quickest nationally in average offensive possession length at 14.8 seconds. Defensively it ranks 10th slowest in average possession length (which is mostly a by-product of the opposing teams that it has played), so Wake will have to work hard to get good shots off.
As we have talked about in the past, Wake is playing much slower this year than in years past under Danny Manning, so this is a bit of a contrast of tempos across the board.
The big thing for Wake Forest tonight is to improve shot selection, make sure the shots are coming within the flow of the offense, and get the right guys in the right place to make shots. Almost all of this falls on the shoulders of Bryant Crawford and Brandon Childress, who have to bounce back from their collectively poor game against Boston College if the Deacs are to get the win tonight.
Wake has improved out of nowhere on the boards, going +20 in the past two games, and rebounding is area where the Deacs could really exploit and advantage tonight, especially on the defensive side to end possessions from a very efficient Virginia Tech offense.
In Vegas this game is either a toss-up or Wake Forest is slightly favored, so it could go either way. This is a big game for the Deacs to get to 2-2 before a 9 game stretch that KenPom has Wake as underdogs in every single game. That starts on Saturday when the Deacs travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on Duke in what should be the “first to 150 points wins” type of a game.
Overall I unfortunately have the same feeling about this game that I had before the Boston College game on Saturday, especially with the uncertainly of Woods and his status in the game.
Danny Manning has to start settling into lineups that work instead of throwing darts at the board and hoping for the best. In my opinion this means cutting back on Childress’ minutes, particularly when he is making mistakes, and instead making sure that Brown, Oliver Sarr, Donovan Mitchell, and Melo Eggleston get playing time at the 3-5 positions.
It was reassuring that Brown got 28 minutes this past weekend, but there were still really long stretches (it felt like at least) where he was on the bench when Wake needed him.
We have to continue to work to get Moore the ball, particularly because Blackshear, Jr. is the only inside threat to him. If he gets into foul trouble early against Moore then it could be a long night for the Hokies on the defensive end.