Despite the loss to Villanova, Wahoo fans must feel good following the difficult week the Hoos faced. With a big road win against Notre Dame and a two point, last second road loss to the #1 team in the nation, the Hoos have proven that they are still one of the top teams in the nation.
This week, they return home to face the Hokies, who are coming off a home win over Boston College. The Hokies (16-5, 5-4 ACC) have their most talented team in quite some time, and are likely looking at their first NCAAT bid in a decade. They do it with offense, as they are one of the top scoring teams in the nation at over 81 points per game, good for 31st in the nation. Their biggest strength is shooting the ball, as they rank 22nd in 3-point shooting, 15th in 2-point shooting and 16th in eFG%. The only place they struggle is from the foul line, where they are 148th. And that hurts them, because they do get to the line quite a bit, ranking 76th in FT rate. They have won at Michigan and at Clemson, but they’ve also lost to UNC, NC State and FSU on the road. They have also beaten Duke, although that apparently isn’t a big deal this year (I’m hoping this does not come back to bite me).
The most familiar face on the Hokies to Wahoo fans is Seth Allen. Allen will be facing the Hoos for the seventh time in his career, dating back to his first two years at Maryland. In those previous 6 matchups, he’s averaged 11.3 points per game, on 26 of 64 (40%) from the field. Allen is shooting less this year, but making a lot more. He’s shooting 48% from 3 and an amazing 63% on 2s. Allen is the shortest player in the top 100 in two-point FG% this year, and one of very few guards. For his career, he’s a 49% shooter on 2s and 34% on 3s. Has his efficiency gone up simply because he’s taking better shots, or is there some regression to the mean expected?
Allen began the season coming off the bench, but over the past few games has been starting at the 2. He's also the backup PG. When he’s at SG, sophomore Justin Robinson is running the point. That gives the Hokies two very quick backcourt players, but they would be giving up quite a bit of size to the Hoos. Robinson is more of a pure PG than Allen, though he’s a 38% shooter from 3 (and has taken more than Allen). They have similar assist rates, but there is a difference in their mind-set. Allen has a score-first mentality, whereas Robinson looks to pass.
The Allen/Robinson backcourt causes problems defensively. Either of those guys would be giving up quite a bit of size to Darius Thompson or Marial Shayok or even Kyle Guy. Recently, the Hoos have spent more and more time with Ty Jerome and London Perrantes on the floor together. That gives the Hoos even more size, because Jerome is 6’5” and could likely shoot over the smaller defender.
Over the past few games, the Hokies have had three of their top players coming off the bench. That starts with Zach LeDay, who has been coming off the bench for most of the season. He leads the team at over 16 points per game along with almost 7 rebounds per game (2nd). LeDay crushed the Hoos last year in the Hokies’ upset win in Blacksburg. He had 22 points on 15 shots, to go along with 7 rebounds, a block and 2 steals. In the rematch in Charlottesville, LeDay had just 7 points on 7 shots, along with 4 rebounds and 4 turnovers. He was in foul trouble for much of that game.
Behind LeDay are Ahmed Hill and Chris Clarke. Both of them were starting up until about 2 weeks ago. The Hokies lost 3 of 4 and coach Williams changed up his lineup. First Clarke went to the bench and then Hill. Both are still playing starter minutes. Since the benching, Clarke is averaging 27.5 minutes (28.7 overall). Hill’s minutes have dropped, but that is largely due to only getting 18 minutes in a blowout loss to UNC. Hill is still the team’s 2nd leading scorer, after missing all of last season due to a knee injury. Hill is a shooter, though he also plays well in transition and is a decent defender. He’s taken about 60% of his shots from 3, but as a freshman he took just about a third of his shots from behind the arc. He’s a better shooter now (41% versus 38% as a freshman), but he may not have recovered all of his quickness and explosiveness since the knee injury. The benching has hurt Hill’s production, and he’s only averaging 7 points per game over the last 5.
Clarke has also suffered from coming off the bench. He’s been coming off the bench for 4 games, and has averaged just 8 ppg, versus 12 on the season. It is strange that he was benched immediately following a 21 point effort in the home loss to Notre Dame. Perhaps it was just an effort to get him some rest, after he was averaging well over 30 minutes per game since early December. Clarke’s game is not a low or medium effort affair. He is full effort. Clarke is 6’6”, 210 and leads the team with over 7 rebounds per game. He’s incredibly athletic and will run at every opportunity. Watch him on defensive rebounds, he may just turn and run. That may not work out so well in this contest, with the Hoos strong transition defense. But he’ll still try. Devon Hall will match up with Clarke, which is a very interesting matchup. They are similarly sized, though Clarke is more athletic whereas Hall is stronger. Hall is also more perimeter oriented, whereas Clarke is a slasher. That’s a battle to watch, and if Hall outduels Clarke, the Hokies are going to have trouble winning this game.
The other newcomer to the Hokies’ starting lineup (along with Allen) is Ty Outlaw. He’s a junior college transfer who missed all of last year due to a "medical condition". He's only averaging 12 minutes per game and the starting nod hasn't really changed that. He’s shooting 41% from 3, but so far that’s about all he’s doing. At 6’6” 220, he’s probably the most physical presence the Hokies have on the perimeter and is a solid defender.
Up front next in the starting lineup is Senegalese freshman Khadim Sy. Sy is also only playing around 12 minutes per game. It’s almost like he’s in for the jump ball and then gives way to LeDay. Sy is 6’10” 240 and is a very good shot blocker. But he’s incredibly raw and has little offensive game. He’s strong on the boards though, just because of his size and athleticism. He’s foul prone and is a dreadful FT shooter.
The final member of the starting 5 is Justin Bibbs. Bibbs is another shooter, who is actually down this year. Bibbs was a major part of the offense over the past 2 years, but as the Hokies have acquired more talent, he’s had trouble getting shots. He shot 45% from 3 last year, but he’s down to 39% this year (still very good). Like Hill, Bibbs is a shooter. He’s taken roughly 60% of his shots from behind the arc. And he doesn’t do a whole lot else. The Hoos will try to run him off the 3 point line and force him into the lane. He’s not a good finisher and isn’t much of a passer either.
The Hokies have come a long way in a short time under Buzz Williams. They are significantly more talented than they were a couple of years ago. Even though LeDay is the leading scorer, they are led by the backcourt combo of Justin Robinson and Seth Allen. Those two are very good penetrators and both can dish the ball. All those shooters will set up outside and wait for the defense to collapse on the dribble-drive so they can get open jumpers. The Hoos defense is designed specifically to stop that kind of offense though. Jack Salt has been particularly effective recently and shutting down those dribble drives. If he stays out of foul trouble, the Hokies aren’t going to get the interior points they need to keep the defense honest. And that means the 3s aren’t there, which means the Hokies offense struggles.
Also the Hokies are still not a very good defensive team. They don’t force turnovers, which is good because they Hoos do not turn the ball over very much. The Hokies also don’t rebound particularly well, at least in part because they are often in a 4 guard lineup with a 6’7” LeDay as the biggest player. What they do is play a tough man-to-man defense, where they try to contest shots without fouling. That’s their biggest strength probably, they do not give up free points. The Hoos will have to earn their points by hitting their 3s and, hopefully, with some offensive rebounds and easy points inside.
The Hokies haven’t played a game this year under 64 possessions. Whereas the Hoos have only played a few games over that pace. The Hoos, as we know, are very good at dictating pace and will definitely keep this game slow. The Hoos are also playing their best basketball of the season right now and have the home court advantage. They certainly shouldn’t be taking their in-state rivals lightly, because the Hokies are talented. But the Hoos are more talented, deeper, and have the home court advantage. That all seems to point to a win. But it’ll be closer than you think.