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The Big Basketball Preview: Virginia Tech at Virginia

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Following three game road trip, Virginia Cavaliers Basketball returns to JPJ to face the Virginia Tech Hokies, looking to get back to winning basketball after Saturday’s loss to the Tar Heels.

The Hokies have had their own struggles, despite a strong analytic resume. The Hokies are 8-6, 0-3 in the ACC. They’ve lost to both Wake Forest and NC State at home, neither of which are good outcomes for a team expecting to contend for an ACC championship. The road loss to Duke is less worrisome. The Hokies best win was on the road over Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Championship. Aside from the two bad ACC losses, the Hokies also lost to a mediocre Dayton squad.

There isn’t really any one thing that’s causing the struggles. The Hokies are 39th in offensive efficiency and 29th in defensive efficiency. In their loss to Dayton, the Hokies scored just 0.88 points per possession (ppp). That was largely due to 6/22 (27%) shooting from downtown. They allowed just 0.95 ppp, a pretty solid outing defensively. But against NC State last week, the Hokies scored 1.07 ppp (8/23 or 35% from downtown), but allowed 1.15 ppp.

So a lack of consistency seems to be the problem. Some of that is just due to the makeup of the team. Though they don’t take a ton of threes (39% of their shots are from downtown, they do rely on the three quite a bit. They rank 61st nationally with 37% of their points coming from behind the arc. (Just 27% of Virginia’s points come from downtown, and just 35% of Wahoo shots come from downtown. Those rank 274th and 258th nationally.) All these numbers are thanks to KenPom.

The Hokies are led by fifth year senior big man Keve Aluma, who averages over 15 points and 6 rebounds per game. He’s 6’9” 235, and can score both inside and outside. Aluma had 29 points on 10/15 shooting in last year’s matchup, pretty much single-handedly beating the Wahoos. Aluma scored down low, he scored from the perimeter, he even went 2/3 from downtown. Aluma is shooting just 23% from downtown this year.

Virginia shows a double, but doesn’t commit. Aluma is patient and is able to get Huff going the wrong way. Too easy.

Jay Huff was just not quick enough laterally to defend Aluma on the perimeter. Is Kadin Shedrick going to fare any better?

Aluma came to Blacksburg from Wofford, when head coach Mike Young made the jump from Spartanburg. Young has now added another former Terrier in PG Storm Murphy, as a grad transfer. Murphy’s numbers are down from his Wofford years, but he still leads the team in assists. And he’s still shooting 40% from downtown.

Murphy will not get anything that open against Virginia.

The inside game from Aluma, paired with the outside shooting of Murphy and Hunter Cattoor, the Hokies’ second leading scorer. Over two-thirds of this shots are threes, and he makes 45% of them. Catoor scored 15 points on 5/7 shooting in last year’s Hokie win.

This is a good cut, and a tough shot.

Cattoor can do it off the bounce a little bit too. This is from last season, and he uses a little hesitate to gain some space on Reece Beekman (who dropped back in case of a pass), and then is able to hit a short jumper. Cattoor isn’t going to do much off the bounce, but this is a shot he is not going to miss. Beekman needs to be better than he was in last year’s game, when he scored just one point, on 0/5 shooting and had just three assists.

It’s actually almost a three way tie for second on the Hokies in scoring. Catoor, Nahiem Alleyne and Justyn Mutts are all within three points of each other on the season. Alleyne and Mutts are bigger wings, but far less efficient scorers than Cattoor. Alleyne is actually second on the team in FGA, despite shooting just 31% from the field. Alleyne has played Virginia three times in his career, starting all three. He has a total of seven points on 20 shot attempts. He was better last year, but not a ton better (just under 40% from the field which included just over 40% from downtown). He is dragging down what could be a much better offense. Somehow, Alleyne is a 94% FT shooter this season.

Mutts is just a beast inside. He’s 6’7” 230, similar to Jayden Gardner’s 6’6” 246. Mutts is a better defender than Gardner, but isn’t as big an offensive threat. That matchup between Gardner and Mutts will be key. As Gardner goes, so goes Virginia. In the first Clemson game, Gardner had nine points on 2/9 FG. In the second, he had 23 points on 7/11 shooting. That’s how you get a 27 point turnaround in under two weeks. If Mutts outplays Gardner, Virginia loses.

Against UNC, Virginia struggled to keep the Heels from going off behind the arc. UNC shot 11/25 from downtown and it’s awfully tough to win a game against that. Virginia Tech has shooters, and if they manage something like what UNC did, it’s going to be another loss for the Wahoos.

Virginia is favored by 1.5 points according to the DraftKings Sportsbook. Tipoff is at 9pm on ESPN 2.