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THE BIG PREVIEW: Virginia Cavaliers vs. Virginia Tech Hokies for the rematch

Virginia travels to Blacksburg to take on an injured Hokies team, but can Tech pull it off?

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time in the past 10 days, the Virginia Cavaliers face an opponent for the second time this season, but this time, on the road. In the first outing, the Hoos manhandled the Virginia Tech Hokies at JPJ, winning by 22. The game was not actually that close, as Virginia led by 22 at halftime and simply coasted home for the win.

That game was notable because of the way Virginia shot the ball. The Hoos made 13/24 (54%) from downtown. The Hokies shot just 7/21 (33%) from downtown, which is well below their season average. Both teams were solid on the inside, with Virginia taking a higher percentage of their shots from inside. That was largely because the Hokies actually lived at the FT line in that game, attempting 17 freebies. Virginia attempted just six, though they made all six.

The backcourt of Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Kihei Clark combined to shoot 10/17 (59%) from downtown. Virginia is not going to lose if they get outside shooting like that. That barrage included deep shots from Jerome, such as this one.

We’ve obviously seen that before, but not in a little while. Jerome, as we know has been dealing with a back injury. Jerome’s shooting hasn’t really dropped off, but perhaps the injury is impacting his range. Or, perhaps, just his willingness to take such a deep shot.

The outside shooting also opened things up inside.

With the Hokies focusing on the perimeter, there were two guys following Ty around, and he was able to find Mamadi Diakite inside for an open dunk. That was just one example, as Ty had a double-double with 14 points and 12 assists.

Virginia totaled 1.45 points per possession in that game, which is insane. The Hokies were at 1.05, which is solid against Virginia’s defense. However, considering the Hokies have the ninth ranked offense in the nation, it wasn’t a great performance.

Some things have changed since then. The most important of those is Virginia Tech PG Justin Robinson’s injury. He’s dealing with a “lower-leg” injury and has missed the past five games. He should return at some point, but he is not expected back for this one. His absence has put a lot on sophomore PG Wabissa Bede, who hasn’t really shown the same playmaking skills that Robinson has. He’s played as well as coach Buzz Williams could have hoped, and Virginia Tech is 4-2 without Robinson (that includes the Miami game in which he suffered the injury).

Unfortunately, the two losses came to the two best teams they’ve faced, Louisville and Clemson. They did knock off NC State, but that was simply an ugly game. Final score was 47-24. Yes, the Wolfpack had 24 points. And they say Virginia is bad for college basketball.

The Hokies are coming off a six-point road win over Pittsburgh. Yes, any road win in conference is a good win. Still, it was a closer game than the Hokies would prefer. In that game, big man Kerry Blackshear had 29 points. That included 3-3 from downtown, which is not his game. He’s at 41% on the season, but averages just 1.5 attempts per game. If he’s shooting jumpers, that means he’s not banging inside. He’s really the only interior presence the Hokies have.

It wasn’t just outside shots, though. Blackshear was also hitting shots like this:

That’s a tough shot. And, frankly, not a very good one. Chances are, Blackshear isn’t going to be making those shots against Virginia.

The Hokies are the third-ranked shooting team in the nation. They are fourth in three point shooting. They shoot a lot of threes, with four guys averaging at least four attempts per game. (That includes Robinson). All four of those guys make at least 37%, with senior Ty Outlaw leading the way at over 48%.

With Robinson out, the Hokies are relying heavily on Nikeil Alexander-Walker. He’s a likely first round pick this year, and was really the only Hokie to have success against the Hoos last time out. He had 19 points and a team-leading four rebounds.

Defensively, the Hokies play a high-pressure, trapping defense. That isn’t a full-court press, like Virginia has seen from some other teams. The goal is simply to make the perimeter players uncomfortable. They force a lot of turnovers, but they don’t generate the run-outs and easy buckets that Virginia has seen from UNC and others recently. But, on the other hand, they also don’t give up the easy buckets that come from breaking a press.

In fact, Virginia Tech actually isn’t playing much faster than Virginia. The Hoos, of course, rank dead last (353rd) in adjusted tempo. The Hokies are 333rd. That difference is roughly four possessions per game. Not surprisingly, they are even slower without their star PG.

It will be interesting to see if Kihei Clark continues to start, as he has for the past couple of games. In the first matchup, Clark pestered Robinson into 2-7 shooting for just nine points. Clark had nine of his own on 3-6 shooting. But with Robinson out, there isn’t a great matchup for Clark. He could guard Bede, but the sophomore simply isn’t the same threat, and Clark’s offensive weaknesses aren’t worth having him out there to guard Bede.

Clark’s starting spot has come in place of Mamadi Diakite, who is still recovering from a concussion he suffered against Duke. Diakite, though, has seen his minutes trend back up and may be ready to return to his starting gig. Diakite is the perfect matchup for Blackshear.

The ideal lineup in this one is Ty, Kyle, Hunter, Key and Diakite. Hunter and Key have the size and quickness to guard Outlaw (6’6’ 200) and fellow senior wing Ahmed Hill (6’5” 210). Fans would also like to see more of Jay Huff, who had seven points in just 11 minutes in the first matchup. His presence up front moves Blackshear away from the paint, and opens up the middle for drives from Hunter and company.

Even without Robinson, this Hokie team is dangerous. We’ve seen how hot shooting teams can beat the Pack Line over and over again. The most recent, of course, is the second Duke game, in which Duke simply couldn’t miss from outside. Plus, the Hoos have struggled with turnovers and with some poor shooting of late. If they don’t get those issues together, they could certainly fall in Blacksburg,

The Hoos get another long break after this one, not playing again until a road game in Louisville. I think we all remember what happened the last time Virginia traveled to the Yum Center.