The Hokies (3-1) travel to Florida to take on the Iowa State Cyclones (3-0) in the Emerald Coast Classic on Friday Night. The Hokies and the Cyclones are both riding 3 game win streaks, but we all know who the better side is in this matchup. Iowa State is currently ranked #4 in the nation, coming off dominant performances against Chicago State and Chatanooga with an average margin of victory of 31 points.
Offensively, Georges Niang is at the helm of a ship that averages 85.7 points per contest. The senior has had a strong to the start to the season, averaging over 15 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 4.3 assists through three games. At 6-8, 230 pounds, he can score both in the paint and has range as a shooter, evidenced by his 40% three point rate. He is the definition of a double-edged sword. If Chris Clarke is guarding him, Niang will bully him down low and if LeDay or another big man defends him, he can step back and knock down the open shot.
The amazing thing is Niang isn’t even the leading scorer on the team. That title goes to Nazereth Mitrou-Long, who’s averaging over 17 PPG. He’s the sharpshooter for the Cyclones, as 62% of his shots come from behind the three-point line. The senior guard is shooting an effective 56% from the field, but due to ability as a threat from deep, his true shooting percentage is actually at 69% (anything above 60% is considered elite). So not only has he been putting up points, he has been incredibly efficient scorer.
The third scoring option for Iowa State is Jameel McKay. Also a senior, he’s averaging a Zach LeDay (a double-double) so far this young season with 13.7 points and 12.7 rebounds. He does most of the dirty work near the basket, and as a result he’s shooting an incredible 64.5%. Zach LeDay, Shane Henry and company will have their rebounding skills put to their test against McKay. He grabs nearly 23% of all rebounds, which ranks just outside the top 10 in the nation. He is a force down low on both ends of the floor, helping anchor the Cyclones defensively as well.
Since Iowa State boasts a plethora of scoring options on offense, the Hokies will predominantly play zone, rarely going to a man-to-man set. As a result, Buzz Williams will be assigned the task of making the defense as a whole play better than the sum of each individual part. That means each player has to be mentally ready, because a team like Iowa State will feast on concentration lapses. The Hokies have looked better defensively with every game, but Iowa State is much better than North Carolina A&T. Every rotation has to be quick to prevent Mitrou-Long from killing them from deep. And most importantly, they have to know where Georges Niang is at all times because he remains one of the most unguardable players in the country.
And now onto the Cyclones defense…
Iowa State has been exceptional defensively as well as offensively. Their defensive rating is an outstanding 79.4, which ranks 12th in the nation. The Cyclones possess lengthy and athletic wings which make it difficult for offenses to penetrate the defense. However, the Hokies actually have the rebounding advantage, ranking 16th grabbing over 46 boards a game compared to the 44.3 for Iowa State. The Hokies have done a great job on the offensive glass over the last few games, and that is something that needs to continue to wear the Cyclones’ defense out. Virginia Tech is not at a length disadvantage, and they need to take advantage of that to create second opportunities to keep them in the game.
However, the Hokies cannot continue their abysmal free throw shooting. They won’t get too many opportunities against an Iowa State defense that doesn’t foul too often. In fact, they are tied for first when it comes to fewest fouls per game. So when the Hokies do get to the line, they must take advantage. Again, doing anything they can to keep the Hokies in the game against such a tough opponent is absolutely critical. Turnovers are also crucial to the Hokies success in this one, especially what they do after the turnover. The Cyclones are mediocre at taking care of the basketball, averaging 13.3 turnovers per game. If the Hokies can use their advantage and beat the Cyclones down the floor, it could lead to easy buckets, which is something Virginia Tech needs to find. But easier said than done.
This would be a great game to get the three point shot going for the Hokies. They’re shooting 28.3% from the field this season from beyond the arc, a huge dropoff from last season. Three pointers can keep a team in a game, and with the shooters the Hokies possess, that percentage should go up soon.
The Hokies have played a cupcake schedule so far, so the talent of Iowa State may shock them early. But I expect Buzz’s side to keep fighting and eventually find their way back to make it close. However, the Cyclones are simply too good for a young Hokies team. I have a hard time picturing any way the Hokies pull of the upset, but I think the Hokies show some positives to take away from this one.
Hokies take their second L of the season, falling to the Cyclones 83-67.
You can catch the game on CBS Sports Network at 7 pm EST.