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The Matchup: Virginia Tech vs. Northwestern

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The Hokies retreat to the confines of Cassell Tuesday night to face off against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Three days removed from a back-to-back, the Hokies (4-2) return home to face the Northwestern Joey van Zegerens.  Okay, you caught me; it’s only one van Zegeren (sorry to disappoint). Regardless, the GOAT himself returns to Blacksburg after transferring to Northwestern during the offseason. The Northwestern Wildcats are 5-1, with their only loss coming against a very dangerous UNC side. On the other hand, the other 5 teams they won against aren’t necessarily good. Northwestern is above-average on both sides of the ball, but not unbeatable.

The Wildcats’ offense is primarily run through by the backcourt of Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps. McIntosh in particular will be the one for the Hokies to watch out for. He’s averaging a shade over 17 PPG, but at 6-3, he’s neither the biggest nor the strongest. But he happens to be the very definition of a sniper. He worked on his jumper over the offseason, and it shows. His three point percentage has improved from 36.4% to a whopping 52%. Northwestern as a team shoots 40% from deep, so the Hokies need to be wary of their shooting ability and limit the space they give the Wildcats to a minimum. McIntosh is also an effective distributor of the basketball. Averaging 6.2 APG, an impressive 38.6% of his teammates’ baskets come from his assists when he’s on the floor, so he has no trouble finding an open man if the defense collapses on him. Virginia Tech will need to stay disciplined when McIntosh has the ball, which may be a difficult task for a young Hokies’ squad.

McIntosh’s sidekick, Tre Demps, is also a scoring threat. However, he isn’t as efficient. Although he averages 16 PPG, his field goal percentage is 42.2%. Virginia Tech would be wise to allow Demps to do the heavy lifting on offense opposed to letting McIntosh be the dominant offensive presence. It would lead to more missed shots, and the Hokies can create some opportunities in transition with their speed. Virginia Tech has the talent in the backcourt to match up with these two threats, so I don’t anticipate the Wildcats' backcourt to tear the Hokies' defense up consistently.

Defensively, the Wildcats allow 69 PPG, and allow teams to shoot around 40% on them. Taking into account teams they’ve played, those are good but not special numbers. Their loss to UNC showed that they can be weak defending the three point line. The last four Wildcats’ opponents have been able to post three point shooting percentages of over 40%. Although they haven’t shown it consistently this season, the Hokies have the shooters (mainly Bibbs and Allen) to exploit that weakness. The three point shot should be the emphasis in this game for the Hokies, especially because making shots in the paint will be very difficult in this one.

Alex Olah, the Romanian 7-foot, 270 pound center is a mammoth among elephants in the paint for Northwestern. He’s not the best rebounder, but his size makes it difficult for opponents to box him out. Virginia Tech’s rebounding margin has been stellar this year, even without having the biggest guys, but they will have to rebound as a team in order to counter Olah’s size on the defensive glass. Olah’s real impact is in the paint on the defensive end as a shot blocker. He blocks 7.5% of all 2 point shots attempted, which may not sound impressive, but he alters plenty of shots. Olah also does a good job of not fouling the shot, so don’t anticipate a free throw barrage for the Hokies like we’ve seen a few times this year.

LeDay, Blackshear Jr., and Shane Henry may not have great numbers this game. But that doesn’t mean their impact will go unnoticed. Their presence down low can limit the effectiveness of Northwestern’s size and length. Chris Clarke may have another huge rebounding day if the bigs do their job effectively.

Prediction (5-1):

I don’t see as one team being clearly better than the other. Having said that, I do think Northwestern is slightly better. They have much more experience, and I don’t know if the Hokies can rely on another outstanding performance from Zach LeDay because the Wildcats have the personnel to make life difficult for him on the glass. This should be a close, tightly-contested game which comes down to the wire. I’m taking the Wildcats here because I think the only way the Hokies can win this game is if they can get the three point shot falling like its 2014 again, which I don't think will happen. I feel like Northwestern's size will negate the success of the Hokies' bigs, which hurts an already limited offense.

Virginia Tech falls to Northwestern, 77-71. Joey van Zegeren keeps his GOAT status here in Blacksburg.

Link to Northwestern's season statistics

If you can't catch the game at Cassell, the game will be broadcasted on ESPNU and Watch ESPN at 7 pm EST.