After avenging their loss to Radford last season on Wednesday, the Hokies (6-3) return to Cassell to battle the Lamar Cardinals. The Cardinals (5-4) have been a scoring machine so far this season. However, their schedule has been a cakewalk, as the strength of their opponents is ranked second to last in the country. Regardless of the opponent, after an average showing against Radford, the Hokies should look to improve as we inch towards conference play.
Although the Cardinals have consistently put up points this season, they haven’t shot the ball all that well. For the season, their shooting percentage is at a subpar 43%, and 31% from beyond the arc. Neither of those numbers will scare Buzz Williams. So how have they been putting up points? Well, they get a lot of attempts at the charity stripe, which leads to plenty of points off those free throw attempts. Unsurprisingly, Virginia Tech leads the nation in free throw attempts. But Lamar is actually averaging more free throw attempts per game (33.7 > 33.4). That means nearly they get 24 points a game, or about 30% of their offensive production, from the charity stripe. Not letting Lamar get to the free throw line with ease will be a key component of the Hokies defensive game plan.
The Cardinals have three primary scoring threats mixed in with a decent supporting cast. The guy who will get most of the looks for Lamar is freshman guard Nick Garth. Averaging just under 15 PPG a game, he has taken 26 more shots than the next person on the team, so he’s not the most efficient scorer. However, more than 68% of his shots are three pointers, which is the primary reason his overall shooting percentage is unspectacular. Containing Garth will be the game plan to defend any other shooter: crowd him, press him, and get him off balance any way possible.
The second and third threats the Hokies must watch out for are Kevin Booze and Lincoln Davis. Both hover around 12 PPG and 4 assists per contest. They also have similar play styles. They don’t shoot a lot of threes, preferring to do their work on the inside, as opposed to Garth. They show the ability to facilitate an offense, having two of the lowest turnover percentages on the team and two of the highest assist percentages. Interestingly, Garth, Booze, and Davis are all backcourt players, but lead the team in minutes played. If all three are on the court at the same time, the Hokies could give them problems using their size which would be a huge helping hand to keeping all three of Lamar’s primary threats in check. The Cardinals have also been turnover prone this season, giving the ball away about 15 times a game, ranking 277th in the country. If the Hokies can pressure the ball effectively, their defense will be rewarded with steals and tipped passes.
Offensively, the Hokies need to show more ball movement. Too many times the offense looks like a one man show, showing little to no passing. Lamar has been average defensively, giving up 71 PPG, but given their opponents that number should be better. It may be tough driving and kicking to an open man beyond the arc this game. Lamar ranks 15th in the nation in opponent three point percentage, so Seth Allen and Justin Bibbs may not have their best days on the perimeter.
However, Lamar is weak when defending the offensive glass, giving up 13 offensive rebounds per game. I probably say this every preview, but LeDay and Blackshear Jr. have a great opportunity to crash the boards and create second chances for themselves. Lamar’s top rebounder is 6-1 guard Marcus Owens, so the Hokies are definitely in a position where they can easily dominate the glass. Ultimately, I think Virginia Tech wins this game because they dominate the interior.
With only 4 games left until ACC games begin, I feel like the Hokies really need to form an identity on offense to win games. LeDay’s outstanding performances won’t be as consistent once he starts facing more talented ACC bigs, and shooting free throws at a crappy percentage isn’t very effective. Someone needs to step up and become a playmaker, and I think it’ll be Seth Allen. He’s been looking for his own shot lately, but as one of the most experienced players for Virginia Tech, he needs to be a leader. Buzz Williams needs to emphasize off ball movement in order for Allen to find open teammates, but this may be a game where he takes on a playmaker role. Either way, I think the Hokies win, but whether they pass the eye test or not will be the story to watch.
Hokies win 79-74.
The game can be streamed live on ESPN3 or the Watch ESPN app on Sunday at 3 p.m.