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The Matchup: Virginia Tech vs NC State

New Year, new season. The beginning of the ACC slate features an NC State side that won two NCAA tournament games last March.

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

First off, Happy New Year to all you guys.

Second of all, it’s finally ACC time!

Virginia Tech hosts the NC State Wolfpack at Cassel Coliseum to kick off 2016. After a successful tournament run last season which included a win over #1 seed Villanova, NC State has continued their solid play into this season. They’ve posted a 10-3 record in pre-conference play but have played just one ranked opponent so far (LSU). Meanwhile, the Hokies are looking to improve their play after a disappointing second half against WVU. Nabbing a win here would help the Hokies tremendously on their mission to become a competitive team in the ACC.

NC State’s offense is fueled by the play of Anthony "Cat" Barber. He’s a matchup problem no matter who guards him. The 6-2 guard has been on a tear, scoring 23.1 PPG, good for 11th in the country. He takes 27% of the team’s shots, which obviously boosts his scoring numbers. He’s not the most efficient scorer, shooting just 42% and 29% from three. But he excels at drawing fouls. In fact, he’s both taken and made the second most free throws in the country, and has an 85% free throw percentage. He also leads the team in assists with 5.2 per game, using his above average vision to find open teammates when defenders collapse the paint.

Aside from the stats, Barber is extremely difficult to stay in front of. His speed and quickness allow him to get to the rim with ease. On top of that, he shows nice finishing ability near the rim and is great at using screens. Barber is also a terror in the open court, so the Hokies have to get five behind the ball as soon as possession changes hands. You can see his diverse skill set in his 34 point outburst against Pittsburgh in the ACC tourney last year:

Barber’s scoring ability is one of the reasons the Wolfpack have mediocre assist numbers. But because Barber handles the ball so much off screen and rolls, they also have very low turnover numbers. Other than him, the Wolfpack feature a few three point specialists. Caleb Martin and Maverick Rowan are both listed at 6-7 and have three point attempt rates above 50% and don’t drive often. They are floor spacers for Cat Barber, but their height gives them an advantage on smaller players closing out on them. They aren’t knockdown shooters, but they shoot enough to the point where the Hokies need to have tight perimeter defense.

NC State isn’t a scoring machine at 75 PPG, but they have enough threats to do damage. Stopping them all starts with cutting off Barber’s penetration to the rim. That puts a lot of pressure on Seth Allen, Devin Wilson, and Justin Robinson which means help defense has to come quickly and must not foul. Then once the ball is kicked out, Virginia Tech must ensure that Martin and Rowan aren’t given the space they need to knock down the long ball.

When the Hokies have the ball, they should look to attack the perimeter. The Wolfpack allow teams to shoot the three ball at a 37.4% clip, which is one of the worst rates in the NCAA. With Bibbs’ excellent shooting season (except from the free throw line), he should get more than 7 or 8 looks from deep. Maybe he won’t maintain his 60% three point rate in the Wolfpack key in on him, but Bibbs should be the Hokies’ go-to on offense for this game. Whichever Hokie Anthony Barber guards will also have to make him work on the defensive end. Barber plays nearly the whole game for the Wolfpack, but he’ll be much more ineffective if he’s sucking wind chasing someone around screens.

If the Hokies do decide to drive into the paint after a hard closeout, they must beware of the shot blocking NC State possesses. BeeJay Anya provides an interior presence like no other, averaging 2.8 blocks per game which ranks 14th in the country. He’s listed at 6’9, but he weighs 300 pounds. It’ll be next to impossible to outmuscle him for easy shots in the paint. However, he only plays about half the game and offers little on the offensive end, so the Hokies should take advantage of the Wolfpack defense when he’s on the bench.

On the glass, NC State and Virginia Tech are about equal. Both teams are very good on the offensive glass, but not great on the defensive glass. There should be plenty of second chance opportunities for both sides in this game. Whichever team takes advantage of those opportunities may turn out to be the victor.

Prediction:

NC State is a good first ACC matchup for the Hokies. It will be difficult, but not impossible to win. In the three games the Wolfpack have lost they’ve struggled shooting the ball efficiently, so can the Hokies halt NC State’s enough to win? I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone on the roster can slow Anthony Barber down and generate stops. But it won’t be a blowout. The Hokies should show signs of life on offense to at least make this a close one.

Hokies lose their first conference game, 76-69.

The game tips off at 2 pm EST. If you're not there, you can stream the game live on ESPN3.