After snapping an 18-game road losing streak over the weekend in Atlanta, the Hokies face an even taller task away from home at Notre Dame. As you've most likely heard by now, Virginia Tech is tied for third in the ACC with a 4-1 conference record. However, they only team the Hokies have faced in the top half of the conference is #13 UVA. The Fighting Irish are currently ranked sixth in the conference, and a Virginia Tech victory would certainly help the Hokies prove their ability to the rest of the ACC.
As good as the Hokies are feeling about their season, Notre Dame might be feeling even better. They managed to defeat Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium in a 95-91, which has recently become nearly impossible to do (Duke has only lost 6 home games since 2009). Although the Blue Devils have been underwhelming as of late, it's still a huge confidence booster. Overall, Notre Dame has faced the 42nd hardest schedule this year, meaning they're one of the more battle-tested teams in the country.
Notre Dame has one of the top offenses in the nation. They average just under 80 PPG, and their 120.9 Offensive Rating ranks 5th. The Fighting Irish are incredibly efficient, ranking 7th in FG% and 25th in 3-point FG%. Even though the Fighting Irish lost an excellent player in Jerian Grant over the offseason, they still boast a myriad of weapons. All 5 of their starters are averaging double figures in scoring per game this season. Any single one of their starters could go off any given night.
Depending on who you ask, Notre Dame's best player is either Demetrius Jackson or Zach Auguste. Jackson leads the team in scoring overall with 17.5 PPG with a high usage rate. To date, Jackson has taken 21.6% of the Fighting Irish's shots, and for a good reason. He has shot 50% from the field, which is impressive for a guard. The Hokies can't give him too much space either. Jackson is a great jump shooter with a 39% percentage from downtown on about 5 shots a game. Physically, he's everything a coach would want at the guard position. Jackson has impressive speed, quickness, and explosiveness, and won't hesitate to go for a big dunk over taller defenders. In addition to his deadly scoring and athleticism combination, his handle on the basketball is exceptional.
Jackson averages 5.4 APG, and Auguste is one of the main recipients of great inside passes. As good of an athlete Jackson is, Auguste might be even better. His superior vertical jump gives him an edge on just about everyone in the country because he does most of his damage around the rim. He's simply stronger, quicker, faster, and more explosive than his defender. Auguste averages 13.6 PPG primarily through layups and dunks, but his athleticism gives him an advantage on the glass. He averages 9.8 RPG, including a shade under 3 ORPG. LeDay's rebounding numbers have dipped recently, so Auguste will have a chance to give the Fighting Irish plenty of opportunities on the offensive glass.
Auguste and Jackson are at the head of the ship, but Notre Dame has excellent role players as well. Steve Vasturia was an excellent 6th man in the NCAA/ACC tournaments last year, and is a sniper from beyond the arc with a 40% 3-point percentage. Bonzie Colson is a wing player who can be effective driving into the paint and finishing around the rim. V.J. Beachem might be the best shooter on the team, shooting an impressive 44.2% from downtown.
Defensively, Notre Dame isn't as good as they should be with the athletes they have. Although they are average in terms of PPG, their 106.4 Defensive Rating ranks just 274th. The Fighting Irish certainly have played good offenses, but their defensive efficiency stats simply aren't that good. They don't push the pace too often so if the Hokies can control the tempo, which they've accomplished in conference play so far, they could have success against this defense.
Notre Dame's best defender is Zach Auguste. He is their defensive anchor, and he's an above average shot blocker due to his athleticism and size. The Hokies have struggled finishing at the rim in conference play, often losing composure as a shot blocker closes in on them. Blocked shots usually end up in fast break opportunities for opponents, so it's crucial that the Hokies improve in that area.
Turnovers are obvious a crucial part of the Hokies game plan. When the Hokies turn the ball over, they suffer more than other teams. However, Notre Dame hasn't forced a lot of turnovers this year, ranking 339th in Turnovers Forced per game. Demetrius Jackson and Bonzie Colson both have quick, strong hands to pick pockets, but they just haven't shown that ability this season. This bodes well for Virginia Tech, who should get at least one shot every possession.
However, Virginia Tech will have a tough time forcing turnovers. The Fighting Irish turn the ball over just 9.3 times a game, which ranks 2nd in the country. The Hokies were able to force a very careful UVA team into 16 turnovers, but that was at home. Doing it on the road in South Bend will be a difficult task. Without question, forcing turnovers and getting opportunities to score off turnovers has been a huge reason for the Hokies' 4-1 ACC start. It will likely be a major factor in whether the Hokies can pull off the upset away from home.
So far this season, the Hokies have been good at grabbing their own misses and have a 33.3% Offensive Rebound Percentage as a result. Notre Dame is an above average rebounding team, but there will be opportunities to attack the boards on offense. The Fighting Irish allow a 32.4% Offensive Rebound Percentage, which is slightly below average. Attacking the basket should allow chances for LeDay to be a nuisance on the glass.
Against Duke, the Hokies weren't able to weather the storm early and the game was over quickly. Let's see if the Hokies learned from that experience and are able to start with more intensity against a team that will likely be fired up after a huge win.
Notre Dame is just the beginning of a tough stretch for the Hokies, as they welcome #2 UNC on Sunday and host #17 Louisville next week. Those are two games to get fired up for, but the Hokies can't get ahead of themselves. Virginia Tech's defense has been less-than-stellar as of late (especially on the road), and I think that will be their Achilles' Heel this game. Notre Dame has a ton of scoring talent that would be tough for any team to defend. Buzz recently said that his team could easily be 0-5 in the ACC if a few things hadn't fell their way. I think that was more "keeping his players grounded" than "taking a shot at his team". I think the Hokies stay competitive, but Notre Dame's talent makes itself apparent.
Hokies lose, 84-75.