On Thanksgiving day, the Hokies trounced the New Mexico Lobos 92-72 to advance to the semifinals of the Wooden Legacy Tournament where they will take on Texas A&M. Virginia Tech looked dominant in their first round win, but the Aggies present a greater challenge than what the Hokies faced against New Mexico.
During Buzz Williams’ tenure, we know he loves multidimensional and versatile players, which often means playing “small ball”. Texas A&M is the polar opposite. With three players listed at 6-10 or taller that get significant minutes, the Aggies will be a force to deal with on the glass and in the paint. Sophomore Tyler Davis leads the frontcourt and the team in scoring with 13.7/7.3/2.0, an improvement over his freshman season where the Aggies advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Davis is also a great defender. He can protect the rim and he has the agile feet to stay with perimeter players once they attack the basket.
Eric Vila and Tonny Trocha-Morelos have also been valuable contributors in the frontcourt as well. Vila is actually a threat from three-point range, shooting 42.9% from downtown. Both rebound the ball at a solid rate, and that is going to be the key for the Hokies in this game. Can they, with their smaller lineup, generate stops and get the defensive rebound enough to mute the size disparity? It will be interesting to see, as they often struggled against bigger teams last year. This could be a game where Khadim Sy and Johnny Hamilton bag more minutes. Sy, who has already impressed as a freshman, has been a force on the boards in the Hokies’ four games this season. Performing well against proven and experienced bigs would be a great sign for him.
Many other players on the Aggies roster possess exceptional length and ability in addition to the literal “big 3” mentioned above. DJ Hogg, a 6-8 sophomore, scores 12 PPG and is a plus rebounder, averaging 6 boards per game. He shoots 42.1% from behind the arc and will likely be the best three-point threat the Hokies will have faced to this point in the season.
Another player to watch is freshman Robert Williams. The 6-9 forward was a four-star recruit in the 2016 and has averaged 9 PPG through his first four contests. Williams does most of his damage 15 feet from the hoop or closer, shooting 57.1% on the season. He has also blocked 2.7 shots per game, a ridiculous number for a forward, but it goes to show his defensive ability and athleticism.
As a team, Texas A&M sits at 3-1 on the year, with their only loss coming against USC (the real one, not South Carolina). Like Virginia Tech, the Aggies cruised through the first round. The theme in every game for A&M this year has been the defensive intensity. While the Aggies have played a soft schedule, they have only allowed 54 PPG, 6th lowest in the country. Their 81.8 Defensive Rating is outstanding as well. This is a team that will win on the defensive end and, like the Hokies, translates defense into offense efficiently.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has been one of the more productive offensive teams in the country. Their point totals this season: 80, 99, 88, and 92. Against New Mexico, the Hokies shot the ball extremely well from three-point range (45.8%), which has greatly improved since the 2015-16 season ended. The turnovers are down, another reason for the increased efficiency. Justin Robinson in particular has keyed the Hokies great start – his vision, handles, and ability to make passes with either hand has really ignited the quick ball movement we have seen from this team through four games. And his ability to get to the rim and score himself cannot be understated.
Williams will want his players to continue to attack the basket like they have been doing all season. Virginia Tech will have the quickness advantage, but they have to be careful to avoid shot blockers in the paint. However, pushing the tempo could tire out the Aggies’ bigs, which would go a long way in winning this game.
The game will tip-off at 5:30 EST - watch it live on ESPN.