Virginia Tech is set to host the Ole Miss Rebels (6-2) on Sunday afternoon, in the first game of a home-and-home agreement between the two schools. The Hokies are coming off a 16-point win over Maryland Eastern-Shore, but struggled in the second half as they were outscored 43-37 in the final twenty minutes. They will look to get back to looking like the side that beat Michigan in Ann Arbor ten days ago. Meanwhile, the Rebels are 2-2 in their last four, losing against Creighton and Middle Tennessee. According to KenPom, Mississippi has played the 179th toughest schedule to date, hovering right around the average.
However, what is not average is the Rebels’ defense – far from it, actually. They currently give up 81 PPG to their opponents and have a Defensive Rating of 108.0. If Buzz Williams had to watch his team struggle like that on the defensive end, he would have heart attack, or at least feel the need to take off his jacket very early. To their credit, Ole Miss has played some decent teams, but the Hokies have a solid opportunity to win this one with their offense.
Mississippi’s offense is worlds better than their defense. One of the reasons they having a winning record despite giving up so many points on the defensive end is because they have four players that average double figures, the most notable of whom is junior Deandre Burnett. He averages 21.6/2.8/2.6 on a 31.3% Usage Rate, which goes to show how much the Ole Miss offense runs through him.
Burnett only shoots 36.7% from the field, but since he is a volume shooter, the Rebels like to feed him the ball to get him going. He is most dangerous behind the arc, where he knocks down 43.1% of his long range attempts (takes about 8 per game). Virginia Tech’s three-point defense has limited opponents to shooting 33% from downtown, and they will need to hold Burnett to a low percentage so he doesn’t get into his rhythm and take over the game. Furthermore, Burnett has an uncanny ability to get to the rim and draw contact. He has made a whopping 94% of his free throw attempts this season, meaning the Hokies have to be careful to play clean defense.
On the glass, Ole Miss relies on senior Sebastian Saiz to do the brunt of the work. The Spanish forward is averaging a healthy 11.5 rebounds per game in addition to scoring over 13 points per contest. He does a great job finishing defensive possessions, grabbing over 26% of available defensive rebounds. He’s a guy that LeDay (and sometimes Chris Clarke) will have to box out consistently. This will be a key matchup to watch as the game progresses.
Other players to watch include Cullen Neal, Terrence Davis, and Rasheed Brooks. All three guys usually play over 20 minutes per game. Neal is one of the Rebels’ better long range threats, as he makes 46.7% of his three-pointers and scores 13 PPG, third on the team. Davis is a player that likes to get to the rim like Burnett, and at 6-4, he will have the size to finish inside when the Hokies go with their small lineup. Rasheed Brooks currently shoots 38.2% from three-point range, and will be another long-range threat the Hokies must close out on.
As I mentioned above, Virginia Tech will have ample opportunities to score on offense. The Hokies have been an excellent shooting team this year, hitting 39% from three. The good news here is Ole Miss has been horrific defending the three ball. They rank fourth-worst in the country in perimeter defense, allowing teams to shoot an incredible 43.3% from deep. For comparison, Justin Bibbs is shooting 42.9% from three this season. Needless to say, the Hokies should look to move the ball around the perimeter until they can get a clean look. Ahmed Hill could have a huge game. He has been the most consistent shooter the Hokies have had this season, and if he can continuously get to his spot, he could burn Ole Miss for five or six three-pointers.
Ole Miss has a hard time taking the ball away from their opponents. Teams have a 15.5% Turnover Rate against the Rebels, which is in the bottom fifth in the country. Virginia Tech can get in trouble sometimes when they try to force the ball down the floor on fast breaks (looking at you Chris Clarke). Because of the desire to pick up the tempo, it is understandable that the Hokies will end up with more turnovers than the average team. But sometimes, the Hokies just are making the wrong read and slow to make their decision. I have confidence the Hokies can get the job done on offense, but I really want to see the players valuing the possession. It will go a long way to help prepare for conference play.
Virginia Tech, despite their success this season, can still be an inconsistent team. We saw that against A&M, the first half against Michigan, and against UMES this past Wednesday. However, they can also look absolutely dominant at times. At their best, this is a Top 25 team, and after a big win on Sunday, I think the Hokies garner enough votes to finally break into the polls.