Old rivals meet again. Although their records have been vastly different in the last six games, these games are always heated. UVA rides a six game win streak, albeit helped by a miraculous comeback against Wake Forest, and has been as efficient as ever. They currently rank 7th in the Coaches' and AP Poll, but face a tough finish in conference play. Meanwhile, the Hokies ended a five game losing streak against Clemson at home on Saturday in front of a sold out crowd. It was crucial that they won that game to have some confidence heading into Tuesday night's clash against a quality opponent on the road.
I've already written a preview of UVA's offensive threats and their style of play back in early January. Since their roster is the exact same and there aren't any injuries, you can go ahead and read that here if you're looking for more of a personnel breakdown.
So what went right in the first matchup? Well, the Hokies were able to hurt the Cavaliers from beyond the arc. Virginia Tech went 9-17 that night which was important because London Perrantes put on a three-point clinic of his own. Zach LeDay and Justin Bibbs shot a combined 7-9 and Seth Allen chipped in with 2 long balls of his own. Bibbs has gone quiet with his deadly shooting stroke since the last Commonwealth Clash, so it would be great to see him regain his form. He's scored double figures in each of the last four games, so maybe he has a nice 16 or 18-point outing against Virginia. LeDay's shooting however, caught UVA and probably all of Hokie nation off guard that night. His shooting really helped create space in the middle of the floor for the Hokies' wings to attack.
The 16 turnovers Virginia Tech forced against UVA were also a huge factor in their win. The Cavaliers have a Turnover Percentage of just 13.9% which ranks 23rd in the country, so they've been careful and consistent with their ball handling. On that night, the Hokies were able to force the ‘Hoos into countless turnovers and mistakes they don't usually make. Against Clemson on Saturday, Virginia Tech was able to do the same thing, getting their quick hands in passing lanes and getting out in transition. Buzz used a quicker lineup against Clemson, starting 4 guards, and maybe he does the same thing tonight to enforce the same kind of mentality. On the other side, the Hokies turned the ball over eight times, which is an outstanding mark against a great, cohesive defensive unit the Cavaliers boast. Replicating the turnover margin or something close to +8 could be the reason the Hokies steal one on the road.
The reason the Hokies were able to go on a late run to extend their leads to double digits wasn't just the turnovers, but the points off turnovers. UVA, like Syracuse and Clemson, doesn't push the pace too often, but when the opponent does it can make life difficult for the defense. The Hokies found themselves in 2 vs. 1 and 3 vs. 2 situations in the transition game that they were able to take advantage of. The Cavaliers will be more prepared this time around, but the Hokies still need to find a way to get their transition game rolling.
It's hard to nitpick an underdog when they come out with the win, but the Hokies barely won last time around. It came down to a controversial no-call when Zach LeDay blocked Perrantes as he was driving in for the game tying layup. There was contact but the refs swallowed their whistles (besides, who expected an ACC ref to make a good call?).
One thing the Hokies need to improve upon from the last game was the rebounding, as it's been a problem for much of the season. They were out-hustled on the glass 34-22, and with interior beasts Anthony Gill and Isaiah Wilkins, it won't be any easier this time. Gill posted five Offensive Rebounds on his own and the Cavaliers totaled 10 as a team. Even though that's not a good total, the Hokies have allowed 12.5 ORB per game. Saying every game doesn't make it less true: Virginia Tech needs to step it up on the defensive glass. Giving up second chance points on the road hurts more than it does at home.
UVA's last three opponents haven't shot above 40% and haven't scored more than 50. That is outstanding defense. The Hokies have played some tough defenses in the past few weeks but this will be a huge test on the road, which hasn't been kind to the Hokies. I think UVA is playing too well, and although Virginia Tech scrapped their way to a victory over the Tigers, that confidence won't be enough to beat a hot team on the road.
UVA 72-65 VT.