After a brutal and tough midseason stretch, the Hokies seem to be finishing their season on a high note, notching a first-round bye in the upcoming ACC tournament and clinching an above .500 record for the season. Virginia Tech currently rides a three-game win streak when they get ready for their rematch with Pittsburgh Wednesday night. The Panthers shellacked the Hokies in the previous meeting coming out on top 90-71 as the game was beyond ugly in the second half for Virginia Tech.
Since that game, the Hokies have gone 4-3 and Pittsburgh has gone 3-4. However, the Panthers are coming off a more-than-solid 76-62 victory against #17 Duke. That victory essentially proved what we all know about this college basketball season. Any team can beat any other team at any time, and that's held true even in the ACC (something to remember for ACC tourney time). Virginia Tech has gotten into their groove both offensively and defensively, so both squads have some momentum coming into this game.
Here's the link to my game preview for the first matchup earlier this season.
What went wrong in the first game?
Well, everything. The Hokies barely showed a semblance of team basketball, posting 13 assists and 19 turnovers, the most times they've turned it over during conference play. Pitt was able to frustrate Zach LeDay, holding him to just 12 points on 5-13 shooting. Virginia Tech shot the ball well from three-point range, but from inside the arc they shot were just 40% from the field. They really struggled finishing at the rim or creating space for shots with Michael Young crowding the lane and making it difficult to operate. Virginia Tech will need to improve in that area because living and dying with the three ball is a dangerous game to play.
Justin Robinson may be the player to boost the Hokies' inside scoring totals. He's stepped up his play lately, scoring 12 or more in four of the last five contests. Against Wake, he had a couple of impressive and-ones that should build his confidence. If he can get to the rack early and finish, he could also open up the floor for other guys.
The Hokies played pitiful defense in the first meeting as well (letting a team drop 90 is obviously not winning basketball). In the first half, it seemed like the Panthers couldn't miss shooting 16-24 (.667) from the field en route to a 41-32 first half lead. Sheldon Jeter in particular had a career day going 9-13 from the field and scored 23 points and torched the Hokies with great cuts to get easy baskets. The Hokies were so focused on Michael Young and the threat he is and forgot about Jeter, and that's something that has to be in Buzz's scouting report.
The Hokies also didn't force enough turnovers. The Panthers turned the ball over just 9 times and posted an absurd 30 assists, a sign the Hokies just weren't energetic or relentless enough on defense, often late on rotations and not quick enough to jump passing lanes like they've been doing all season. I expect that number to go up simply due to the fact that the Hokies are at home and they've been much better at forcing turnovers at Cassell than on the road.
So what went right?
The one player who was able to get it going was Seth Allen. This was the game where Seth Allen really started to step up his play, putting up 28 points including shooting a flawless 5-5 from beyond the arc. With how he's orchestrated the Hokies' offense during this win streak, I would expect Buzz to create touches for Allen regularly.
Three point shooting in general was impressive as well, as the Hokies cashed in on 11 of their 21 three point attempts. Other than Allen, Jalen Hudson shot well from behind the arc going 3-for-4. Bibbs shot 33% in that game and entered a bit of a dry spell but it looks like he's picking things up as the season is coming to a close. He's been less hesitant in the Hokies' three game win streak to pull the trigger, and it's paid off as he's shooting about 42% in the last three. Justin Robinson has expanded his range and become yet another threat from deep. Look for the Hokies to continue to attack the perimeter against a good defensive team in the Panthers, especially if they aren't able to generate looks from inside.
Believe it or not, Pittsburgh is just one game ahead of Virginia Tech in the ACC rankings. With two home games left for the Hokies, they could finish higher in the standings than anyone predicted them to be. It all starts with a win Wednesday night. Virginia Tech has been excellent at home posting a 5-2 record, but I think that record stands at 5-3 at the end of the night. The Hokies haven't played the best competition the last three and I think Pittsburgh takes advantage of that (I'd love to be wrong).
Hokies lose a tight one, 78-73.