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The Matchup: Virginia Tech vs. Wake Forest

The Hokies seek to win 11 ACC games for the first time in team history.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

While the Hokies have now essentially locked up a tournament bid, they host a Wake Forest team that looks to do the same. The Deacons are coming off an impressive 88-81 win over Louisville, and will look to carry that momentum into Blacksburg. Whether or not Wake Forest is a tournament team has been an enigma this season. They currently sit at 8-9 in the ACC, but have been competitive in nearly every game this season. This will be a side desperate for a win to put them over the bubble.

Wake Forest’s offense is what carries the team. They scored 88 points in their win over Louisville (Hokies’ fans should know all about lighting up that defense), and are averaging 81.9 points per game, which ranks 22nd in the country. That is a big jump from last season, where they only averaged about 74 points per game.

One of the reasons for Wake’s marked improvement last year is the emergence of forward John Collins. The 6-10 sophomore has turned into arguably the best interior threat in the ACC. During conference play, Collins is averaging an absurd 20.7 points and 9.4 rebounds a game on a 30.9% Usage Rate. He also does a good job getting to the free throw line – about 25% of his point production comes from the charity stripe. The offense will run through him, which is going to be a tough matchup for the Hokies due to his elite size and rebounding ability.

Virginia Tech has generally done a good job on the glass at home. Miami, one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, was held to a season low 8.7% OREB rate. It was an outstanding effort from everyone, as the guards got involved on the boards in addition to LeDay. Outlaw, Bibbs, and Allen combined for 11 of the Hokies’ 24 total rebounds. The Hokies need another effort like that to compete with Collins on the glass. Wake ranks 87th in the NCAA in total rebound percentage, and they rebound 31.3% of their missed shots.

Collins may not be a perimeter threat, but Bryant Crawford and Keyshaun Woods are. They make up the starting backcourt for Wake, and are the second and third leading scorers on the team. Crawford is probably the Deacon’s best playmaker, averaging 5.4 assists and has a 32.4% Assist Percentage this season. He is also averaging 16.2 points during conference play, and compliments Collins’ game well. Crawford shoots the three at a 34.8% clip, and perimeter defense has been inconsistent throughout the season for Virginia Tech, usually suffering even more when they are unable to protect the paint.

Freshman Keyshaun Woods is statistically a better shooter than Crawford, hitting an impressive 47% of his three-point attempts. That is not his entire game, however. Woods scores 12.7 points and is a steady finisher in the paint, shooting 51.5% inside the arc. Multidimensional players like him have done consistent damage to the Hokies due to their versatility, so Woods will have to be checked at all time.

Greek forward Konstantinos Mitoglou is Wake’s fourth leading scorer with 9.1 points per. For a player his height, he can cause a lot of problems with his perimeter shooting because at 6-10, shorter players are unable to affect his shot. Mitoglou shoots 32.9% from behind the arc, but can also be a threat on the low block. With two 6-10 guys who can score on the interior, the Deacons will be a true test for the Hokies’ defense in the paint. Mitoglou is also Wake’s second leading rebounder with just over 5 per game.

Austin Arians and Mitchell Wilbekin are both sharpshooters that come off the bench for the Deacons. Arians knocks down 39.8% of his triple attempts, while Wilbekin knocks down 41%. So like the Hokies, the Deacons have a number of players that can hurt you from the perimeter, and when you combine that with the gravity of John Collins, it is no secret why they have one of the best offenses in the country.

However, when Wake has lost games, it is because of their defense. For example, they scored 94 points against Duke but still lost that game 99-94. In this regard, the Deacons are similar to the Hokies who have encountered some of the same issues on the defensive end. Their 104.7 defensive efficiency ranks a subpar 285th in the NCAA. On the road during conference play, the Deacons give up an average of 87.25 points per contest. The Cassell crowd will likely end up watching a high-scoring game on Saturday afternoon.

At this point of the season, every team has an identity. With Chris Clarke out, the identity of this Hokies’ team has been great ball movement and elite three-point shooting. Virginia Tech is shooting over 51% from three over the last five games. While that percentage is probably unsustainable, Virginia Tech’s ball movement has been Spurs-esque through the final stretch of the season.

Everybody knows about Ty Outlaw’s hot streak, including his eight triple performance that broke the Virginia Tech all time record for three-pointers made in a game. But it’s not just Outlaw that has been hitting his shots. Justin Bibbs has come up big over the last few games, knocking 52.5% of his looks from behind the arc in the last seven games. In fact, Bibbs, Allen, and Outlaw all rank in the top 9 in the ACC in terms of 3P%.

The Hokies have also been successful at getting to the free throw line. They have done a very good job balancing how often they take the outside jumper and when they choose to attack the basket. Free throw shooting may be a deciding factor in this game as well. Wake Forest has committed the most fouls during conference play through 17 games, and for team that likes to get into the bonus early like the Hokies, they need to take advantage of the Deacon’s overaggressive play.

It will be interesting to see how Zach LeDay gets going in this contest. Because John Collins will be roaming the paint, LeDay’s best opportunity to score may be in transition. As long as he is able to facilitate ball movement from the low block as well, Virginia Tech should be alright on the offensive end that worries me.

This will also be the last collegiate home game for Zach LeDay and Seth Allen, who have been key contributors to the rebirth of Virginia Tech basketball. Tim Thomas of techlunchpail.com does an excellent job breaking down their journey with the rise of the program here. A huge thank you should be in order from the fans and coaches to those two players, who embody everything of what a Hokie should be. The team will surely miss Allen’s clutch shots and LeDay’s mean mugs after a poster next season.

Prediction:

Before the season began, I predicted the Hokies would win 22 regular season games, and they sit at 21 wins as of Friday night. It would be nice to see that come true on a day which would mean a lot to both Seth Allen and Zach LeDay. However, they will be facing a Wake team that will play with some energy and desperation on the road and presents a huge matchup problem with John Collins. I see a high-scoring affair, with the Hokies pulling out a victory at the end. Hopefully Cassell witnesses Seth Allen’s late game heroics one last time. It would be something out of a Hollywood movie.

Hokies 91-85.