After a rough start to conference play, Virginia Tech travels to Louisville to improve upon their two-game win streak. It will not be an easy task. Under interim coach David Padgett, Louisville has a 12-4 overall record and a 2-1 conference record. On Wednesday, the Cardinals found themselves down 17 points at Florida State but were able to mount an impressive comeback to win on the road 73-69. This is a good team, but not as good as years past when they were under the coaching “prowess” of Rick Pitino.
The series history heavily favors Louisville. The Hokies have not beaten the Cardinals since 1991, and have only won 2 of the last 25 matchups, dating back to February of 1985. Overall, Tech is 8-31 against Louisville.
The Hokies struggled against two good defensive teams in Syracuse and No. 3 Virginia and bounced back with two solid performances against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. We will see if that improvement is genuine or due to the caliber of opponent against Louisville, who ranks 13th in Defensive Efficiency per KenPom. Last season’s meeting was one of the more entertaining league games of the year, as both teams could not miss in a 94-90 Louisville win. The Hokies shot 17-of-26 from three in that game against a great defensive team and will look to do more of the same this time around, given that their outstanding shooting performance against Wake Forest carries over to the rest of the season.
Louisville has ramped up their defensive intensity during conference play. Teams are only shooting 37.4 percent from the field and just 28.8 percent from behind the arc. Nearly all of their perimeter players have length and versatility, allowing Padgett to be multiple with his defensive schemes.
Obviously, that size discrepancy will show up on the stat sheet. The Hokies have been outrebounded for seemingly forever, and a team that rebounds 32.4 percent of their misses in Louisville should be able to take advantage of that. They were able to last season, notching 16 offensive boards which effectively won them the game. That was without Kerry Blackshear however, who actually has been very good on the defensive glass (when he’s not in foul trouble).
Another concern for Virginia Tech is Louisville’s shot blocking. The Cardinals are the 4th most efficient shot blocking team in the nation, rejecting 18.3 percent of two-point attempts. That is astoundingly good. When the Hokies are able to get into the teeth of the defense, they must be wary of help coming from any direction especially since they are a much smaller team. Blocks often energize a crowd and can spark elongated runs, so the momentum of the game could swing if the Hokies are not careful.
That is not to say Virginia Tech should not be aggressive inside the paint. Teams that have had success against Louisville get to the rim and the free throw line. Under Buzz, the Hokies have been one of the best teams in the country at getting to the charity stripe and making teams pay for fouling. If Virginia Tech can get in the bonus early and force Louisville to play less aggressive defense, it would be a key factor in determining the result of the game.
Projected Louisville Starters:
Quentin Snider - Guard - 6’2”
Deng Adel - Forward - 6’7”
VJ King- Forward - 6’6”
Raymond Spalding - Forward - 6’10”
Malik Williams - Center - 6’11”
Full Player Stats:
Since Donovan Mitchell left for the NBA this year, Deng Adel and Quentin Snider have each shouldered the load on offense. Adel averages 15.1 points per game using his athleticism to beat defenders to the rim. He plays similar to Chris Clarke, but has better touch around the rim. If you don’t put a body in front of him, Adel will end up on your lowlight (but his highlight) reel:
Snider does much more of his damage from the perimeter, but has the ability to get to the rim as well. His value to the team comes from his playmaking ability as Snider averages 4.1 assists per game. He also has a 2.7:1 assist/turnover ratio, showing that he can control the game and put his teammates in good positions to score without making mistakes.
Virginia Tech may struggle a little to keep Adel and Snider in check, but the size mismatch comes from the last three members of the starting lineup.
VJ King, a five-star recruit hampered by injuries last season, has shown his talent this year. With his athleticism, King is very good on the glass for a wing with 6.3 boards a game in addition to scoring 8.9 points per game. He is one of the best fourth options in the ACC, a testament to Louisville’s depth. King is also a proficient three-point shooter knocking down 38.9 percent of his attempts, although that is a big part of his game.
Raymond Spalding will be someone the Hokies probably will not have an answer for since Louisville often plays with two bigs on the floor. Spalding currently averages 11.4 points and 9.3 boards, making him a double-double machine at 6-10. He will be a nuisance on the offensive glass, as will freshman center Malik Williams. Williams does not get much playing time, but he averages 3.1 boards in just 11 minutes a game.
Virginia Tech will also have trouble dealing with Anas Mahmoud in the paint. He comes off the bench and scores 8.1 points per game, shooting 60.2 percent from the field. Mahmoud did not see many minutes in last year’s matchup, but he will be facing off against a much smaller Hokies’ team this time around. Mahmoud is also the Cardinals’ best shot blocker, averaging and insane 3.6 blocks a game.
Ryan McMahon is Louisville’s best three-point shooter, knocking down 39 percent of his attempts on the season but has made 53.8 percent of his threes in conference play. He is not much more than a shooter, as over 90 percent of his attempts have come from behind the arc. Dwayne Sutton adds more size off the bench at 6’5” and averages 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as a solid depth contributor.
Louisville has not been a great shooting team thus far, but the Hokies are actually the worst three-point defending team in the conference four games in, allowing teams to shoot 41.8 percent from three. The Hokies have struggled to defend the interior partly because they keep allowing teams to have open looks from downtown. This creates holes in the zone to attack the rim, and without much shot blocking there is not much Buzz can do. Not so fun fact: the Hokies have only registered 4 blocks during conference play – unsurprisingly, last in the ACC.
One of the ways the Hokies can counter Louisville’s size is by pushing the tempo. They probably won’t get as many easy buckets as they did against the Deacons, but making the big boys run can certainly decrease their impact on both ends of the floor. For example, Doral Moore of Wake Forest really struggled keeping up when the Hokies were able to string together one or two stops and pushed the ball up the floor.
Virginia Tech has typically struggled against good defenses on the road, and Louisville is another one of those teams. I surmise the Cardinals’ length, athleticism, and defense will give us more concerns that we had prior to the Pittsburgh game. Defensively, I am not sure how Tech plays all of Louisville’s big men and wings. While Louisville is beatable, I don’t think the Hokies get the win in this one.