The Tigers travel to Blacksburg to take on a Virginia Tech squad that is struggling mightily. The Hokies (12-10, 1-5 ACC) have lost 7 of their last 8 games, and are coming off of a short turnaround (suffered a loss to Duke at home on Thursday night). The Tigers, on the other hand, are coming off of one of their better performances of the season. So just from looking at the recent wins and losses between the two teams, the Tigers should be favored.
BUT, you have to remember that this game is being played in Blacksburg. It is a road game. The Tigers haven't won a true road game since November. And when you take a closer look at the Hokies' schedule, you'll notice that 5 of their 7 January losses have come by 4 points or less (the other 2 were blowout losses to UNC and Duke). In other words, they might be better than their record indicates, as they are extremely competitive in every game against teams not named North Carolina or Duke.
Tech's offense runs through Erick Green. The junior is in on the floor over 33 mpg, and his 15.9 ppg is good enough for 6th best in the conference. He can drive the lane and pull up from just about anywhere. And if the game is close down the stretch, he's not the one to foul (85.3% ft shooter).
And he's not the only Hokie that's almost automatic at the line, as Dorenzo Hudson and Jarell Eddie are also shooting over 83%. Hudson is the Hokies' 2nd-leading scorer, but he actually hasn't started any games recently. He started a lot of games earlier in the season, but as the Hokies' losses piled up in conference play, Greenburg decided to pull Hudson from the starting lineup and give him a 6th-man role. Hudson's scoring output has seen a slight increase in the 5 games since the switch, but the Hokies haven't done any better in the win column (1-4 in the 5 games).
Jarell Eddie mostly plays in the paint, but he's also one of the Hokies' best 3-point shooters. The 6-foot-7 sophomore was shooting 49.3% (37-75) from beyond the arc coming into the Duke game, but he went 0-5 from downtown against the Dookies.
In addition to Eddie, Devin Booker will also have to deal with Victor Davila in the paint. Davila, a 6-8 senior, could give Book problems inside. The Hokies' other frontcourt player, Dorian Finney-Smith probably won't do much on offense, but we will need to box him out on D, as he leads the Hokies in rpg (7.2).
The Tigers are coming off of one of their better performances of the season in a close, hard-fought loss against Virginia up in Charlottesville. If we can play like we did on Tuesday, we should win this game in a cakewalk. But what kind of energy will we bring? Before Tuesday night, we hadn't played with any energy or sense of urgency in any of our road games. Was Tuesday's performance a sign of a changed team? Of a new mentality? It's certainly possible that Milton's suspension played a part in the newfound energy the guys had against UVA. But it's also possible that they simply got jacked up for a superior opponent. Also, Milton's continued absence (did not make the trip up to Blacksburg) could result in Tech having a large rebounding advantage.
We will need to get a big lead in order to feel good about this one, as VT has had a way of staying in games throughout the season. If it's close down the stretch, all VT has to do is put it in the hands of one of its three superb free throw shooters (Green, Hudson, Eddie) in order to ice the win. We'll need to come out with the same level of play that we had on our last trip up to Virginia if we want to get out of Blacksburg with a win.
Game tips at 4 on RSN.
Projected Starting Lineup for the Hokies:
#11 Erick Green 6-3, 185 junior PG
#31 Jarell Eddie 6-7, 218 sophomore G/F
#14 Victor Davila 6-8, 242 senior F
#15 Dorian Finney-Smith 6-8, 192 freshman F
#10 Marquis Rankin 6-1, 165 freshman G
Also Watch Out For:
#5 Dorenzo Hudson 6-5, 220 senior G
#1 Robert Brown 6-5, 190 freshman G
#4 Cadarian Raines 6-9, 238 sophomore F
Projected Starting Lineup for the Tigers
#11 Andre Young 5-9, 170 senior PG
#5 Tanner Smith 6-5, 210 senior G
#31 Devin Booker 6-8, 245 junior F/C
#1 TJ Sapp 6-2, 180 freshman G
#21 Bryan Narcisse 6-6, 225 senior F