Virginia Tech 11-7 (1-6) at No. 19 Clemson 15-4, (7-1)
Time: 9:00pm, Saturday (1/21)
Location: Littlejohn Coliseum - Clemson, SC
Virginia Tech shares a lot of characteristics with Clemson: military traditions, prominent engineering departments, rural campuses, and football-first cultures with sordid basketball histories. Despite this, Coach Buzz Williams won 20+ games in four straight seasons from 2015-16 to 2018-19. When he left for Texas A&M, Mike Williams from Wofford took the job. They were .500 in Coach Williams’ first year but made the NCAA tournament in each of the last two seasons. As such, expectations were fairly high for Virginia Tech entering this year and they delivered early on.
The Hokies started 11-1 with their only loss coming to a very good College of Charleston squad. Then they went to Boston College and lost in overtime after senior guard Hunter Cattoor was injured. They haven’t won since.
Virginia Tech is riding a six-game losing streak and needs to turn it around quickly before the season gets away from them. Cattoor missed the middle four games of that six-game losing streak. He returned on Wednesday, but that wasn’t enough for them to outduel Virginia in Charlottesville. This losing streak may be more a product of the schedule than a true collapse.
Four of the losses were on the road and the home losses were 3 and 4-point losses to Clemson and NC State, respectively. Cattoor is a 3-point sharpshooter. He made 41.7% last year and 41.1% this season. Getting him back should help them get their season headed back in the right direction. Unfortunately for the Hokies, they must travel to Clemson and then host Duke before the schedule starts easing up.
One thing in the Hokies' favor is Clemson’s injuries. Clemson’s 7-game ACC win streak was snapped on Tuesday in Winston-Salem due in large part to foot injuries to sharpshooter Alex Hemenway and athletic point guard Chase Hunter. This forced freshmen Josh Beadle and Dillon Hunter into bigger roles and left no real depth behind them.
As of this writing, it is doubtful that they’ll return on Saturday. With them, Clemson would well-position to beat this Hokies squad they already beat on the road. Without them, the Tigers will be once again relying on inexperienced guards in a tough ACC game. That’s a tall task against a desperate Hokies team.
Virginia Tech is good offensively ranking 37th in offensive efficiency. They avoid turnovers and have five players averaging >9 points per game (Clemson does too, but two are the injured guards). Sean Pedulla is the player to watch. He has scored 10+ in every game this season and leads the Hokies with a 16.4 points-per-game average. The 6-foot-1 sophomore point guard also averages a team-high 4.3 assists per game. Clemson’s Josh Beadle is excellent defensively, but if he gets in foul trouble (as he did vs. Wake Forest) and Chase Hunter is out, Pedulla could have a field day.
KenPom: 73-71 Clemson (59% chance to win)
Ryan Kantor: If both Chase Hunter and Alex Hemenway are out again as expected, I am tempering expectations. I thought Clemson showed a ton of grit at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons seemed to get every bounce and every call; they couldn’t miss a 3-pointer and the Tigers were still within 6 points in the final minutes. Coming home gives Clemson a better chance. Without their key guards, this is probably no better than a 50-50 game for the Tigers. They’ll still have a good chance to reach 15-5 and be a tournament lock even with a loss, but a win would keep them alone atop the ACC and keep them on pace for a historic season.