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Notre Dame Basketball: Virginia Tech Preview

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The Fighting Irish continue their road trip in Blacksburg, hoping to improve to 5-0 in the ACC by beating the Hokies of Virginia Tech

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

On a 6-game winning streak and sitting undefeated in-conference and atop the ACC alongside Florida State, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball team continues a road trip that began in Coral Gables on Thursday night, traveling next to Blacksburg, Virginia on Saturday to take on the Hokies of Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech will be hosting the 15-2 Fighting Irish after having defeated Syracuse this past Tuesday, 83-73. The Hokies began the season in impressive fashion, winning 12 of their first 13 games, capping that run by knocking off then-number-5 Duke at home. Buzz Williams’ team then proceeded to lose its next two, dropping back-to-back road games in a four-day span to NC State and 12th-ranked Florida State.

Now, gaining positive momentum from defeating the always-difficult Orange, the Hokies hope to take down another ranked opponent at the Cassell Coliseum and go back above a .500 record in the ACC. The Irish, meanwhile, hope to continue their gritty, clutch ACC start by improving to 5-0 and earning their third road victory in conference play.

Game Notes

  • Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike Brey have faced each other 9 times as head coaches, including seven times while Williams was coach of Marquette and twice since he has taken over at Virginia Tech. Mike Brey has won 6 out of those 9 contests
  • Virginia Tech is 41-23 in true home games under Buzz Williams, and 24-6 at home since the beginning of the 2015-2016 season
  • Notre Dame has been known mostly as a team who only performs well at home over the years, but since the beginning of the 2014-2015 season, the Irish have a strong 14-7 road record and are 2-0 this year in true road games, beating Pittsburgh and Miami
  • According to KenPom.com’s rankings, Notre Dame is ranked 25th and Virginia Tech is ranked 41st. In Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, Notre Dame ranks 8th in the country while Virginia Tech ranks 40th. Both teams have much lower rated defenses, as Virginia Tech’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency is 64th, while Notre Dame’s is 79th
  • Notre Dame’s 4-0 ACC record is the first time in the school’s history it has started conference play (in the Big East or the ACC) by winning its first four games
  • Mike Brey is now just 22 wins away from Notre Dame’s all-time record of 393 wins held by Digger Phelps

When: Saturday, January 14, 2017 @ 2 PM ET

Where: Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, VA

How to Watch: ACC Network, Watch ESPN

Virginia Tech Hokies (13-3, 2-2 ACC)

Virginia Tech enters this game as one of the better offenses in the country, as the Hokies sit at 26th in the nation in scoring, 21st in field goal percentage, 19th in 3-point percentage, 30th in assist-to-turnover ratio, 43rd in assists per game, and 45th in scoring margin.

This effort is led by a quintet of players who average double-digits in scoring. Forward Zach LeDay (16.6 ppg) and guards Ahmed Hill (15.1 ppg), Chris Clarke (12.3 ppg), Justin Robinson (10.8 ppg), and Seth Allen (10.7 ppg) combine for nearly 80% of the Hokies’ scoring.

LeDay and Clarke get it done closer to the basket, while Hill (45.1% from 3), Robinson (37.9%), and Allen (46.2%) are all fantastic shooters, contributing heavily to that top-twenty 3-point shooting offense.

NCAA Basketball: MD Baltimore Cty at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Junior guard Justin Bibbs is another key contributor and starts alongside LeDay, Hill, Clarke, and Robinson. He averages 8.6 points per game, 39% from long range, and 90% from the free throw line, adding another chunk of offensive production to the five players above.

Freshman forward Khadim Sy and junior guard Ty Outlaw both chip in for about 12 minutes per game to round out the rotation, with Outlaw offering additional strong shooting (38.6% from 3, 83% from the foul line) and the 6’10” Sy providing much-needed height down low. LeDay is the tallest player who sees major minutes, and considering he is only 6’7”, Sy often plays a key role in giving a few solid minutes in the paint to slow down opposing big men.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Three Weaknesses

Rebounding: The Hokies sport the 200th-best rebound margin in the country with 0.4, and that is largely due to the team’s ranking of 300th in terms of offensive rebounds per game (8.94). Total rebounds is slightly better (207th) due to a #90 ranking in defensive rebounds (27 per game), but Virginia Tech is still 207th in the country in total rebounds and that definitely isn’t good.

Overall Defense: The Hokies are 182nd in scoring defense, allowing opposing teams to score 72.1 points per game. Furthermore, Virginia Tech is 157th in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot, on average, 42.8% from the field. They’re 178th in turnovers forced (13.63 per game) and 202nd in blocked shots, blocking just 3.1 shots per contest.

Free Throws: For a perimeter-oriented team with strong shooting, Virginia Tech does not shoot free throws well at all. The Hokies are 146th in the country as a squad, shooting 70.5%.

Three Strengths

Scoring: Virginia Tech is 26th in the country in scoring, averaging 83.3 points per game. The Hokies are also 45th in the country in scoring margin, beating their opponents by an average of 11.2 points per game.

Shooting: VaTech is 21st in the country in field goal percentage, shooting a scorching 48.8% as a team. They’re also fantastic from behind the 3-point arc, shooting 39.9% on the year - good for 19th-best in the nation.

Defending the Perimeter and Sharing the Ball: The Hokies are 45th in the country in 3-point field goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 31.1% from long range. On the other end, they rank 30th in assist to turnover ratio at 1.37, mostly because of the 16.6 assists they rack up every game, ranking them 43rd in America in assists per game.

Hokies to Watch

Zach LeDay - 6’7”, Forward, Senior

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Zach LeDay is the senior leader for Virginia Tech, leading the team in scoring (16.6 ppg) and sitting second on the team in rebounds (7.3 per game) and blocks (0.9 per game). At 6’7”, he’s the big man in a 4-guard, 1-forward starting lineup for Buzz Williams, using his athleticism and strength to compete with bigger players in the paint.

He’s an efficient scorer, shooting 52.5% from the field and 74.7% from the free throw line. However, he isn’t a jump-shooter, making just 26% of the 3-point field goals he’s attempted this season.

His matchup with Bonzie Colson should be a fun one to watch, as two undersized big men find themselves facing guys their own size instead of the behemoths they typically go up against in ACC play. LeDay’s shot-blocking ability could be huge in deterring Colson from going off in the post, and it will be interesting to see if the 6’5” Colson is able to contain LeDay.

Finally, a fun fact: his younger brother Seth is also on the team, but is redshirting as a junior this season, so we will not get to see the LeDay brothers take the court by storm together, unfortunately.

Ahmed Hill - 6’5”, Guard, Junior

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Ahmed Hill is the Hokies’ best perimeter player, scoring 15.1 points per game and connecting on 45.1% of his 3-pointers. Not the best distributor (just 1.7 assists per game despite playing the most minutes of anyone on the team - 31.3), Hill is a score-first guard who converts field goals at a 45.8% clip and adds about 4 rebounds in each contest.

His length and athleticism will be an interesting matchup for Notre Dame’s guards on both sides of the floor, and he will need to shoot the ball well for the Hokies offense to fire on all cylinders.

Chris Clarke - 6’6”, Guard, Sophomore

NCAA Basketball: Virginia Tech at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Clarke is a super-athletic wing for Virginia Tech who does a little bit of everything. He scores 12.3 points per game (3rd on the team), leads the team in rebounds with 7.6 per game, dishes out about 4 assists per contest, and shoots 62.1% from the field. Oh, and he can also jump and dunk fairly well, as Duke found out:

He mixes it up in the paint with his 6’6” height, rarely venturing out to shoot jumpers. LeDay and Hill are the scorers ND needs to focus on, which could mean Clarke has a big day picking up some of that slack and helping distribute the ball to all of the Hokies shooters.

Pick to Click

Bonzie Colson - 6’5”, Forward, Junior

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Even against the biggest of big men, Bonzie Colson rarely has trouble scoring or rebounding well. Leading the Irish in points per game (16.4), rebounds (10.8), and blocks (1.4), Colson has been stellar down low all season, and could end up having a field day against a team who regularly plays a core group consisting of players 6’7” and under.

With that said, Colson can oftentimes use speed and leverage to beat bigger defenders, so it will be interesting to see how he handles smaller, more athletic opponents like LeDay and Clarke.

Knowing Bonzie’s arsenal of moves and tendency to overpower weaker defenders whenever he feels like it, I think he’s in for a big day and another double-double, featuring a lot of free throws (which he will make, considering he is shooting an unreal 89.6% - which, sidenote, is somehow NOT the best or even the second-best on the team) and lots of strong rebounds.

Prediction

Notre Dame 84 - Virginia Tech 75

Virginia Tech’s offense scares me, especially considering this game is in Blacksburg and Notre Dame is coming off a close, intense game at Miami just two days prior. However, I think the Irish will shoot much better than they did against the Hurricanes, taking advantage of a bad Hokies defense.

LeDay and Hill will probably have good games, and someone like Seth Allen will probably hit his share of long-range bombs, but I think Bonzie and Matty Farrell shoulder the scoring load, get modest help from Vasturia and Beachem and possibly even Geben (who will also dunk the ball in this game), and the Irish will improve to a completely unexpected 5-0 start in ACC play.