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Notre Dame Basketball: Virginia Tech Hokies Preview

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Notre Dame hosts the Hokies tonight without BONZIE, Matty, and Harvey

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

The hits just keep coming for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team.

After losing All-American BONZIE COLSON for essentially the entire ACC season and losing All-ACC senior point guard Matt Farrell to a sprained ankle for 3.5 games, things looked pretty dire for the Irish.

Without Farrell, though, the team played hard and competed against superior teams, and with Farrell’s return almost 2 weeks ago against Louisville, there was some renewed hope that the team could rattle off some wins and maybe sneak into the NCAA Tournament.

However, with freshman DJ Harvey suffering a bone bruise in his knee (leaving him out for 4 weeks) just as he seemed to be turning the corner and really asserting himself as a scorer, rebounder, and defender, and after the team finally got a week off to lick their wounds a bit, recover, and prepare for the final 11 games of the season, news broke on Thursday.

So, down half of its six leading scorers, the Fighting Irish will host the Virginia Tech Hokies this evening in desperate need of a win but with very little reason to expect one.

Let’s dive into the matchup and see if ND has any shot in pulling this off against a Hokies team that’s equally desperate for a nice win, but not missing multiple All-ACC players.

Quick Facts:

  • Notre Dame leads the all-time series with Virginia Tech 7-1 and holds a seven-game win streak over the Hokies. Virginia Tech’s one win over ND came in the first meeting — the 1973 NIT championship game, which ended as a 92-91 overtime Hokies victory on a buzzer-beating, 23-foot jump shot from Bobby Stevens
  • Mike Brey is 7-3 all-time vs. Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams (4-3 against him when he was coaching Marquette and 3-0 since he took the Virginia Tech job
  • Virginia Tech is a strong offensive team, sitting at 3rd in the country in field goal percentage (51.8%), 15th in scoring with an 85.4 ppg average, and 25th in three point percentage (39.7%); the Hokies are also 27th in KenPom.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating (115.4)
  • Defensively, though, the Hokies struggle: 107th in the country in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings, 133rd in field goal percentage allowed at 42.8%, 140th in three point percentage allowed (34%), and 217th in turnovers forced per game (13.1)
  • Virginia Tech is also not a good rebounding team, ranking 233rd in the country in total rebounds per game with 34.7 (70th in defensive rebounds with 27 per game, 332nd in offensive rebounds at just 7.6 per game)
  • Notre Dame has out-rebounded six of its first seven ACC opponents this season, including +8 vs. North Carolina, +11 vs. Louisville and +15 at Syracuse
  • Defensive efficiency rating for the Irish from KenPom.com is 95.9, which is the highest of the Mike Brey era and ranked 37th in the country (ND’s highest final season ranking was 43rd at the end of the 2007-08 season)
  • Notre Dame leads the country in least amount of personal fouls committed per game with a 13.2 average. The Irish are also third in the NCAA in terms of total fouls committed (264)
  • There are only four players in the ACC averaging a double-double in league play, including senior forward Martinas “The Bird Whisperer” Geben. Geben’s averaging 12.6 ppg and 10.9 rpg in seven ACC games, joining Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. from Duke and Luke Maye from UNC

Where: Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, Indiana

When: Saturday, January 27th, 8:00 p.m. ET

How to Watch: ESPN2 national broadcast with Mike Couzens (play-by-play), Dan Dakich (analyst), Gene Wojchiechowski (sideline). Also available on the WatchESPN app.

Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network with Jack Nolan (play-by-play) and Zach Hillesland (analyst). Available locally on WSBT AM960/FM 96.1, worldwide on WatchND.tv, via network affiliates (listed on page 8 of the notes package) and SiriusXM channel 84.

Virginia Tech Hokies (14-6, 3-4 ACC)

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

The Hokies have had an interesting season so far, as Coach Buzz Williams and his team boast a veteran team with lots of offensive firepower, but who has struggled to string together big wins this season. The Hokies began the season 11-2 with two close losses to Saint Louis and Kentucky, but lost four of their first six in ACC play, only managing to beat Pittsburgh and Wake Forest in that stretch.

VaTech picked up a huge win this week, though, as they upset #10 North Carolina on Monday to pick up a huge resume-building win and some positive momentum as they head into South Bend.

Virginia Tech totes a lineup featuring 5 guys averaging double figures in scoring and a sixth guy averaging about 9 points per game, with 5 of those 6 being upperclassmen.

Junior guard Ahmed Hill leads the way with 14.9 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, including shooting a blistering 47% from deep. He’s joined on the perimeter by junior Justin Robinson (12.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.1 rpg, and 41% from 3), senior Justin Bibbs (13.3 ppg, 38% from deep), and true freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker (11.4 ppg, 4 rpg).

The Hokies’ best inside presence is 6’10” F Kerry Blackshear Jr. (13.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), and he’s helped out in the paint by 6’6” forward Chris Clarke (8.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.5 apg).

As noted above, Virginia Tech is a very perimeter and guard-oriented team, so it will be interesting to see how the Irish are able to match up on all of their guards with Farrell and Harvey both out.

Hokie to Watch:

Justin Robinson, G, Junior

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

Ahmed Hill, Kerry Blackshear, and Justin Bibbs are the top three scorers for the Hokies, but Robinson is the floor general out there and the one who sets everyone up for shots (along with the ~13 points he adds each game).

Geben, John Mooney, Austin Torres, and Elijah Burns will be tasked with banging in the paint with Blackshear, and Rex Pflueger will certainly be guarding Hill in any man-to-man defensive situations, but Robinson will be looking to create freely, especially if Gibbs is tied up guarding Bibbs.

With Farrell out and Harvey unable to add length on the perimeter, it will be up to TJ Gibbs and Nikola Djogo to combine efforts and try to contain Robinson. If they can’t keep him from penetrating and finding open teammates, it could be a very long day for the Irish.

Irish X-Factor:

TJ Gibbs, G, Sophomore

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

It’s probably not fair what Gibbs has been asked to do this season, going from a bench player as a freshman to now the go-to scorer and floor general with COLSON, Farrell, and Harvey out. Gibbs has done a decent job scoring, but has not been very efficient in doing so.

Furthermore, he’s made some bad decisions in terms of when to pass and when to shoot, and so his play will be absolutely crucial in terms of getting high-percentage shots for himself and his teammates with so much scoring talent out with injuries.

Geben should be able to have a solid day against a bad rebounding team with very little big man depth, but Gibbs will be the absolute X-factor whose play decides if the Irish hang around and/or win tonight. Gibbs is being asked to come of age even more than the already unreasonable amount that’s been asked of him as a sophomore — how he responds to that challenge will absolutely determine the trajectory of this team for the rest of the season.

Prediction:

Notre Dame 66 - Virginia Tech 62

I’m thinking it’s the multiple schooners of Greenbush’s Star Chicken Shotgun I had at dinner on Friday night talking, but I have this strange gut feeling that the Fighting Irish are going to pull this one out.

I think this team has responded to adversity and bad news extremely well (i.e. the NC State and Syracuse games after COLSON went down), and I believe that we’re going to see the perfect storm of Virginia Tech playing a letdown game after a big home win, Gibbs and Geben bringing their A-games, Pflueger actually chipping in some scoring, and guys like Mooney and Djogo doing enough of the little things to push it over the top.

This might be a prediction I’ll be regretting at halftime, but I think the Irish win this one, which will be nice to have before a stretch of games where the Irish will probably not be very successful (especially on the road Monday against Duke — that could be a blood bath).