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Villanova Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

The Wildcats are looking to leave Mohegan Sun’s Bubbleville with a 3-0 record.

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

“Free basketball!” is usually an exclamation that floods onto Twitter when a game goes into overtime. However, this weekend, instead of a third period in a game, the basketball gods have given us a third Villanova game at the Mohegan Sun against Mike Young’s Virginia Tech.

After Thursday’s 83-74 Thanksgiving Day win against Arizona State, Wright said that he wanted to find another game to play this weekend, if possible. With Virginia Tech likely scrambling to find an opponent after Temple cancelled due to a coronavirus outbreak, the Wildcats were officially scheduled as their new opponent overnight.

“We were trying to find another game,” Wright explained during a press conference Friday afternoon. “Obviously, here, everybody’s looking for games. So, they offered us to play Virginia Tech after last night’s game and we decided we’d do that.”

Villanova is 7-1 all-time against Virginia Tech. Jay Wright is 2-1, with the last meeting an 80-68 win in 2004.

A Look at the Hokies

The Hokies were about as young a team as there was around in 2019-20, as their top four scorers were all freshmen. Like many young teams, they were not very good. Young’s squad were able to break even at 16-16 on the season via a strong non-conference performance but finished 10th in the ACC at 7-13.

While they should improve upon last year now that they’re older and wiser, the Hokies had every mid-tier program’s worst fear realized when their 6-foot-7 leading scorer and ACC All-Freshman selection Landers Nolley II (averaged 15.5 points, 5.8 rebounds) transferred to Penny Hardaway’s Memphis Tigers. Fortunately, the transfer market gives just as it takes away, and Young was able to replace some of Nolley’s size and rebounding — if not his scoring — through Wofford transfer Keve Aluma.

The 6-foot-9 Aluma did lead the Hokies in scoring in their first game against Radford, but don’t expect that to continue against stronger opponents. He averaged only 6.9 points per game last year at Wofford.

That is not to say Virginia Tech does not represent a threat on the offensive end of the floor. Tyrece Radford (10.2 points per game), Nahiem Alleyne (8.8 points per game), Jalen Cone (8.0 points per game), and Hunter Cattoor (6.5 points per game) are all returning guards from last year who should improve from their freshmen seasons and fuel Young’s balanced offense. They can spread the floor, too. All those guards but Radford shot at least 34.9% from deep on at least 3.9 attempts per game, and the Hokies shot 35.2% from behind the arc as a team last season.

“They’re really skilled at all five positions and they can spread you out,” Wright said. They kind of remind me of Boston College a little bit. We really struggled guarding them off the dribble and I think that’s gonna be a concern of our team, because we do have pretty good size but the speed of some of these teams has given us some trouble.”

It’s important to note that Cone missed the game against Radford with a lingering injury but he is expected to play Saturday.

The Keys to Victory

Despite their guard-heavy rotation, the Hokies were actually better on defense than on offense in 2019-20, coming in at 98th in points allowed compared to 255th in points scored. But while Villanova is by no means a big team, they are very solidly a medium-sized team, which could cause Young problems in drawing up matchups.

Collin Gillespie is Wright’s smallest listed rotation player at 6-3, Caleb Daniels and Justin Moore are both very imposing 6-foot-4 players, and everyone else is 6-5 or taller.

Conversely, of the Virginia Tech players who logged at least 19 minutes against Radford, only Aluma and the Justyn Mutts are taller than 6-foot-4. They’ll only get smaller with the return of the 5-foot-10 Cone. No one in Villanova’s rotation — except maybe Eric Dixon — will have problems guarding out on the perimeter, so it is hard to see where Young will find mismatches for his players to match the ones Wright will have available to expose when the ‘Cats are on offense. If the Wildcats can stay in front of their man and hinder those drives to the basket, it’ll be a long day for Virginia Tech.

The ordinary concept of size mismatches does not even begin to grasp what could come onto our television screens when a single big is asked to defend Year Two Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, with no other size on the floor to help.

All of that said, Villanova knows better than anyone not to underestimate undersized volume-scoring guards, so anything could happen. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. ET on ESPNU, as the ‘Cats attempt to make it 2-for-2 against ACC opponents this season.