Hokie Hoops Preview: Virginia
After postponements and a season of ups and downs, it is finally time. Virginia Tech will look to upset the #8 Virginia Cavaliers in the Commonwealth Clash in what would be their first win against the long-time rival since 2018.
The Tony Bennet led Cavaliers underwhelmed at the beginning of the season, falling from #4 in the preseason AP Poll to #23 after getting upset by San Francisco and being blown out by the championship-favorite Gonzaga Bulldogs. They have heated up as of late, stringing together seven straight Atlantic Coast Conference wins to climb back into the top 10.
The Hokies are coming off a win of their own at Notre Dame and will try to get their second top 10 win of the season.
Virginia Tech has not faced anyone as much as they have Virginia, squaring off 151 times since 1914. The game has come a long way since their inaugural matchup, in which Virginia won 39-21. One thing that remains the same is just how dominant Virginia has been, leading the series 95 wins to Virginia Tech’s 56.
Last season was no different as the Cavaliers swept the Hokies in what was two of Virginia Tech’s three lowest-scoring games of the season. While their defense is good, they are beatable.
Their latest matchup was a thriller in Cassell Coliseum: the Cavaliers took it 56-53 after a step-back three-pointer from Kehei Clark iced the game with two seconds left.
Despite the loss, the Hokies put on a clinic in the second half of how to defeat the stout Virginia defense. They crawled back from a deficit with the aid of shooting 8-14 from behind the arc but ultimately could not get it done down the stretch.
Mike Young is looking to change the narrative about who the top dog is in Virginia and his squad looks poised to do just that.
”[ On fighting for the top spot in the ACC] That’s where we’re supposed to be, we’re Virginia Tech.”
While this Virginia team is a shell of the National Championship squad (which they are still defending considering the 2020 tournament was cancelled), Tony Bennet has a great basketball team.
Bennet is one of the best college basketball coaches of all time and his teams are always a threat, no matter what kind of talent he has. He is an elite defensive coach and his teams have lived at the top of nearly every defensive efficiency metric for the better part of the last decade.
To put it in perspective, they won 23 games last year with the worst-ranked offense among power five schools… That's how good their defense is.
They have since added some weapons on offense in the transfer portal and a pair of 4-star freshmen and look to be much improved.
Virginia is led by the aforementioned Kehei Clark. He won’t light up the scoring category by any means, but he is the general of this team. He is an elite passer and a scrappy defender, the type of player that Tony Bennet loves.
Another member who had production during their tournament run is now senior center Jay Huff. He is incredibly athletic for a 7-footer and is the anchor on the defensive end. He is a rim protector in every sense of the word rejecting 2.5 shots a game which is good for 18th in the nation. Offensively, he’s putting up the best numbers of his career at over 13 points a game on an impressive 45% from three-point range. There are not many players of his size that can do the things.
Virginia’s best player however is somewhat of a mystery to Virginia Tech fans: Marquette transfer Sam Hauser. He is Virginia’s most productive player and this game’s Must Stop Player.
Must Stop Player
Sam Hauser is Tony Bennet’s go-to guy and he rarely subs out of the game. Averaging a career-best 15 points per contest, Hauser is a dynamic player who can score from anywhere on the floor. Most of his production however comes from three-point land where he’s shooting 45% on the season. Hauser struggled at the beginning of the year but has made 15 of his last 23 three-point attempts over three games.
On the defensive end of the floor, he is equally productive. While Hauser does not stand out athletically, he makes up for it with his relentless hustle. Tony Bennet had this to say about his newest star:
“I like his versatility and he’s a team-first guy. He’s always saying, ‘What can I do to help the team?’”
Sam Hauser has done a lot to help the team and is a major reason why Virginia is a top 10 team in the country.
Like most Virginia games, it will likely be a low scoring affair. With a defense as good as the Cavaliers, it will be even more important to capitalize on easy scoring opportunities as they do not come very often. Virginia likes to slow down the game and tire opponents out by making them eat up the full shot clock. If the Hokies cannot knock down open shots when they come, it is going to be a very long game.
The Hokies will feel Tyrece Radford’s absence in what will be their first major game without him. He has been a swiss army knife for the Hokies, doing all the intangibles that make a team tick.
Who will step up in his place is the question: this game is the perfect opportunity for some of the younger guys to solidify themselves in the rotation.
Saturday, January 29th 6:00 PM Cassell Coliseum ACC Network