Three Things to Watch for No. 12 Virginia Tech at No. 23 N.C. State

By: Tim Thomas | @TimThomas1996 | Feb 02, 2019
Virginia Tech has put together their two best ACC performances to date over the past two games with a 22-point win at home against Syracuse and a 12-point win at Miami this past Wednesday. Now, the Hokies have lots of momentum as they head on the road to Raleigh for a top 25 showdown with N.C. State with both teams looking for their best ACC win to date. With that said, here's our three things to watch for the Hokies and Wolfpack.

1. Justin Robinson's Status

After suffering an injury early in the second half of Virginia Tech's win over Miami, social media has been abuzz with rumors about the status of Justin Robinson and the severity of his injury. Unsurprisingly, Virginia Tech has been hesitant to make any public comment on Robinson's status similar to how VT didn't say anything about P.J. Horne till after their loss at North Carolina.

2. Depth Could Be An Issue

Virginia Tech's depth has been a major talking point throughout the season and if Robinson is unable to go, the Hokies will be down to a six-man rotation with it possible that VT gives Jon Kabongo a few minutes just to spread out the load. Meanwhile, NC State has 9 players averaging 14+ minutes per game without a single player averaging more than 30 minutes per game. That depth advantage for NC State could be a major issue for the Hokies especially given how the Wolfpack average the 33rd most possessions per game nationally and 3rd most in the ACC. For comparison, the Hokies are 332nd in the nation in possessions per game and 14th in the ACC (only Virginia at 352nd averages less). Given that large difference combined with NC State's depth advantage and their strong ball movement (averaging over 16 assists per game), this sets up to be a tempo battle with the Wolfpack wanting to push it and the Hokies needing to limit possessions given their lack of depth regardless the status of Robinson. If the Hokies can't control the tempo especially with less depth days after a long road trip to Miami, it could be disaster. For the Hokies to avoid that, they'll need to rely on their improved half-court offense along with lots of quality ball movement that has proven to be a staple of Buzz Williams teams on the offensive end.

3. Need Improved Play From Kerry Blackshear

NC State's weakness is in the frontcourt as though Samford transfer Wyatt Walker and sophomore DJ Funderbunk have proven to be solid rotational pieces, neither are consistent ACC starting level bigs let alone among the upper echelon like Kerry Blackshear. However, Blackshear has struggled in recent games on the offensive end with only 7 points on 3-13 shooting including an 0-5 game in only 17 minutes before fouling out at Miami. Despite that, Blackshear has still found ways to leave his mark with 9 rebounds including 8 in the first half of that game while also having a pair of double-doubles through the first 8 games of ACC play. Blackshear has worked mostly in the post lately attempting only one three-pointer in the past three games. While Blackshear isn't a three-point shooter, it may be wise for VT to try to stretch out their big man and give him a couple shots from outside to create some more space for VT's guards to attack the rim and potentially set up the pick-and-roll game with Blackshear and Alexander-Walker (and Justin Robinson if he's able to play). The Hokies need Kerry Blackshear to step up against an NC State frontcourt that lacks a high-level starting center to match up with Blackshear. If Blackshear can't break his struggles, it'll make the Hokies' task even tougher especially if Justin Robinson isn't there to share the lead scoring load ith Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

Prediction

This game is hard to pick largely due to the fact that no one has any real clue beyond message board and Twitter rumors about the status of Justin Robinson. It's hard to deny how big of a loss Robinson would be for any period of time and could absolutely affect the outcome of a game against another top 25 team like N.C. State. Virginia Tech does benefit from the fact that they have the most talented player in this game in Nickeil Alexander-Walker and the best big man in Kerry Blackshear. While basketball is a team game, having the best guard and center in a particular matchup is always a major plus that will give the Hokies a very good chance regardless of the status of Robinson, similar to Notre Dame when Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell were healthy last season. In this game, the Hokies will need their stars to play well while they'll also need the strong offensive form of Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw to continue. Unlike Virginia Tech's first two road ACC games against ranked competition, this will be a competitive game whether Robinson is able to play or not. If the Hokies do have Robinson, they'll be able to be more effective at controlling the tempo and will go on the road and win a close one in Raleigh. If Robinson is out, Virginia Tech will respond well, but NC State's depth will be a serious problem along with the potential point guard issues that would favor NC State's Markell Johnson and Braxton Beverly. Combine that with going against a Wolfpack team that averaging 7.6 steals per game, and the Hokies may not be ready to adjust to not having Robinson at the point especially when VT wants to try to start Alexander-Walker off the ball with Wabissa Bede at the point. Combine that with almost no depth and even though Alexander-Walker and Blackshear could have big games, the Hokies won't have enough to avoid wearing down by the end especially in a second consecutive road game after a long trip to Miami when facing a Wolfpack team that can reliably and effectively push the tempo.

Picks

  • With Justin Robinson: #12 Virginia Tech 74, #23 NC State 71
  • Without Justin Robinson: #23 NC State 79, #12 Virginia Tech 70

Photo Credit: Harley Taylor

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