Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Virginia Tech returns to non-conference action tonight after picking up their third-straight loss at home against Duke last week. The Hokies have faced some tough competition recently with their ups and downs with tonight's game presenting a good opportunity to regain some momentum as they make final preparations for the bulk of ACC play.
Chattanooga has had a solid start to the season at 6-4 with the Mocs having given Tennessee a good test this season losing by only 12 in Knoxville. Chattanooga will also be a familiar foe for Mike Young with the Mocs being a member of the Southern Conference along with Young's former team Wofford.
With that said, here's tonight's three things to watch and pick for the Hokies against Chattanooga.
1. Bouncing Back for Landers Nolley
Landers Nolley's impressive start to the season came crashing down to earth last Friday with 7 points and 9 turnovers against Duke including 6 turnovers and 0 points in the second half. Nolley's frustration showed with a flagrant foul that neither Nolley or head coach Mike Young were happy about in terms of Nolley's actions that drew the call.
Now, Nolley has a chance to respond and show that he isn't stuck on his previous game, but is ready to learn from that game and move on.
Nolley has bounced back well once earlier this season after going 3-10 for 11 points and 7 rebounds against Coppin State with 23 points and 6 rebounds on 8-14 shooting against USC Upstate. Like Nolley's previous bounce-back game, he'll get to do it against weaker competition and should be able to have a strong performance as he had in most non-conference games to date.
Tonight, even against significantly weaker opposition, provides another opportunity to see how well Landers Nolley handles adversity with previous performances suggesting he should have a big bounce-back game tonight.
2. Protecting the Basketball
After protecting the basketball well in Maui with three games of 11 or fewer turnovers, Virginia Tech struggled against Duke with 14 turnovers. With the competition level dropping down the next few games, this is a great chance for the Hokies to start finding their rhythm again against a Chattanooga team that is averaging over 5 steals per game and should provide a good test.
A lot of the issues against Duke was due to a young Virginia Tech team getting sped up and not being able to mentally slow down. That led to Landers Nolley and others trying to force things that simply weren't there.
Over the next four games, one of the goals for the Hokies and their 6 freshmen has to be to keep slowing the game down and not forcing things. If they can do those 2 things, the turnover issue against Duke should become the exception and not the norm for this team.
3. Jalen Cone's Growth
Against Duke, it became clear that Virginia Tech is different team offensively when Wabissa Bede is off the floor compared to when he's on it. Tech's offense look significant more in control and active with Bede at the helm even when they had to scramble late in the shot clock while the offense struggled a lot without him on the floor.
Tech needs that second distributor to be able to rotate in when Bede needs rest with Jalen Cone being the top candidate to be that guy.
So far, Cone has shown plenty of promise with great dribbling, athleticism, and some good offensive skills especially as a three-point shooter where he's making 57.1% of his threes. However, Cone hasn't been the best distributor with only 0.6 assists compared to 1.1 turnovers in 10.9 minutes per game.
For the Hokies, it'll be important to get Cone lots of reps running the Mike Young offense over the next 4 games for his development ad a distributor and facilitator ahead of ACC play.
Chattanooga is one of the Hokies' best mid and small major opponents coming to Blacksburg this year, but the 6-4 Mocs are clear underdogs ranking 242nd in KenPom. However, the Hokies should be more than ready to bounce back from their loss against Duke while Mike Young should also have a good idea of what to expect against the Mocs.
This game may be somewhat close in the opening minutes, but Virginia Tech has proven to be a well-prepared team that consistently starts strong and should pull away in the first half before cruising to victory to end their three-game losing streak.