(4) Virginia at (22) Virginia Tech
Time: 6 PM (CT), ESPN
Spread: VT -5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Virginia Tech Hokies are 20-5 and in fourth place in the ACC. It has won 5-straight games and will host No. 4 Virginia at 6 PM (CT) on ESPN as 5-point favorites according to NCAA basketball oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes. The Over/under is set at 119.5 points.
Virginia Tech has been led by a quartet of double-figure scorers and averages 75.4 points per game. Atop those scorers is Nickel Alexander-Walker who averages 16.9 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals per game. The 6’5” guard has increased his scoring average from his freshman season over six points per game, and over Virginia Tech’s last five games he has scored in double-figures in four of them. He struggled last outing in a 70-64 win over Pittsburgh, totaling just nine points on 2 of 5 shooting. Prior to that, he had 16 points and seven assists in a win over Georgia Tech. Alexander-Walker is shooting 50.9 percent from the field and 41.6 percent from behind the arc, while playing 33 minutes a night (up from just 25.4 per game as a freshman).
On his heels is Justin Robinson who averages 14.4 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game. Robinson is a 6’2” senior who has increased his scoring average each year at Virginia Tech, and he’s even bettered his impressive junior season a year ago, upping his average .4 points per game while shooting 47.5 percent from the floor and 41.1 percent from three. Robinson has been sitting out with a toe injury, but he is expected to return soon. His return signals the ascent of this Hokies team, because since his injury on Jan. 30 it has required several other Hokies to step up in his stead.
Kerry Blackshear Jr. has been the biggest of these “fill-ins” with 14 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists to his credit. All four of the Hokies leading scorers shoot 38 percent or better from three, and the team shoots 41.8 percent from behind the arc. Blackshear is a 6’10” stretch-4 and he came up huge in the win over Pitt. Blackshear finished with 29 points, nine rebounds, and three assists while shooting 8 of 9 from the field and 3 of 3 from three-point range. It stands to reason when Robinson returns, Blackshear, Alexander-Walker, and company can make a run in the NCAA tournament.
Virginia is 22-2 and in second place in the ACC. Once again, the team is tops in the NCAA in team defense, allowing just 54.4 points per game while scoring 72.1 per game itself. The Cavaliers have won 16-straight games since its disappointing 70-72 loss to No. 1 Duke. It still trails Duke by one game in the ACC standings, which is no small accomplishment given the talent billings on the Blue Devils’ roster.
Virginia has been led offensively by the trio of Kyle Guy, De’Andre Hunter, and Ty Jerome. The three combine to average 43.1 points per game, and all shoot 42 percent or better from three-point range., Mamadi Diakite has anchored the tough Cavs defense, and he is blocking 1.5 shots per game while coming up with 3.8 rebounds per game. Braxton Key leads the Cavaliers in rebounding at 6.0 per game, but he averages just 6.6 points per game and shoots only 43.7 percent from the field.
The Cavaliers have a well-rounded collection of players without any real headliners, but the team plays such strong defense it will be a task for Duke to overcome it again to claim the ACC title in the upcoming conference tournament. Virginia may encounter problems due to its lack of premier scorers, but it will be certain to garner a 1 or 2 seed and will be a chic pick to advance to the Final Four. If nothing else, the dictum that “Offfense wins games, but defense wins titles” has become something of a mantra for the way the Hokies approach building a team.