After an emotionally and physically draining performance in Thursday’s win at Miami, No. 20 Notre Dame faces a quick turnaround for the second leg of their three-game road trip as the Irish travel to Virginia Tech Saturday.
The Hokies offer a contrasting style to what the Irish saw Thursday against the Hurricanes. While Miami hangs their hat on a stingy defense, the Hokies push the tempo and are one of the highest scoring teams in the ACC.
Saturday will mark the eighth all-time meeting between the two programs. The Irish lead the series 6-1 with the lone Virginia Tech victory coming in the 1973 NIT Championship Game.
The Irish escaped with an 83-81 victory as season ago and dominated the Hokies in their last trip to Blacksburg with an 85-60 beating.
Despite these two programs having a limited history, Mike Brey and Buzz Williams faced each other many times as Big East foes. Overall, Brey’s has faced off with Williams Marquette teams a total of 12 times with Brey having the upper hand with seven wins.
The two coaches go back a long time and Williams before last season’s matchup, Williams coined Brey “the coolest coach in America.”
After two years of establishing the foundation of the program, Williams and the Hokies are prime for a break out season. During WIlliams’ tenure, the improvements have been incremental, but Virginia Tech currently finds themselves in a tie for fourth in the ACC and have a legitimate shot at earning a tournament bid.
Virginia Tech’s emergence as a ACC contender was inevitable the day they hired Buzz Williams. The Hokies don’t have much of a basketball history and most of the resources and fan attention go to the football program. So, the fact that Williams would leave Marquette, a school with a strong basketball tradition, for an ACC bottom-dweller was perplexing.
What wasn’t known at the time was that instability in the administrative and athletic departments at Maquette sent Williams packing and Virginia Tech was fortunate he chose Blacksburg as his landing spot.
The Hokies come into Saturday’s matchup with an 11-3 overall record and a 2-2 mark in conference. Virginia Tech meandered through its non-conference schedule without a signature win, but the Hokies made a statement that echoed throughout the ACC in their first conference game when they demolished Duke.
Since the victory over the Blue Devils, they have fallen to N.C. State and Florida State on the road before defeating Syracuse at home on Tuesday.
Zach LeDay leads the Hokies with 16.6 ppg., while Chris Clarke is the Hokies’ top rebounder a 7.6 rpg.
As mentioned before, the Hokies like to play at a faster pace. Virginia Tech has allowed at least 70 points to the last six major conference programs they have played and and are third to last in the ACC in defensive efficiency.
All of these factors point to a high-scoring contest.
Notre Dame is one of seven teams in the country who are 4-0 in conference. It is the first time in program history that the Irish have started 4-0 in conference and they currently sit in a tie for first with Florida State.
Just some perspective on how the Seminoles and Irish have reached their 4-0 marks – Florida State has a 49-point differential in its four wins, while ND has an 18-point margin.
Vegas has Virginia Tech as a 1.5-point favorite at the time of this writing and that seems about right.
Combined with the exhaustive nature of the Miami win and the travel delays getting to Blacksburg (see below), Notre Dame will be sluggish early after the quick turnaround.
Flight delay in Miami… might as well get recovery started in the pool.
Irish head to Virginia Tech in a couple hours… pic.twitter.com/3QJmW6TFfS
— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) January 13, 2017
If the Irish are to notch their third consecutive road win, ND is going to need their leaders to assert themselves and make big plays like they did at Miami.
Strong performances from Matt Farrell and Steve Vasturia have become a foregone conclusion at this point, but expect a big bounce back game from Bonzie Colson. The Hokies do not possess the same type of length and athleticism held him in check Thursday against Miami, so expect the junior to return to his all-conference form Saturday.
As with every road game, weathering the storm early will be another key. Last season, the Irish found themselves in early holes and they were never able to dig themselves out. As long as Notre Dame remains in striking distance in the final minutes, they expect to win.
As mentioned in the Miami recap, Thursday night’s game was physically and emotionally taxing and I expect the Irish to feel some of those effects Saturday. If, however, ND leave Blacksburg with a win, this team could be on the verge of something very special.