Louisville Cardinals (23-6, 14-4) vs. Virginia Tech Hokies (15-13, 6-11)
Game Time: 6:01 p.m.
Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.
Television: ACC Network
Announcers: Dave O’Brien (play-by-play), Jordan Cornette (analyst) and Katie George (reporter)
Favorite: Louisville by 11.5
Officials: Ted Valentine, Bill Covington, Jr., Jamie Luckie
Series: Louisville leads, 34-8
Last Meeting: Louisville won 72-64 on Feb. 4, 2019 in Blacksburg
Probable Starting Lineups:
About Virginia Tech:
Virginia Tech lost four of its five starters and its head coach from the 2018-19 Hokie team that won 26 games and came a missed layup away from upsetting No. 1 overall seed Duke in the Sweet 16. With that being the case, it was understandable that this year’s VT squad was picked to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC before the start of the season.
For the first two months of the season, new head coach Mike Young (Wofford) seemed like a lock to be on the short list for national Coach of the Year. Virginia Tech won its first six games, including its ACC opener against Clemson and a stunning upset of preseason No. 1 Michigan State in the Maui Invitational quarterfinals. They continued to look like an NCAA tournament team through mid-January, winning 13 of their first 17 games overall and four of their first six in the ACC.
Since then, the bottom has dropped out a little bit for the Hokies. They head into Sunday’s game at Louisville having lost eight of their last nine, and with winning the ACC tournament as their only legitimate shot to make it into the big field of 68.
Despite its recent struggles, Virginia Tech is still a team that does some very important things very well. The Hokies lead the nation in fewest turnovers per game (9.6) and are fourth in assist/turnovers ratio (1.55). They also rank 15th in Division-I in three-pointers made per game, averaging 9.8 makes from beyond the arc every time out.
Virginia Tech is one of the youngest teams in the ACC. That youth is best exemplified in the form of redshirt freshman guard Landers Nolley, who would almost certainly be the ACC’s Freshman of the Year if Duke’s Vernon Carey didn’t exist. Nolley, who was forced to sit out last season because the NCAA thought his ACT score was too high (that’s a real story, look it up), leads the Hokies in scoring at 16.6 ppg. He’s fourth in the conference in scoring, and seventh in three-pointers made (64/2.3 per game).
Nolley’s production has dipped fairly significantly over the last few weeks, and Young actually brought him off the bench in Wednesday’s 56-53 loss to Virginia. He responded with a solid 13 points over 32 minutes, but was just 3-of-10 from the field. Louisville can’t afford to help the Hokie star out of his shooting slump by letting him get to the free-throw line, where he shoots just south of 80 percent.
Fans of “old school point guards” have their favorite college basketball player in Wabissa Bede. The 6’1 junior averages more assists (5.6) than points (5.4) per game, and has dished out eight assists or more in a game seven times this season. He ranks fifth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio, a category he led earlier in the year when the players around him were knocking down shots at a higher clip. Bede has really struggled shooting the ball this season, and he is a guy that opponents have been able to speed up and get out of control from time time, but that isn’t really Louisville’s M.O. Expect Cardinal defenders to dare him to try and beat them with jump shots.
Tyrese Radford (10.3 ppg), a 6’2 freshman from Baton Rouge, is the only Virginia Tech player besides Nolley who averages double figures in scoring. Radford is another throwback player who does virtually all of his damage from inside the arc (or behind the backboard). He’s made just one three-pointer all season, but is an absurd athlete who attacks the rim with relentless drive. This is the guy on their team who gets all the Dwayne Sutton-esque superlatives from the VT fan base.
Don’t defend him like this:
Though Bede and Radford are non-shooters, pretty much every other player Young is going to put on the court Sunday — Nahiem Alleyne, Jalen Cone, P.J. Horne, Hunter Cattoor — wants to light it up from the outside. Virginia Tech takes a higher percentage of its shots from beyond the arc than all but 17 teams in Division-I. It’s an understandable game plan given that the Hokies shoot the three at a highly respectable 35.4 percent clip (69th best in D-I). U of L has struggled with its perimeter defense at various points throughout the 2019-20 season. That can’t be the case on Sunday.
The other notable thing about Virginia Tech is that the Hokies have virtually no inside presence. They rank 343rd out of 353 Division-I teams in average height, and their tallest starter is Nolley, a 6’7 guard who is most comfortable on the perimeter. Of the eight VT players who average 11 minutes or more per game, seven are guards. The lone exception is Horne ... who is 6’5. Tech isn’t as bad of an overall rebounding team as you might expect given its limitations, but it’s still a team that guys like Steven Enoch, Sutton and Jordan Nwora should be able to exploit down low.
If there were ever a game for Malik Williams to rest up and get healthy, this is it. And if there were ever a game where the Cards needed Williams to be as close to 100 percent as possible, it would be next Saturday against Jay Huff and Virginia.
The last note on Virginia Tech is that they gamble a ton on defense, which is part of the reason why they’re the No. 1 team in America when it comes to steal rate. Their stealing the ball on 5.8 percent of their defensive possessions, and forcing a turnover on 14.8 percent of those possessions. That second number is the third-best rate in D-I. U of L’s guards have got to be much more secure with the basketball than they were Monday night in Tallahassee.
—Louisville has won 15 consecutive games against Virginia Tech, tied for its longest active winning streak against a Division-I opponent. The Cardinals have also beaten Eastern Kentucky 15 straight times.
—Virginia Tech’s last win over Louisville came in 1991.
—U of L has designated Sunday’s game as a “Red Out” in honor of the program’s departing seniors. The team will be wearing red uniforms and fans attending the game are encouraged to wear something red.
—With Florida State and Duke both losing on Saturday, Louisville now sits tied with the Seminoles atop the ACC standings. If the Cardinals win today and next Saturday at Virginia, they are guaranteed to earn at least a share of the ACC regular season title.
—Before Sunday’s game, U of L will honor its five seniors — Dwayne Sutton, Ryan McMahon, Fresh Kimble, Steven Enoch and Keith Oddo — as well as junior Jordan Nwora. The departing Cardinals will address the crowd after the game.
—Chris Mack and Mike Young squared off twice when Mack was at Xavier and Young was at Wofford. The two head coaches split those meetings.
—Louisville is 20-1 when leading at halftime this season, and 3-5 when trailing at the break. The Cards’ lone loss when leading at halftime came Monday night at Florida State.
—Louisville is 16-1 at home this season, including 8-1 at home in ACC play.
—Louisville has made as many as nine three-pointers in a game on 17 occasions this season, including in seven of its last 10 games. The Cards have lost all three of those games in which they haven’t hit the nine three-pointer mark.
—Virginia Tech averages just 9.6 turnovers per game, the fewest of any team in Division-I.
—Louisville enters Sunday ranked 18th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.389), 21st in rebound margin (+6.2), 26th in scoring margin (+10.7) and 43rd in scoring defense (64.3).
—Virginia Tech is one of only two schools (Memphis) to boast four freshmen that average over 8.0 points per game, with Nolley (16.6), Radford (10.3), Alleyne (9.1) and Cone (8.0).
—Louisville has won 16 of its last 18 Senior Day games.
—Louisville and Virginia Tech were members of the Metro Conference together from 1978 through 1995.
—Louisville’s 14-4 ACC start is its best in its six years in the conference and its best in any league since the Cards won the 2014 American Athletic Conference title with a 15-3 record.
—Virginia Tech is 11-83 all-time in road games against ranked opponents.
—The Hokies are 1-4 against ranked teams this season, with their lone victory coming in Maui against Michigan State.
—Virginia Tech’s Landers Nolley has attempted 421 shots this season, breaking Dell Curry’s program record for field goal attempts by a freshman (417).
—Louisville is 17-1 this season when holding opponents to 68 points or fewer, and 6-5 on the year when teams score more than 68.
—The Cardinals are 18-0 this season when scoring at least 71 points, and just 5-6 when failing to hit that mark.
—Louisville has won 161 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.
—Louisville has won 154 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.
—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 18 seasons. Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas are the others.
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 73, Virginia Tech 60