After back-to-back wins over Notre Dame and No. 19 Duke, Virginia Tech (10-2, 4-1 ACC) turns its attention to a struggling Wake Forest (3-4, 0-4) club searching for its first conference win.
COVID-19 issues within the Demon Deacons' program postponed or canceled five games in the month of December, including league contests against Virginia and Syracuse.
Like many other teams around the country, Wake Forest has struggled to find its footing after an absence from the hardwood. Steve Forbes' squad has lost four games in a row, including three against ranked foes — at No. 22 UVa, at No. 21 Duke and vs. No. 16 Louisville on Wednesday.
Virginia Tech has won seven of the last eight games against Wake Forest and knocked off the Demon Deacons 80-70 in Winston-Salem in Mike Young's inaugural season. The Hokies lead the all-time series 36-31 and have won 16 of the 23 meetings since joining the ACC in 2004.
Landers Nolley and Tyrece Radford each dropped 21 points in Tech's win in LJVM Coliseum last season, which was the Hokies' fourth ACC win of the season at the time. Radford also grabbed 13 rebounds and absolutely bodied Wake's Olivier Sarr with a SportsCenter Top 10-worthy dunk.
The Demon Deacons couldn't do anything to stop the Hokies on the offensive end as Tech shot 49% from the floor overall and 60% (15-25 FG) in the second half. Jalen Cone (15 points, 4-6 3FG) and Nahiem Alleyne (10 points) scored all 25 points off the bench for the Hokies in the victory and were clutch when needed.
VT also handled the ball well, turning it over just nine times, while forcing 18 Wake Forest miscues that led to 19 points. Tech held the Demon Deacons to 35% shooting in the first half and 20% from behind the arc in the second to hang on for the win.
Sunday's meeting will be the second between the two programs with Tech ranked. The only previous occurrence was February of 1976 when the then-No. 18 Hokies held off Wake Forest 102-95 in Blacksburg.
Wake Forest Names of Note
Daivien Williamson is the go-to guy for the Demon Deacons. Averaging a team-high 11.4 points per game, the 6'2" guard from Winston-Salem is Wake's floor general. He scored a season-high 19 points against Louisville and is a very efficient shooter at 66%, which ranks 98th in the nation.
He averages 33 minutes per game so expect to see a lot of No. 4 on Sunday. He followed Forbes and transferred from ETSU to Wake Forest and was a SoCon All-Freshman Team nominee in 2018-19.
Jonah Antonio is to Wake Forest as Jalen Cone is to Virginia Tech. The 6'5" guard from UNLV is third in the ACC in three-point field goals made per game at 2.5 (Cone is first) and is second in the conference in three-point percentage, shooting 42%.
The Perth, Australia native scored 11 points last time out against Louisville, though he was held to 2-7 shooting from deep and scored five of his points from the free throw line. He averages nine points per game and is the three-point threat Tech has to keep an eye on.
Isaiah Mucius, a 6'8" forward from East Patchogue, N.Y. is the team's greatest post presence. The only player to start all seven games for Wake Forest this season, Mucius averages 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
In last year's contest, he finished with two points (0-5 FG, 0-2 3FG) and six rebounds. He struggled to score against Louisville, finishing with four points, but had his best rebounding performance with eight boards. Should he play well, he could be the x-factor for the Demon Deacons.
Overall Steve Forbes' team has shot the ball efficiently so far this season (EFG 53.8%, No. 50 nationally), especially from inside the arc (2P 57.0%). Though among ACC teams over conference play Wake's EFG% is among the worst in the league (49.8%, No. 11 ACC).
Outside of the Virginia game where they shot over 50% from the floor and from three, in ACC play Wake Forest hasn't shot well from deep (15%, 30%, 25%). KenPom's formula weighs three-pointers more heavily and Wake Forest is 14th out of 15 ACC teams in that category, which is why its number and ranking in effective field goal percentage dips in conference play. Wake is fifth in two-point percentage in the ACC, though, which indicates that they really are more of an inside team than outside.
They're a good free throw shooting team, too (75.4%, No. 5 nationally). The Demon Deacons are very turnover prone on the offensive end, though — worst in the ACC in turnover rate and offensive steal rate — which plays to Tech's advantage.
The Hokies have forced at least 12 turnovers in every game dating back to the November loss against Penn State, which was meaningful. Against the Nittany Lions, they forced just five. Tech is better when it can get a few stops, mix up the transition game with the half court offense and be very methodical about its offensive approach. Forcing turnovers facilitates that play.
This season, Virginia Tech is 8-0 in games with a zero or positive turnover margin. The Hokies have gotten progressively better in that category as the season has drawn on, because all four games in which Tech had a negative turnover margin occurred in the first six games of the season: Villanova (-6), VMI (-2), Penn State (-9) and Clemson (-3).
Wake Forest is sixth in the nation in overall steal rate, which could cause trouble for Tech, though that number is average in ACC play. The Demon Deacons forced 10 turnovers against the Cardinals, 14 against Duke (VT forced 12) and six against UVa, so the numbers against conference foes aren't fantastic.
Perhaps most importantly, the Demon Deacons are dead last in the ACC defensively in effective field goal percentage. For comparison, Tech is seventh offensively.
Carlik Jones (23 points), Matthew Hurt (26 points) and Sam Hauser (16 points) all had efficient games against Wake Forest on the offensive end. Should the Hokies play their cards right, it will be a similar situation in Winston-Salem on Sunday. Expect one of Keve Aluma, Cone, Radford or Alleyne to have a nice night.
At the beginning of this season, I broke up Virginia Tech's ACC schedule into three parts: the first six ACC games (Clemson through Duke), the next seven games (Wake Forest-Miami) and the final seven games (Florida State-NC State).
The front and back parts of the schedule are weighted pretty heavily with Clemson, Louisville (twice), Duke, North Carolina and Florida State (twice). The middle, however, is where the Hokies need to gain ground on the rest of the ACC. Tech's next seven games are at Wake Forest, vs. Boston College, at Syracuse, at Notre Dame, vs. No. 18 UVa, at Pitt and at Miami.
Despite road trips in five of them, it's the easiest block of the schedule. Where the average opponent KenPom rating for both the front and back of the schedule falls around 47.7, the average rating for teams in the middle chunk of the season is 73.4.
|Opponent||Margin of Loss||OT?|
|at Boston College||5|
|vs. Boston College||4||1OT|
|at Notre Dame||8|
|Average Margin of Loss||5.571|
That's a look at Virginia Tech's margin of loss in games decided by ten points or less last season. All of these were competitive games where the Hokies couldn't overcome a poor shooting start, or brought the game down to the wire, but it slipped away.
Tech is better prepared to win any tight contest over this upcoming stretch. The team has size, can score inside and out, rebounds well, forces turnovers and takes care of the ball. Last season, Tech lacked the size, wasn't great on the boards and when the three-point shot wasn't falling, it faltered. It's a much more balanced and veteran group that never seems completely out of a game.
The Hokies should cruise past Wake Forest on Sunday. However, it's the rest of the middle of the schedule that intrigues me, with five opponents that Tech lost to by an average of five-and-a-half points last season in a combined four overtimes. It's an opportunity for the Hokies to extend their hot streak.