Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech athletics
Just a smattering of weeks ago after a brutal road loss to Boston College, it seemed as if Virginia Tech’s NCAA Tournament hopes had vanished.
The Hokies (15-10, 7-7 ACC) were disconnected, inconsistent and failed to concoct a winning formula on a regular basis.
Days later, the maroon and orange lost to Miami on a desperation half-court heave, further illustrating what could’ve been the beginning of the end to Virginia Tech’s season.
Since then, the Hokies have rattled off five straight wins. A rejuvenated campaign has Virginia Tech with a chance to make a run at the tourney.
That next opportunity? Well, it’s a big one.
The Virginia Cavaliers (16-9, 10-5 ACC) are up next on the docket, seeking a season sweep of the Hokies and a resume-building victory of their own.
Game Day Information
When: Monday, Feb. 14, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, VA
PXP: Dan Shulman
Analyst: Cory Alexander
Sideline Reporter: Andraya Carter
Series History: Virginia Leads 96-57
Last Meeting: Virginia Won 54-52 on Jan. 12, 2022
Line: Virginia Tech -6
Last Time Out
In front of a clustered, colluded, energetic and sold-out Cassell Coliseum, the prize was there for the taking for a Virginia Tech team that needed to take advantage.
With a season-defining three-game home stretch against Syracuse, Virginia and North Carolina, it was pivotal that the Hokies started off on the right foot.
After 40 minutes of clean, collective basketball, that’s exactly what happened. Virginia Tech pulped the Orange, 71-59, despite shooting less than 30% from three.
So with that abnormality, how did Mike Young’s team get the job done?
Well, Justyn Mutts’ performance certainly helped. The Delaware graduate transfer recorded just the second triple-double in program history – with Chris Clarke having the first – and did so with relative ease by tallying 12 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.
It wasn’t just a one-man show, however. A whopping five different guys totaled double figures for Virginia Tech, with Keve Aluma tallying 20 points to lead the way.
20 assists and just four turnovers ain’t too shabby either. Ultimately, a 13-0 run with to break a 54-54 tie sealed the deal for the Hokies in a 12-point win.
One down. Two to go.
That’s a mentality Young’s squad has to live by during this three-game stretch.
When Virginia Tech and Virginia last met on the hardwood just a little over a month ago, both were just trying to find their footing.
Both were searching for an identity. Both were looking to avenge some bad losses early on, and both just needed that one victory to change the course of the season.
Press the fast forward button, and both sides have done just that.
It seemed as if the Cavaliers were poised to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013 not so long ago. But don’t look now. After a win at Cameron Indoor Stadium just nine days ago, don’t be surprised if the Wahoos squirm their way in.
A big reason for that? East Carolina transfer Jayden Gardner (14.9 points per game, 6.8 points per game), who continues his masterful season as both Virginia’s leading scorer and rebounder.
The Wake Forest, NC native dropped just four points the last time these two teams met, however. So look out for No. 1 in navy blue to make up for a subpar performance earlier this season in Charlottesville.
Of course, you can’t forget about the guard play for the Cavaliers, either.
Armaan Franklin (11.9 points per game), Kihei Clark (10.0 points per game) and Reece Beekman (7.7 points per game) all complement each other nicely, and provide a wealth of experience for Tony Bennett’s club.
We’d be remiss not to mention Francisco Caffaro (4.8 points per game) down low. The 7-foot-1, 240-pounder may not have the numbers you’d think. But the Argentina native added a season-high 16 points the last time these two squads met. Watch for an encore performance from the junior center.
Similar to Virginia Tech, the ‘Hoos just can’t seem to cool down. Four straight wins. Back on the bubble. Watch out for this Virginia team.
A team peaking at the right time becomes that much more dangerous when March comes around.
This is another tough one.
Two evenly-matched teams and hated rivals will battle for a similar prize in keeping their postseason hopes alive.
Because of what should be a raucous environment in Blacksburg, we’ll give the edge to the Hokies.
Virginia Tech will get its revenge against the archrival Cavaliers. The Hokies will use a big day from Aluma to earn their sixth victory in a row and continue to push for a spot in the field of 68.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 61, Virginia 58