In winning its first four games, including an overtime upset in the Mohegan Sun bubble of then-No. 3 Villanova, Virginia Tech showed it was worthy of being the No. 15 team in the country.
In getting whipped 75-55 on Dec. 8 by Penn State at home in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Hokies showed why they’re not close to being a finished product. They were backing down almost from the opening tip, getting pushed around on both ends of the floor and trailing by as many as 29 points with 13:21 remaining.
Virginia Tech (4-1) will try to return to its earlier form Tuesday night at home in Blacksburg, Va., when it opens Atlantic Coast Conference play against unbeaten Clemson (5-0).
“Surprised and disappointed in our response,” said Hokies coach Mike Young after the loss to Penn State. “But I’ve got good people back there. We’ve got a week to work at it and need it to open league play. We’ll get better and I look forward to it.”
Virginia Tech’s identity under Young when it succeeds is of a team that makes the extra pass offensively, plays tough, physical defense and scores from four or five spots on the floor. It did none of those things against Penn State, making just 37 percent from the field and permitting the Nittany Lions to hit 12 of 23 3-point attempts.
The Hokies’ game plan against Clemson probably will consist of establishing Keve Aluma inside, hoping that the Tigers will have to devote two defenders to him on post touches. That would allow Virginia Tech’s contingent of 3-point threats to have cleaner looks.
Aluma couldn’t get untracked against Penn State, scoring just eight points, but he still averages a team-high 15.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Tyrece Radford and Nahiem Alleyne each chip in 11 points per game.
Meanwhile, Clemson might have the best team in coach Brad Brownell’s 11 seasons at the school. The Tigers lent further credence to that theory Saturday night by holding explosive Alabama to one point in the final six minutes of a 64-56 win in Atlanta.
“I told the guys that I thought we would win the game with our defense,” Brownell said, “and thankfully, we stopped 10 of the last 11 possessions. That was a really great, gritty win. We got some baskets where we were just the tougher team.”
Defense and balance have been Clemson’s calling cards so far. The Tigers are allowing only 51.4 points per game, permitting opponents to connect on just 34.9 percent of their shots and also forcing 19 turnovers per game. Purdue is the only foe to score more than 56 points, and it was guilty of 22 turnovers in an 81-70 decision last month.
Aamir Simms is the closest thing Clemson has to a star. A preseason All-ACC pick, he averages 11.6 points on 57.5 percent shooting from the field. Six other Tigers contribute between 5.0 and 9.8 points, indicative of their balance.
This is the only meeting of the teams this season. The Hokies swept the season series a year ago.
–Field Level Media