The NC State men’s basketball team (11-4, 2-2 ACC) will travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, over the weekend to take on the Virginia Tech Hokies (11-4, 2-2 ACC), a team that is trying to win its third straight game over the Pack.
The Wolfpack is coming off an impressive 73-68 win over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, behind 27 points from senior point guard Markell Johnson and 16 points and nine rebounds from redshirt junior D.J. Funderburk.
Both the Hokies and the Wolfpack have the same records, but each team plays very differently. The Hokies have played hard all season long and even won against the then-No. 3 Michigan State Spartans, 71-66 in Hawaii. The Wolfpack has similarly played hard but lost games to both of its ranked opponents thus far, Memphis and Auburn.
The last time these two teams faced off, it was not the flashiest of matchups. Both teams were ranked last season when they squared off, yet somehow only managed to put up a combined 71 points, the lowest ever point total between two ranked teams. The Wolfpack put up a measly 24 points and made just nine of 54 shots, a 17% mark.
The Wolfpack defense was able to negate a relatively strong Virginia Tech offense led by players like Kerry Blackshear, Ahmed Hill and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, but in turn forgot how to make shots of its own. Head coach Kevin Keatts is looking to ensure that another nightmarish game like last year’s does not happen again.
“It’s very frustrating,” said redshirt senior guard C.J. Bryce after last season’s 47-24 loss to the Hokies. “You can be on top of the world one day and at the bottom the next. We’re going to keep our confidence as a team. We still believe in each other, we’re just ready for the next game.”
The matchup will be a chance for the Wolfpack to prove Bryce right and would be a huge chance to right the ship that sailed off course in the embarrassingly low-scoring game last season.
This season, the Hokies are far and away led by talented freshman Landers Nolley Jr., who leads the team with 17.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 0.9 steals per game. Nolley also makes 39% of his shots from downtown, taking nearly seven of such shots a game.
In fact, the Hokies are a very talented 3-point shooting team, something the Wolfpack will need to close out on. Virginia Tech ranks ninth in the NCAA in 3-pointers made with 154, but ranks 26th in attempts, meaning the team takes smart shots and makes most from deep. Of players that take more than two 3-point shots per game, no player has a 3-point percentage below 31.9%. For reference, the Pack’s leader in 3-pointers attempted, Johnson, shoots 28% from downtown.
On top of this, the Hokies are an incredibly smart team, with the team having the ninth-least turnovers in the NCAA and the eighth-least personal fouls. With such a well-coached team, the Pack is going to have to rely on its strong defense, which ranks 72nd in steals and 39th in blocks, to help seal the game. The Pack also has the 27th highest-scoring offense, with 79.7 points per game.
If the Wolfpack can play smart and narrow its turnovers and fouls against the Hokies, it should have no problem scoring against a Hokies defense that ranks near the bottom of the NCAA in steals, blocks and points allowed per game.
Similarly enough, however, last year’s Virginia Tech team ranked 24th in the NCAA in 3-pointers made, while NC State ranked 29th in points per game at 80.1. Because of the similar playstyle of both teams from year to year, it is possible that both teams will cool off again. However, this game should deliver what last year’s game failed to: a high-scoring, 3-point shootout, barring statistical anomaly.
NC State fans not making the journey to Blacksburg can view the game on Raleigh Sports Network on television or tune in to Wolfpack Sports Radio for a play-by-play broadcast. The game tips off at 2 p.m. inside Cassell Coliseum on Saturday, Jan. 11.