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HOOPS Preview: Notre Dame Vs. Virginia Tech

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NOTRE DAME (13-13, 3-10 ACC) VS VIRGINIA TECH (20-6, 9-5 ACC)

Where: Purcell Pavilion (South Bend, Ind.)

Rankings: Virginia Tech is No. 20 in the AP Poll.

TV/Time: ESPN, 4 p.m. ET.

Series Facts: Notre Dame leads the all-time series 8-3.

Last Meeting: The Hokies defeated the Irish 81-66 on Jan. 1, 2019 in Blacksburg.

Notre Dame returns to the court today following an upset loss to Wake Forest earlier this week at home.

The Irish will host No. 20 Virginia Tech hoping to even up the season series after the Hokies won the first matchup on New Year's Day.

Blue & Gold Illustrated previews both teams before they meet this afternoon.

NOTRE DAME OVERVIEW

For the first 10 minutes, it looked like Notre Dame and Wake Forest were headed to a potential high scoring contest with both teams scoring in the 80s.

The Irish led the Demon Deacons 24-22 with just under 11 minutes remaining in the first half, but both teams hit a wall offensively a bit. It was Wake Forest though who came out of it in the second half to pull off a 75-68 upset of Notre Dame.

After starting 11-of-15 from the field, Notre Dame hit just 12-of-36 (33.3 percent) to close out the game.

Guard TJ Gibbs turned in his best game of the season with a season-high 23 points to go with 16 points and nine rebounds for forward John Mooney. Guard Prentiss Hubb turned in a career-high nine assists, along with 11 points. Wing DJ Harvey rounded out the starting lineup scoring with nine points as wing Nik Djogo did not attempt a shot.

Big man Juwan Durham was the lone rotation player off the bench to have a solid night with six points on 3-of-4 shooting, while guard Dane Goodwin (2) and forward Nate Laszewski (1) combined for three points on 0-of-5 shooting.

It was certainly a disappoint loss for the Irish to fall to Wake Forest at home. The Demon Deacons were considered the worst team in the ACC and were fresh off a 38-point drubbing at the hands of North Carolina at home.

Tuesday was supposed to be an almost sure-fire win and a victory to build some momentum to finish February on a strong note following a tough January. But Notre Dame’s offense again stalled for large portions of the contest to make a comeback tough. To make matters worse, the loss gave Wake Forest their first true win of the season. Not just in ACC play, the entire season. The Demon Deacons were 0-8 previously.

Many wondered how the Irish would react after falling flat down in Miami and scoring a season-low 47 points. Notre Dame responded with a 69-59 win over Georgia Tech, which included a 45-point second half.

How will the Irish fare this time?

VIRGINIA TECH OVERVIEW

For much of the season, Virginia Tech has been an efficient team on the offensive end averaging 74.7 points on 48.2 percent shooting from the field and 40.4 percent behind the arc.

However, the Hokies are 3-3 in their last six games when guard Justin Robinson (14.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 5.5 APG) went down with an injury. His return is unknown at this time, so it is not clear if he will even play against the Irish this afternoon.

In their last six games, the Hokies are averaging 61.0 points per game on 40.7 percent shooting overall and 32.9 percent on three-point attempts.

Leading the way in life without Robinson is guard Nickel Alexander-Walker (16.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.8 APG), who will continue to be counted on in the backcourt whether Robinson plays or not.

Plenty of firepower exists if Robinson can’t go. Junior forward Kerry Blackshear (14.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG) will be a tough matchup inside for the Irish.

Senior guards Ahmed Hill (13.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and Ty Outlaw (8.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG) will also be in the backcourt along with sophomore guard Wabissa Bede (3.2 PPG) has received the starting nod as of late.

Freshman forward PJ Horne (5.5 PPG) and freshman guard Isaiah Wilkins (6.5 PPG) provide much of the bench production with Robinson out. Freshman guard Jonathan Kabongo may seem some minutes to try and give a quick breather to the rest of the roster.

In the first meeting, Blackshear led the way with 21 points and seven rebounds to help the Hokies knock off the Irish. Hill and Alexander-Walker each added 17 points, while Outlaw contributed 14 points coming off the bench.

Robinson scored seven points and eight assists, so the scoring production may not be missed much if he can’t play this time around. But, he was able to set his teammates up and that could be the difference.

During wins over Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech averaged 73 points on 48.9 percent shooting overall and 45.1 percent from deep. The Hokies can still get the job done without Robinson, so Notre Dame will need to bring it defensively against a capable unit.

GAME OUTLOOK

Both teams are coming off losses, but each likely have different mindsets entering this matchup.

The Hokies lost by six points at home to Virginia despite making just 3-of-28 from deep, while Notre Dame is coming off an upset home loss to Wake Forest.

Even without Robinson, the Irish need to remain locked in defensively. The Hokies are fifth nationally in effective field goal percentage (57.4 percent), per KenPom.com and are among the best in three-point shooting.

Notre Dame can’t afford to get into a shootout similar to how the Wake Forest contest started as the Hokies are much more prepared to run away with it. The Hokies have allowed teams plenty of looks from behind the arc, so a major key for the Irish will be to take advantage and shoot a respectable number in that department.

Prediction

Virginia Tech 73, Notre Dame 67

Even at home, it’s hard to see the Irish being able to score enough in this one. Maybe Notre Dame proves most wrong and comes out firing and keeps it up for more than a 10-15-minute stretch.

Both teams play at a slow pace compared to the average, so this will likely be a slower team. And Virginia Tech is a much more efficient team offensively than the Irish. Notre Dame would probably benefit from trying to push the tempo and create more possessions.

The Hokies win a tight one.

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Talk about it inside Rockne’s Roundtable

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