Preview: No. 8 ND @ Virginia Tech

Winners of 13 out of 14 games, No. 8/9 Notre Dame travels to Cassell Coliseum where the Irish take on an undermanned Virginia Tech squad. Losers of five in a row themselves, the Hokies will be without their leading scorer as well as their top rebounder/No. 3 scorer.

• Game 20: No. 8/9 Notre Dame (17-2, 5-1) @ Virginia Tech (8-9, 0-4)
• Date: Jan. 22, 2015
• Place: Cassell Coliseum; Blacksburg, Va.
• Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
• Location: Blacksburg, Va.
• Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
• Nickname: Hokies
• 2013-14 record: 9-22 (2-16/15th in ACC)

Virginia Tech Head Coach
Brent “Buzz” Williams (1st year at Virginia Tech) – Career record: 161-95 in 8 years overall (14-17 in one season at New Orleans; 139-69 in six seasons at Marquette; 8-9 in first season at Virginia Tech).

Williams, 42, turned Marquette into a Big East power, tying for the conference crown in 2012-13 with the Golden Eagles second-straight 14-4 mark in league play. In the first five years of his six-year reign at Marquette, Williams led the Golden Eagles to two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight appearance while landing a spot in the Big Dance in each of those five seasons.

Virginia Tech Scouting Report
The Hokies are down in firepower after losing six players to either graduation (one) or transfer (five) who combined for 46 points and 24 rebounds per game on a 9-22, 2-16 squad in 2013-14.

First-year head coach Buzz Williams – who turned Marquette into a Big East frontrunner and dangerous post-season foe – brings his fiery, aggressive style of basketball to Blacksburg, although it remains a long and winding road ahead for the Hokies, particularly with the loss of the team’s leading scorer and rebounder in recent weeks.

Justin Bibbs, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound freshman averaging a team-high 13.6 points per game while shooting 47.5 percent from three-point range, will be sidelined for the second straight game with a concussion. Bibbs scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Syracuse and scored 25 points versus Florida State.

Also absent from the mix is 6-foot-10, 235-pound junior Joey Van Zegeren, the team’s leading returning rebounder (5.0) who also was pacing Virginia Tech on the backboards this year (5.3) while ranking third on the squad in scoring (9.8 ppg). Van Zegeren is expected to miss his fifth straight game tonight due to suspension.

That leaves 6-foot-1 junior guard Adam Smith to lead the way. Smith is averaging 12.9 points per game and shooting 46.7 percent (42-of-90) from three-point range. Smith scored 24 points at Florida State and has converted 13 of his last 23 from beyond the arc – all on the road.

Ahmed Hill, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound freshman, is averaging 8.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He’ll be joined in the starting lineup by 6-foot-4, 190-pound sophomore Devin Wilson (7.2 ppg., 3.0 rpg., 4.5 apg.), the team’s leading returning scorer (9.2 ppg.) and an ACC All-Freshmen team selection last season.

Also expected to be in the starting lineup is 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior Will Johnson, who averages just 12.4 minutes per game, but has converted 15-of-33 from three-point range. Replacing Van Zegeren is 7-foot-0, 255-pound freshman Satchel Pierce, who has 19 offensive rebounds and 12 blocked shots in just 13.6 minutes per game.

An additional inside presence is 6-foot-9, 190-pound junior Shane Henry, who leads the team in blocked shots (21) while snagging 19 offensive rebounds (and 3.6 rpg.) in just 11.4 minutes per contest.

Virginia Tech-Notre Dame Preview
After a five-day respite from competition – following another come-from-behind home victory over Miami – the Irish begin a streak of five road games out of seven games in a three-week span that is sure to test the Irish and their first top 10 ranking since the 2010-11 season.

That being said, Notre Dame couldn’t be facing a team reeling much more than Buzz Williams’ Hokies, who come into the game on a five-game losing streak and without two of their top three players due injury (Justin Bibbs) and suspension (Joey Van Zegeren).

If there’s a coach who can motivate a team to victory against tall odds, it’s the rambunctious Williams, particularly with the Hokies coming off a three-game road trip. But Williams is incredibly short-handed, first after five players transferred prior to the start of his first year in Blacksburg, and now with the suspensions.

How desperate is Williams to carve out a victory? The aggressive head coach who turned Marquette into a “buzz saw” resorted to slowing the pace in Sunday’s 15-point loss at North Carolina. It’s definitely not Williams’ preferred mode of attack. In fact, it probably pains him greatly to play the game without a frenetic pace, but desperate times call for extreme measures.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, is in a good place, albeit on the road in Cassell Coliseum, where the Irish haven’t visited since Jan. 20, 2004 when both programs were trying to carve a niche in the Big East. Mike Brey was in just his fourth year with the Irish and in the process of carving out a respectable niche. Seth Greenburg was leading the Hokies in their final year in the Big East before the jump to the ACC.

Now that Zach Auguste has had a chance to get back in the mix with the Irish following his one-game sidelining for academic purposes, he should be back in the flow of things, particularly since Virginia Tech won’t make it a non-big man game like Miami did, which forced the Irish to play small the final 15 minutes.

Virginia Tech struggles on the backboards like the Irish do – ranking 309th nationally in rebounds per game – although they are a fairly prolific three-point shooting team, even without the aforementioned Justin Bibbs. It’s a good thing Williams has used 10 players at least 11 minutes per game because the Hokies’ depth will be tested.

The Hokies are one of just three ACC teams – along with Georgia Tech and Boston College – without a conference victory. Meanwhile, the Irish have gone from No. 13 in the ACC last year in points allowed per game (70.6) to fifth (62.6), which is a testament to the much-improved defensive play to go along with their high-scoring capabilities (No. 10 nationally at 81.7 ppg.).

If Virginia Tech catches fire from beyond the arc – which it definitely could do at Cassell Coliseum – look for the Hokies to make it a game. Williams undoubtedly will have his team playing at a fever pitch.

But unless the Irish completely fail to take advantage of a golden opportunity on the road, they will be 6-1 in conference play for the first time since 2002-03.

• Pointspread: Notre Dame by 9 ½
• Irish Illustrated Prediction: Notre Dame 81, Virginia Tech 67
• Season record: 13-6 straight up; 5-6 vs. points Top Stories