Minnesota at Virginia Tech Basketball Preview and Prediction

(Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

Minnesota is at Virginia Tech Monday for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Hokies – Led by a former Gopher recruit Sean Pedulla – are 6-1 on the season with a two-point win over Penn State and a loss to the College of Charleston. We’re preparing you for the game today with a wealth of information!


Game Information

Tip-Off: 6:00 a.m Clock Central Time (Monday)

TV: ESPN2

Streaming Link: Watch

Audio: Listen

Radio: KFAN 100.3 fm

Where: Blacksburg, Va


The plot

This will be the 24th Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Minnesota have won their last three Big Ten/ACC Challenge games, meaning they are one game ahead of the ACC overall (12-11). Minnesota’s run includes beating Pitt last year (Luke Lion Buzzer Beater (, the win over Boston College two years ago and an 18-point win over Clemson in 2019. The last time Minnesota played Virginia Tech was the 2011-12 season, and that game they won Gophers 58-55, led by 15 points (and game-winning fouls) by Julian Welch plus 14 points and eight boards by Rodney Williams.

Minnesota is 4-2 on the season, coming away after a nine-point loss to an offensively challenged UNLV team. The Gophers put on a frustratingly inconsistent effort last Wednesday that included some inexplicable plays in the second half. The Gophers need to recover on the road at Virginia Tech the “we can try a lot harder” kind and the “we need to be a lot more mentally focused for 40 minutes” kind. And it’s not just a freshman thing, the veterans on the Minnesota roster need to look deep in the mirror. The Gophers have veteran talent and good young talent in their roster, but the veteran group isn’t leading on the floor like it needs to be.

Virginia Tech was selected 7th of 15 players entering the season after winning the ACC Tournament Championship 23-13 last year. They are 6-1 on the season with blowout wins against Lehigh, Delaware State and William & Mary, narrow game wins against Penn State (two points), Old Dominion (four points) and Charleston Southern (five points), and a loss against the College of Charleston. Not exactly a scary list of results so far, so Virginia Tech looks like a formidable opponent. Virginia Tech also has North Carolina coming to town for an ACC regular-season game next weekend, so there’s a chance they’re looking ahead.

The Hokies brought back two starters this year – Justyn Mutts (6’7 232lb senior) and Hunter Cattoor (6’3 200lb senior) – plus three transfers and four newcomers who were expected to play a big role.

Mutts and Cattoor have made great starts, as has the 6’5 junior wing Darius Maddoxthe head coach mike young has high expectations for and 6’9 235lb senior wright state transfer Grant Basilica. VT was thrashed as a 6’4 freshman guard Rodney Rice (who should play a big role this year) has not played all year and transferred 6’8 215 pounds to Memphis John Camden was slowed down by an injury playing just 39 minutes. Both were expected to be in the top seven in the rotation and are not expected to play tomorrow. With these newbies out there and other newbies MJCollins (6’4, 190-pound guard) got off to a rocky start to his 20 minutes per game, Virginia Tech depth was limited.

That said Sean Pedulla was a big surprise. The Edmond, Oklahoma native has gone from backup point guard minutes (five points and one assist per game) to a 35-minute team-high over the past year, posting a team-high of 17 points per contest and overall a team high of 30 helps. Pedulla’s game completely offset the struggles of the newcomers’ expected ball-handlers (Collins and Rice are both combo guards), and if his name rings a bell, it should. Sean Pedulla was recruited by Richard Pitino to Minnesota and had the last three of Minnesota, Oklahoma State and Virginia Tech in fall 2020, but Pedulla essentially chose Virginia Tech over Minnesota because he felt more comfortable following his visits to VT.




The payment

We’re staying with Pedulla. He has made 93 shot attempts in seven games and is just one miss away from more than half his attempts (46 of 93). He was a 37 percent three-point shooter with a three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio when handling the basketball. Without Rice, Collins is the other ball handler. Collins is a very poor shooter (29 percent overall, 14 percent on arc) but has rarely turned the ball over with just two turnovers in 140 minutes of play.

Pedulla needs to be at least half the game and a shooter but the Gophers can’t just focus on him, Hunter Cattor is known as a shooter and the 6’3 senior certainly delivered. Cattor gets his 15 points per game at 41 percent three-point shooting (takes 5-6 per game), so the Gopher guards have to find him and Grant Basilica is a stretch four making 44 percent of his 5-6 threes per game (55 percent shooting overall), so the Gopher front scout needs to have a hand to his face. Mutts is another type of skilled forward as he is a very good passer and finishes around the cup with a high percentage (12 points per game at 60 percent shooting with 8-9 shots per game but rarely a three pointer). Fifth starter is Maddox, who is struggling to shoot the bow (6 of 21), but he’s getting the edge for his 11 a game. All five VT starters average in the double digits.

The bad news for the Gophers is that Virginia Tech has three really good three-point guns, they’re scoring 78 points a game off the back of those five starters, and they’re a really good foul-shooting team, taking 75 percent of their foul shots power. The good news for the Gophers is that the Hokies are NOT an aggressive rebounding team and have now been passed by low-major teams multiple times. Also, the Hokies bench is averaging 13 points per game, and these 3-4 guys (two of whom are centers who rarely touch the ball) have had four three-pointers all season.

In contrast, the Gophers make 32.8 percent of their three-pointers and a terrific 55 percent of their foul shots. They’ve also given up 92 offensive rebounds in six games, but the Hokies are grabbing eight offensive boards per contest so that might (I said MAY NOT) be that big of a problem. The Gophers will bank deeper as their reserves give the team 27 points for a contest.

The match ups

Let’s start at the beginning. Virginia has real centers, but 6-foot-10 235-pound junior Lynn Kidd and 6-foot-10 265-pound junior Mylyjael Poteat each play about ten minutes from the bench. The VT starters are experienced forwards (Basile and Mutts). Mutts is the active type nearing the edge while Basile is the stretch four. Mutts – who is 6ft 7 – is the physical the gophers need to keep the glass off while Basile needs to have a hand in his face.

Pharrell Payne is best off playing against Kidd and Poteat, but if he continues with Mutts and Basile he will have to defend Mutts while Thompson and Garcia will have to face Basile. On the other hand, Mutts is a big defensive player that VT will likely have against Garcia. Dawson will have a four inch advantage, but Mutts will be in him. When we pit Mutts and Payne against each other, it becomes a physical fight. There’s no way the Gopher Bigs can lose Basile while needing to use Dawson’s skills and size advantage to score as he’s being defended by smaller players.

A hand must be on the face Grant Basilica and one hand must be on the face Hunter Cattoor. At 6’3 Cattoor is the right match-up for Braden Carrington who has made a great start for the Gophers since returning from injury. He starts to arch the ball well, Carrington defends well and he bounces off defenses very well. I suspect the gophers will start Jaden Henley on Cattoor but Jaden needs to play better and he can’t let Cattoor drop some early shots. The better matchup for the Gophers is Carrington on Cattoor as this is very similar Joe Quintana (Cattor is stronger) which Braeden imprisoned. That means if Henley is in his spots, his length would be perfect to constrain the senior.

Now we are at Pedulla. As good as Pedulla and Cattoor are, they’re not the fast guards that caused trouble for the Gophers. That said, if Ta’lon is as defensively inconsistent as he is in other games, it doesn’t matter as Pedulla will tear him apart. Cooper has a three inch rim and he’s stronger. If he can be consistent defensively, the Gophers have a chance in this game, but that has proven to be a big if. Cooper was a great passer, but he needs to get the Gopher offense into a much better rhythm than we’ve seen.

Finally we have Jamison battle and Darius Maddox. This is a must for the gophers. Maddox is smaller than Battle, not as experienced, and Maddox is just starting to feel comfortable in a bigger role. This is the game that Battle needs to touch to the rhythm and if the Gophers can do that for him his score should be much more efficient. If Battles 14 shots a game is at least half rhythm jumpers and the other half his own creations, they’re in a good position. If that sum is heavily inclined to having to do Battle on difficult spots mixed with late long jumps, it doesn’t work so well.


forecast

To me, that’s 100 percent down to the mentality of Gopher veterans Cooper, Garcia, and Battle. When those three play solid defense, when they lead an offense with ball movement and rhythmic shot attempts, and when they lead this team as a mentally strong group, it’s a win. Virginia Tech isn’t the type of fast backcourt that has given the Gophers problems (think DePaul and UNLV who play fast, fast-attacking guards), and the Hokies aren’t the type of physical rebound team that has given the Gophers problems has prepared.

Still, Virginia Tech is tougher, they’re a better shooting team, and they’re having more success as a unit. They’re not a deep team, however, and they’ve struggled in games this season just like Minnesota. If Minnesota plays with consistency, they will win this game. We just haven’t seen enough of them to pick them to win this street game.

Virginia Tech 70 Minnesota 64


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