There’s a lot on the line Sunday afternoon when the Hokies of Virginia Tech (21-7, 11-6) come to town. Well, depending on your perspective that is. The #5 Louisville Cardinals (26-3, 15-2) have already wrapped up the top seed in the ACC tournament as well as the outright ACC regular season title. Just behind them are the Wolfpack of N.C. State who have secured the number two spot. After that? Things get a little bit crazy. Tech’s playing for seeding; Louisville’s playing for pride. Which wins out?

Game Info:

DATE: Sun 01 Mar 2020
TIME: 12:00 p.m. EST
SITE: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)
WATCH: ACC Network
LISTEN: 790 AM WKRD

The Hokies have managed to win five of their last six, most recently besting Duke in a 70-56 bounce-back win that put Tech back into a tie for third in the ACC. Also sharing that spot are the Blue Devils and Florida State. If the Hokies can win on Sunday they’ll put their faith in a Seminoles loss that would help them secure the number three seed in the tournament. A loss could find them sliding all the way to the fourth or fifth spot on the bracket.

Leading the effort for Tech is a face that’s familiar to many Cardinals fans, that of Taja Cole. The five-star recruit spent her freshman year at Louisville before transferring to Georgia and out of Arica Carter’s shadow. Moving to the Hokies as a grad transfer, the guard is averaging around seven assists per game.

Cole’s primary target on the perimeter is Aisha Sheppard. The leading scorer is averaging 15.6 PPG thanks primarily to 38% shooting from beyond the arc and an average of three three-point field goals per game. The Hokies as a team are shooting a best in the ACC 35.3% from distance and hitting close to eight per game. But it’s not just the offense. Tech are also the top three point defenders in the ACC, holding opponents to just 27.2% from range.

Yet one trick ponies they are not. Freshman Elizabeth Kitley is listed at 6’5″ and recently racked up another ACC freshman of the week honor. It’s well deserved with three double-doubles in the last four games and an average 12.3 PPG on 56% from the field. While two blocks per game (60 total for the season) pales in comparison to Kylee Shook, it will definitely be a test in the middle for the Louisville senior. Tech are not shy on the boards and are out-rebounding opponents by a comfortable margin thanks to Kitley and fellow forward Lydia Rivers’ combined 16 rebounds per game.

This will be a clash between two similarly proportioned teams that pride themselves on defensive effort. While it’s true that Tech has the best three point defense in the conference at 27.2% opponent shooting, the Cards are just behind at 27.3%. If Louisville can put pressure on Sheppard and Cole to force turnovers it could be a rough day for the Hokies.

The question for the Cardinals remains, who plays? It’s probably safe to bet that we’ll see an all senior starting lineup for Senior Day. But will Evans and Balogun once again remain on the bench? Even if the Cards lost they wouldn’t see Virginia Tech again until the ACC semifinals, and at that point would likely be at full strength. But pride can be a big factor in such decisions.

The next win for the Cards will give this senior class the most wins (124) for a single class in program history. The next best? Last year’s squad. Defensively the Cards could hold their fifth straight opponent to less than 50 points. The last time that happened? Last January. So, do you spare additional wear and tear? Or stretch the ligaments to get back into fighting shape? Right now, only Jeff Walz knows the answer.

The rest of us have to wait until Sunday at noon. Get there early for Senior Day activities.

Game Info:

DATE: Sun 01 Mar 2020
TIME: 12:00 p.m. EST
SITE: KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)
WATCH: ACC Network
LISTEN: 790 AM WKRD

PROBABLE STARTERS:

#5 Louisville (26-3 | 15-2)
G #24 Laemmle
G #2 Diop
G #23 Jones
F #33 Dunham
F #21 Shook

Virginia Tech (21-7 | 11-6)
G #5 Cole
G #2 Sheppard
G #4 Mabrey
F #21 Rivers
F #33 Kitley

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Your source for UofL Women's Basketball + Men's/Women's Soccer news via the The Crunch Zone. If I'm not at a UofL game you can find me at a Louisville City FC game, or doing Men's Basketball post-game on ESPN680/93.9 The Ville with my man Joe Kelly. Husband, cat owner, sports consumer.

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