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No. 8 Kentucky uses barrage of three-pointers to outlast Virginia Tech

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Kentucky figured out its defense in the second half and used a barrage of three-pointers on offense as the No. 8 Wildcats were able to outlast Virginia Tech for a 93-86 non-conference win on Saturday afternoon.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game.

1. Kentucky is really dangerous if the three-ball is dropping

Kentucky isn’t a terrible three-point shooting team. They just don’t shoot very many of them.

That changed on Saturday as the Wildcats went 11-for-22 from the three-point line in the win over Virginia Tech. To put that number in perspective, Kentucky was averaging 4.6 made three-pointers per game coming into this one. The Wildcats prefer to work the ball inside or attack the basket, hoping to crash the offensive glass if the first shot doesn’t go.

But with the three-pointer working for them on Saturday? Kentucky looked really tough on the offensive end, especially since Virginia Tech’s offense was rolling in the first 20 minutes and the Wildcats needed the three-ball to answer.

I don’t expect Kentucky to shoot nearly this well in many games this season, especially away from home. Freshman guard Hamidou Diallo was 4-for-7 from three-point range. This preseason, Diallo was getting benched by head coach John Calipari when he even attempted a triple. In other words, his performance was an outlier and Kentucky’s team performance probably was as well.

If the Wildcats are shooting like this, however, good luck stopping what they are trying to accomplish on the offensive end.

2. Even in a loss, Virginia Tech looked legitimate

One of the things I’ve harped on with Virginia Tech is the brutal non-conference schedule the Hokies have played. Starting 9-1 looks promising until you realize the best wins came over Iowa and Ole Miss and the loss came against Saint Louis.

But even though they ultimately fell at Rupp Arena, Virginia Tech looked like they’ll be a factor in the ACC this season. The first half, in particular, was very impressive for the Hokies as they shot 62 percent from the floor and withstood a barrage of Kentucky three-pointers to take a lead into the break. Kentucky made double the amount of three-pointers they usually make and the Hokies were still in this game until the very end.

Obviously, Virginia Tech still has work to do to be a contender in the ACC. They don’t have a ton of size to hang with some of the bigger teams in the country, which could be problematic against conference opponents like Duke. The Hokies also had some problems with turnovers as Kentucky’s 2-2-1 pressure really caused some issues for certain stretches. Virginia Tech had 19 turnovers on Saturday when they’ve averaged 13 on the season.

Not accustomed to facing teams like Kentucky, the Hokies were bothered at times by the length and athleticism of the Wildcats.

Here’s the thing though: would you want to face a veteran Buzz Williams team that doesn’t seem intimidated by anybody? Me neither. The Hokies won’t be a fun team to play in March.

3. Kentucky needs to focus more on Kevin Knox

To start the second half, Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox (21 points) was simply unstoppable. Scoring 11 points in a four-minute burst, Knox scored through contact, knocked down a three-pointer and also made a tough mid-range look.

And then Kentucky’s offense went away from him as lesser players tried to score using one-on-one moves.

The Wildcat offense went stagnant for a stretch before Diallo and Quade Green continued to shoot the ball well. It was puzzling to see their offense work during certain stretches. Kentucky obviously has tons of elite, five-star talent and they have to share the ball and some shots. But Knox wasn’t even getting touches after he made scoring look easy during the early part of the second half.

Since Knox has a tendency to float away from the basket and not demand the ball during stretches of play, Kentucky needs to make sure that they keep their biggest offensive threat engaged at all times. Thankfully in this game, players like Diallo and Green stepped up in the scoring column. But there is going to be a time when Kentucky needs Knox as a go-to scorer. They have to make sure to keep Knox fully engaged.

Virginia Tech loses Chris Clarke to season-ending torn ACL

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Virginia Tech took a huge blow to its season on Monday as the team announced that sophomore forward Chris Clarke is out for the season with a torn ACL.

The 6-foot-6 Clarke is a key glue guy who puts up numbers all across the board for the Hokies. Clarke was averaging 11.4 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game as he was shooting 58 percent from the field. Clarke also brought a certain intensity with him to each game that helps give the team a lift and he’s also one of the team’s better defenders. Clarke played in the Hokies’ double-overtime win over Virginia on Sunday but will now be gone the rest of the season.

Virginia Tech is a balanced team with plenty of weapons but the loss of Clarke will certainly sting for the Hokies. The Hokies will probably be able to withstand Clarke’s scoring loss, since he is fourth on the team, but Clarke’s rebounding will certainly be missed as he was tops on the team in rebounds per game.

Three takeaways as No. 12 Florida State takes down No. 21 Virginia Tech

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Continuing its unbeaten start in the ACC, No. 12 Florida State used its deep and athletic rotation to get past No. 21 Virginia Tech with a 93-78 ACC home win on Saturday.

The Seminoles (15-1, 3-0) continued to show that they are a major threat in the ACC and beyond with this win.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

Florida State has a chance to be really scary

With 11 consecutive victories, Florida State has it rolling on the hardwood. And this team has an even higher ceiling thanks to some young pieces who are still figuring things out.

We know that Leonard Hamilton teams are going to defend. The thing that makes this Seminoles team unique is that this group defends and has plenty of talented offensive weapons. We’ve seen what players like Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes can do scoring the ball in so many ways while Terance Mann is also a point producer who led with 22 in the win on Saturday.

Freshman Jonathan Isaac fits in so well with the wing scorers because he’s comfortable not taking many shots while defending multiple spots and rebounding at a high level. Overall, this starting five is a ton of fun to watch as they have high-upside scorers with players like Isaac who are complimenting the defense well.

Of the KenPom top 50 defenses, Florida State is one of three teams that is also top 50 in tempo (Kentucky and North Carolina being the other two). That shows that the Seminoles can defend, get up and down and play with anybody in the country and their depth and athleticism is going to wear a lot of teams down.

Don’t sleep on Florida State’s talented bench

One of the impressive parts of Florida State’s win over Virginia Tech was the play of its bench. When we talk about the Seminoles it can be easy to get wrapped up in the hype of the big-name scorers and All-Americans but there are also a lot of quality role players on this team.

When the Seminole starters took a break on Saturday, the bench never let up. Jarquez Smith had 12 points while sophomore PJ Savoy added 11 points. Freshman point guard CJ Walker added seven points. Walker is a hard-nosed lead guard who is a quality second-unit presence while the defense remains intense. Smith is plenty experienced and center Christ Koumadje brings size (7-foot-4!!!) off the bench that not many teams know how to handle.

Virginia Tech still has work to do on the road

We can’t forget about the way Virginia Tech dismantled Duke at home last weekend, but that win does seem like its in the distant past after the Hokies suffered road losses at N.C. State and Florida State this week. Such is life in the brutal gauntlet known as the ACC.

Buzz Williams has done a tremendous job of making Blacksburg a tough place to play but Virginia Tech still has work to do on the road to be considered among the class of the league. The Hokies do deserve credit for a nice true road win at Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge but they have not looked good on the road in two ACC games so far.

Virginia Tech’s next three games come at home, but after that, back-to-back road games at Clemson and North Carolina could really show us if this team is in the conference hunt.

Four Takeaways from Virginia Tech’s win over No. 5 Duke

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Virginia Tech picked up a potential signature victory as they took advantage of Grayson Allen’s suspension and ran past No. 5 Duke for a 89-75 home ACC win.

The Hokies jumped out to a big early lead that turned into 47-31 by halftime as they were never seriously threatened in the second half. The Blue Devils were playing without Allen — the junior Player of the Year candidate who was suspended indefinitely following his third tripping incident in a win over Elon — for the first time and the 10-day layoff, a tough road game and the conference opener all combined for an ugly effort.

Here are four things we learned from this game.

1. Duke still has to figure out its defense: The biggest takeaway from this game is that Duke’s defense needs to improve a lot in order from them to win the national championship. While Duke’s offense suffered without Grayson Allen, its defense was completely atrocious in allowing Virginia Tech looks from all over the floor.

Perimeter defenders were getting blown by and big men weren’t protecting at the rim — a total failure that led to Virginia Tech shooting 55 percent from the field and 61 percent from three-point range.

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Allen’s return to the lineup should obviously help with some of the perimeter problems but the bigger issue here is Duke’s glaring lack of a rim protector. Amile Jefferson is more of a rebounder and best suited with a big man next to him while freshmen like Marques Bolden and Harry Giles are just returning from injury. Bolden can wall up and be a presence, but he’s never been noted as a plus shot blocker, while Giles is at his best as a rebounder.

We can’t expect Duke to just develop a rim protector overnight — although that can improve a bit — but they can get better at preventing guards from just coasting to the bucket. And this entire Duke team can also stand to be more physical on the defensive end.

2. Virginia Tech picked up a signature victory: Buzz Williams didn’t exactly put his team through a rigorous non-conference schedule leading up to this point, but it doesn’t matter now, as the Hokies have a win over a potential No. 1 seed.

While Virginia Tech had only a road win at Michigan to show for its non-conference schedule, this win should certainly give the Hokies a lot of momentum. The key for this team securing a NCAA tournament bid could come in the next few games. If Virginia Tech is able to split its next four games (at N.C. State, at Florida State, Syracuse, Notre Dame) then it will be off to a solid start heading into a winnable home game against Georgia Tech.

You wouldn’t think of Blacksburg as a place you wouldn’t want to play but the Hokies have knocked off three top-10 opponents at home over the last calendar year.

3. Duke’s freshmen are still adjusting to the college game: We heard so much about Duke’s freshmen class entering this season and they’re finally all seeing the floor as we begin conference play (even seldom-talked-about forward Jack White got minutes for Duke in the Virginia Tech loss…).

But this talented group still has adjustments to make as we enter the tough part of the schedule. After the hot start, guard Frank Jackson was only 3-for-9 from the field for six points in the Virginia Tech loss while Jayson Tatum (18 points, seven rebounds) picked it up after a slow shooting start.

Harry Giles showed some flashes in finishing with four points and six rebounds (the offensive putback, in particular, was a classic Giles play when he was healthy as he has such a natural gift of timing on offensive putbacks) but he doesn’t have the wind or confidence to be relied on yet.

Marques Bolden contributed three rebounds off the bench and didn’t provide any rim protection when Duke desperately needed some.

Tatum and Jackson will be aided by Allen’s return and Giles and Bolden will get more comfortable as they get more healthy and active but this Duke team is still going to need a lot from its veterans to make a title run.

4. Virginia Tech’s balance is tremendous: The Hokies don’t have one-and-done, five-star prospects or a lot of pro prospects. They’re not going to get the hype of certain teams because their own conference is littered with teams that have both.

But the Hokies are filled with confidence and aggressive players who perfectly embody what Buzz Williams likes out of his teams. Williams has multiple guards who can attack and make plays in Seth Allen, Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs while Chris Clarke has become a versatile double-double threat who is one of the toughest players in the ACC. Ahmed Hill is a valuable slasher while Zach LeDay is underrated on the interior.

I just named six talented players for the Hokies and any of those guys can lead them to victory. If all six of them finish in double-figures — as the Hokies did in the win against Duke — that’s when Virginia Tech can hang with any team in the country. This team is going to get plenty of battles in the ACC and they’ll be equipped to handle most of them because of this team’s unique toughness and balance.

Report: Virginia Tech forward Kerry Blackshear could miss season with injury

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Virginia Tech could make a huge leap this season under head coach Buzz Williams as they earned some quality wins and return most of last season’s roster.

But forward Kerry Blackshear might not be able to help with the Hokies as Williams told Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Monday that the sophomore could miss the season. Still recovering from offseason surgery for a stress fracture, Blackshear hasn’t been able to return to the floor yet.

The 6-foot-10 Blackshear played in all 35 games for the Hokies last season as he battled through the foot injury to average 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The team could really use him in their frontcourt next season, but Williams still has a deep roster to work with.

Report: Virginia Tech forward Blackshear still recovering from offseason foot surgery

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Virginia Tech sophomore forward Kerry Blackshear will miss the start of training camp as he continues to recover from offseason foot surgery, according to a report from Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The 6-foot-10 Blackshear played in all 35 games for the Hokies last season as he battled through the foot injury to average 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. According to Barber’s report, Blackshear had surgery on his right foot five days after the 2015-16 season ended, but he’s still wearing a walking boot to help recover. There has been no timetable given for Blackshear’s return.

Blackshear will be a key piece for a Virginia Tech team that is a bit thin up front this season. Freshman Khadim Sy can provide some minutes up front, but he’s inexperienced and center Nick Fullard has to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules. Getting a healthy Blackshear will be a key storyline for a Virginia Tech team that many will have in the preseason top 25.