ESPN’s Jay Bilas still high on depleted Virginia Tech | Men’s Basketball

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On Saturday, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team beat a ranked foe even though it did not have the services of point guard Justin Robinson.

On Monday, the Hokies will try to do that again.

The 12th-ranked Hokies (18-3, 7-2 ACC) will host No. 15 Louisville (16-6, 7-2) at 7 p.m. in a “Big Monday” telecast on ESPN.

Robinson is sidelined indefinitely after suffering a foot injury in last week’s win at Miami. But Jay Bilas, who will be the analyst for ESPN’s telecast Monday, is still high on the Hokies.

“They’re a very capable team,” Bilas said Sunday in a phone interview. “The idea that they’re as good without Justin Robinson or can be as good, of course they can’t. … But they’re still really capable.

“They’ve got … five [other] guys that shoot over 40 percent from 3- [point range]. They’re one of the best offensive teams in the country. And they’re very varied offensively, so they can score at a number of different positions.

“They’ll still be really difficult to beat.”

The Hokies are coming off Saturday’s 47-24 win at No. 23 North Carolina State. The Wolfpack’s 24 points were the fewest scored by any ACC team or any ranked squad in the shot-clock era.

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Not only is Tech minus Robinson (14.4 ppg, 5.5 apg), but injured forward P.J. Horne has missed the past four games. The Hokies are down to seven healthy scholarship players, including Jonathan Kabongo, who played only five minutes Saturday.

“We can’t control if J-Rob plays right now,” Tech guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker said. “We can’t control if P.J. plays right now. But we can control our effort, our focus, our energy, our cohesiveness.”

With Robinson stuck on the bench, the Hokies opted to milk the shot clock and slow the pace of Saturday’s game. Tech coach Buzz Williams will likely keep using that recipe.

“[State’s] average possession going into today was … really fast. We could not get into that type of game defensively,” Williams said after the win. “But also, our personnel offensively doesn’t suggest that that would give us our best chance to win.”

A slow tempo could help the undermanned Hokies avoid foul trouble Monday.

“You can’t afford as many possessions, because if guys get in foul trouble, that puts you in a really bad spot,” Bilas said.

Foul trouble hurt the Hokies in their last “Big Monday” appearance on ESPN. Robinson and Alexander-Walker each picked up three fouls in the first half of Tech’s 103-82 loss at North Carolina on Jan. 21. The Hokies sputtered without them, and trailed by 14 points at halftime.

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The Hokies struggled offensively without Robinson on Saturday. They committed 12 turnovers, including nine in the first half.

“Guys are having to carry different [ball-handling] responsibilities than they have up until this point in their career,” Williams said.

The Hokies shot just 35.6 percent from the field Saturday. But the Wolfpack shot only 16.7 percent — the worst percentage in ACC history.

Alexander-Walker expects the Hokies to shoot better on Monday.

“We’re going home. We’re comfortable at home,” he said. “It’s going to be a different environment.”

The Hokies are averaging 10.3 3-pointers.

“Louisville is going to have to make Virginia Tech put the ball on the deck and not let them get open 3s,” Bilas said.

Monday’s duel will be Tech’s third game in six days. Alexander-Walker and fellow guards Ahmed Hill and Wabissa Bede each played the full 40 minutes Saturday.

Is Alexander-Walker worried that the Hokies might not have fresh legs Monday?

“No,” he said. “It’s like, ‘What can life throw at me now?’ at this point. I’m ready to go.”

The Cardinals are coming off a 79-69 home loss to North Carolina. But they did win at UNC last month. They also knocked off Michigan State in November.

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“They play more guys than Virginia Tech, … so they’re going to be a challenge,” Bilas said.

Former Xavier coach Chris Mack is in his first season at the helm of the Cardinals. He has installed a Pack Line defense, although it differs from Virginia’s brand.

“They’re pretty good in it,” Bilas said. “A lot of people associate the Pack Line with a slower pace, and that’s not the way Louisville plays. They like to play at a faster clip.”

The Cardinals are outrebounding foes by 4.2 rebounds per game, although they were outrebounded 49-32 by UNC on Saturday. The Hokies outrebounded State 42-36 on Saturday.

“[The Hokies] are going to have to rebound,” Bilas said. “Louisville, you can hang with them on the glass.”

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