Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sunday Showdown: Part II - Virginia Tech at Auburn

With all due respect to Tennessee, 24th-ranked Virginia Tech (10-0) will face its toughest non-conference test of the 2016-17 season on Sunday at Auburn (5 p.m. tip).
The Tigers are 8-2 and 3-0 at home. They have an RPI of 24 (Virginia Tech's is 32, Tennessee's is 52). And they rank among the nation's best in relieving opponents of the ball - 14.0 steals per game, third in Division I - and just forcing turnovers in general - 25.5 per game, second in D-I.

Turnover-inducing styles have bedeviled Tech teams of recent vintage. So far, this has been one of the key differences between this year's Hokies and their predecessors - Tech currently ranks third among D-I teams in taking care of the ball with just 11.2 turnovers a game.

Something's gotta give, right?

That this game is on the road only enhances the degree of difficulty. In late November, the Hokies (10-0) created the media awareness that fueled their eventual national ranking by downing the then-17-ranked Lady Vols. But putting aside the fact that Tennessee has underachieved mightily thus far - by its own admission - that game, along with seven others on Tech's schedule, was played at Cassell Coliseum. This will be the Hokies' first road contest since a Nov. 22 trip to Charleston.

Credit the Hokies for even putting themselves in this spot. Teams in Tech's position/conference can afford to line up much less challenging foes - at home - for their first game after an exam break. That Tech is willing to forego a tuneup and test itself on the road against a mid- to upper-tier ACC-caliber foe that plays a style that has given previous Hokies teams fits is admirable.

Getting out of Auburn with a victory, especially under these circumstances, would be a significant achievement.

Tech notes

- Kenny Brooks-coached teams have won 27 straight regular-season games in the calendar year 2016. JMU won 17 straight to close the 2015-16 season in addition to the Hokies winning their first 10 this season. Include the postseason and Brooks-led teams are 30-2 this year. The losses are to William and Mary on Jan. 3 and to DePaul in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

 - Virginia Tech has gone 22-1 in non-conference play the past two years and has won 20 straight since a loss at Georgetown on Nov. 18, 2015. Eighteen of the 23 non-conference games have been played at Cassell.

 - Then and now: comparing the Hokies on Dec. 17 the past two years:

 - 9-1 record
  - 30th in AP poll (5th among others receiving votes)
  -  7-0 at home
  - Signature win - at Tennessee

 - 10-0 record
  - 24th in AP poll
  - 8-0 at home
  - Signature win: vs. Tennessee

  - Auburn has forced at least 25 turnovers in six of its eight games. Troy coughed it up 38 times against the opportunistic Tigers.

 - Auburn is coached by Terri Williams-Flournoy, who in addition to being a Grade-A coach is also Boo Williams' sister. Now in her fifth year at Auburn, Williams-Flournoy led the Tigers to at least 19 victories in three of her first four seasons. Last season, the Tigers advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

Virginia Tech game notes

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