Virginia Tech looks to continue its postseason hot streak when it takes on Texas in Milwaukee on Friday in the East Region's 6-vs-11 game. The Hokies (23-12) ran the gauntlet in the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, beating Clemson (in overtime), Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Duke consecutively to win the unexpected automatic bid. Meanwhile, the Longhorns (21-11) come into this game having lost three straight and four of their last six contests.
Both head coaches are looking for their first March Madness wins with their current schools. Virginia Tech's Mike Young lost his first opportunity, an overtime thriller to Florida last year, while the Hokies' last Tournament win came in 2019 when they made the Sweet 16. Texas, meanwhile, lost 53-52 to No. 14 Abilene Christian last year and hasn't won a Tournament game since 2014. Chris Beard, who led Texas Tech to the national championship game in 2019, will have a chance to end that drought in his first season in Austin.
Virginia Tech was picked to finish fifth in the ACC before the season began and the Hokies were up and down early on, starting 10-10 overall and just 2-7 in conference play. The non-conference slate featured losses to Memphis, Xavier, and Dayton by single digits, with their best win coming over Maryland by four in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But after a Jan. 26 loss to Miami, Tech ran off six straight victories as part of a 9-2 closing stretch before rattling off four wins in four days in the ACC Tournament.
It was the opposite for Texas, who started the year 12-2, but most of those victories came against inferior teams. The Longhorns lost by 12 points at Gonzaga and by four at Seton Hall in the early months. They showed flashes of brilliance in victories over Tennessee and Kansas, but they couldn't capture any momentum over a three-game finish against Baylor, Kansas, and TCU.
East Region: No. 11 Virginia Tech Hokies (23-12) vs. No. 6 Texas Longhorns (21-11)
Time: Friday, March 18 at 4:30 p.m. ET (approximately)
Where: Fiserv Forum (Milwaukee)
Spread: Texas -1
Keys for Virginia Tech
The Hokies play with one of the slowest paces in America at around 63 possessions per contest. They have one of the nation's most efficient offenses and feature the third-best 3-point shooting (39.3 percent). It's a good thing that they shoot well from long range because 41.4 percent of their total shots come from beyond the arc, a staple of Mike Young-coached teams. Defensively, Virginia Tech doesn't give up a bunch of free-throw attempts (13.5 per game, 24th nationally) and limits the damage other teams do from distance.
The Hokies are led by Keve Aluma, who averages 15.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. Aluma can stretch to the 3-point line and is really efficient in the paint. Justyn Mutts (10.1 ppg) and Hunter Cattoor (10.0 ppg) are the other double-digit scorers for Tech. Cattoor is especially important because he is their best shooter from long range and had been struggling before a monster effort against Duke in the ACC Tournament championship game. Storm Murphy and Sean Pedulla run the offense at point guard while Darius Maddox has been clutch off the bench hitting multiple game-winners.
Keys for Texas
Much like its opponent, Texas doesn't play with any pace either. The Longhorns rank 341st at 63.1 possessions per contest. They shoot free throws well as a unit and are relatively efficient from two-point land. However, the Texas offense is nowhere near as good as its defense, which is 14th in turnover rate (23.3 percent). The Longhorns are a top-40 defense inside the arc and a top-80 unit on 3-pointers. If there's a weakness, it's that they foul a little too much, checking in 316th in free-throw attempts per field-goal attempts. Luckily for them, the Hokies aren't great at drawing fouls (13.1 free-throw attempts per game, 348th).
There's a fantastic balance with this team as four different players average at least nine points per game. Timmy Allen is Texas' leading scorer (12.3 ppg) and rebounder (6.5 per game) and he shoots 73 percent from the line as well. Marcus Carr and Andrew Jones form a very solid veteran backcourt, but both shoot below 32 percent from 3-point range. The Longhorns aren't very deep and may miss forward Tre Mitchell (8.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg). He left the team in February for personal reasons.
This is the classic case of momentum vs. limping into the NCAA Tournament. It's also a battle of two fantastic coaches in Young and Beard. Beard has a great recent track record, but it's hard to trust the Longhorns consistently. They've scored 65 points or fewer in eight of their last 12 games. The one thing I do know is that this won't be the most visually pleasing game offensively, but I'll go with the double-digit seed.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 65, Texas 62
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.