East Region Second Round Prediction & Free Pick: #4 Virginia Tech vs. #12 Liberty

Date | AuthorAdmir Aljic

Last Updated: 2019-03-23

The Atlantic Sun Conference champions Liberty Flames and the ACC representative Virginia Tech Hokies will lock horns in the East Region Second Round showdown at SAP Center at San Jose in San Jose, California, this Sunday, March 24, 2019. The No. 12 seed Liberty upset Mississippi State in the previous round, while the No. 4 seed Virginia Tech easily satisfied the odds against Saint Louis. The Hokies are listed as 8.5-point favorites here with the total at 126.0 points and the Flames at +365 money line odds. They will meet each other for the first time since 2014 when Virginia Tech defeated Liberty 73-63, and the Hokies have won six of their last eight meetings with the Flames.

The Liberty Flames outlasted the Mississippi State Bulldogs 80-76 in the first round of the East Region to get their first NCAA Tournament victory in school history. Caleb Homesley put on a terrific performance, dropping 30 points on the Bulldogs while making ten of his 16 field-goal attempts including a clutch 3-pointer to lift his team over Mississippi State. The Flames shot 46.2% from the field and 48.0% from beyond the arc, making 16 assists and ten turnovers.

Liberty relies on its offense this season, scoring 109.2 points per 100 possessions (65th in the country) on 56.1 effective field goal percentage (tied-8th) and 37.0% shooting from beyond the arc (48th). On the other side of the ball, the Flames are allowing 100.0 points per 100 possessions (107th) on 49.0 effective field goal percentage (97th). Their pace is the 4th-slowest in the country with 63.4 possessions per 40 minutes. The juniors Caleb Homesley and Scottie James are key players in this Liberty team. Homesley is averaging 12.5 points per game on 46.7% shooting from the field to go with 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists, while James is tallying 12.9 points per contest on 66.9% shooting from the field along with 8.7 boards.

The Virginia Tech Hokies defeated the Saint Louis Billikens 66-52 in the opener, completely dominating their rivals. The Hokies stormed the front to get a 40-18 lead at halftime, and there was no way back for the Billikens in the second half. Virginia Tech shot 41.7% from the field, allowing the Billikens to make just 36.5% of their field goals including four treys out of 23 attempts from deep. Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way for the Hokies, scoring 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field, while Kerry Blackshear Jr. added 15 points on 11-of-12 shooting from the charity stripe.

It was another impressive defensive performance by the Hokies who are allowing 93.4 points per 100 possessions this season (25th in the country) on 48.6 effective field goal percentage (74th). The Hokies are scoring 117.6 points in a return (12th) on 56.1 effective field goal percentage (tied-8th) and 39.4% shooting from downtown (9th). Virginia Tech prefers a down-tempo basketball, recording just 65.1 possessions per 40 minutes (331st). The senior Justin Robinson and the sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker make the dynamic backcourt punch, as Robinson is tallying 13.5 points and 5.0 assists per game, while Alexander-Walker is posting 16.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.9 dimes per contest. The junior Kerry Blackshear Jr. is a key guy at low-post, averaging 14.7 points and 7.2 boards per game.

Pick: Virginia Tech Hokies -8.5

The Flames have won 18 of their last 20 games and their confidence is sky high after recording the first-ever NCAA Tournament victory, but they will have a tall task against Virginia Tech. The Hokies are playing very well on both sides of the floor and will try to pass the second round for the first time since 1967. Their offensive execution is excellent this year, while the Hokies’ defense is doing a great job. Virginia Tech is 5-2 ATS in its last seven games overall, and 4-1 ATS in its previous five outings as a favorite, so I’m backing them to cover the spread. The Flames stand a chance if they put on another great offensive performance, but I think their defense isn’t good enough to stop the Hokies.

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