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Virginia Tech confident facing No. 9 Memphis in battle of unbeatens
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Virginia Tech earned its 1,500th win in program history Sunday with a 72-43 romp of Merrimack. It's safe to say that if the Hokies pick up win No. 1,501 Wednesday night, it will make waves nationally.
That's because they are taking on No. 9 Memphis in the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Virginia Tech is 5-0, although its schedule hasn't exactly been difficult. Every win has come by at least 20 points and the toughest opponent was Patriot League foe Navy, which was coming off an upset victory at No. 25 Virginia when the Hokies sank it 77-57 on Nov. 12 in Annapolis, Md.
But the Hokies are confident going into their stiffest test.
"I don't feel like if we win the game it's going to be an upset, because I really feel like we're one of the best teams in the country," guard Nahiem Alleyne said.
If nothing else, the game should be an interesting contrast of old vs. young, savvy vs. athletic, tried and true vs. new and hip.
Virginia Tech is one of the most experienced teams in the country. It returned three starters from an NCAA Tournament team last season and filled in the one gap by adding graduate transfer Storm Murphy, who led Wofford in scoring at 17.8 points per game last season and was second in the Southern Conference in assists at 4.3.
Memphis (4-0) has some proven players on its roster, including former Hokies guard Landers Nolley, who averaged 13.1 points per game last season for coach Penny Hardaway. But its feature attractions are freshmen Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren, both five-star recruits who might be one-and-dones.
Duren showed why he's such a hyped player in Friday night's 74-62 home win over Western Kentucky, dominating the Hilltoppers inside for 22 points, 19 rebounds and five blocked shots. It marked just the second time since 2010 that a Tiger had compiled 20, 19 and 5 in a game.
Duren is averaging 15 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.8 blocked shots, while Bates has added 13.3 points per game and hit 10 of 24 from the 3-point line. Memphis is averaging 85.8 points per game and converting 52.6 percent from the field.
Duren might have an interesting matchup with Virginia Tech center Keve Aluma, who has the type of versatile skill set to thrive against anyone. Aluma's 12.4 points per game leads a balanced attack for a team that has canned 50.5 percent from the field and 42.5 percent on 3-pointers.
"This is the first big test," Hardaway said. "They are well-organized. Shooters everywhere. Bigs that know how to post, crash the glass really well. This team is going to be deliberate and slow and run their stuff. So it will be a good test for us."
This will be the teams' first meeting in 16 years, dating to the Tigers' 83-62 victory in the second round of the 2005 NIT. The schools were old Metro Conference rivals from 1979-91; Memphis leads the series 18-12.
The winner plays either No. 25 Xavier or Iowa State Friday night for the tournament title.
--Field Level Media
Updated November 22, 2021