No. 3 NC State finally slipped up in ACC play and it was to the No. 20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who honestly feature six players who could be their star on any given night.
Olivia Miles, Maya Dodson, Sonia Citron, Maddy Westbeld, Dara Mabrey and Sam Brunelle have brought excitement back to South Bend after two off years for the program. And what’s intriguing is that two of those players (Miles and Citron) are freshmen and Westbeld is a sophomore.
Miles in particular is exciting to watch and is second in the nation with 7.5 assists per game. Here’s my assessment of her from our freshmen to watch piece:
Miles’ passing talent is off the charts, as are her shooting, driving, finishing and ball-handling abilities. She can make any pass (one-handed, long passes, passes to cutters, dump-off passes). She is very quick and can also make impressive fadeaway shots.
Since falling to a very solid Boston College team that has caught people’s attention in the ACC on Jan. 20, Notre Dame has taken care of business against Pitt and Syracuse, avenged its loss to BC and upset the Wolfpack. That last accomplish is huge considering how stacked NC State is and how much of a roll it was on.
So the Fighting Irish have reason to be very excited as they try to build upon their success Thursday night when they host the Virginia Tech Hokies, a team that is receiving votes and has been ranked as high as No. 24.
The Hokies have already swept Duke (receiving votes) this year and also kept things close against NC State and No. 7 Tennessee. On the negative side, they had rough outing against No. 24 UNC on Jan. 9, losing by 25.
Virginia Tech is led by one of the best players in the ACC in Elizabeth Kitley (18.1 points per game), who is game-time decision because of a groin injury. The Hokies feature three other double-figure scorers (Aisha Sheppard, Georgia Amoore and Kayana Traylor).
Virginia Tech Hokies (15-5, 7-2 ACC) vs. No. 20 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-4, 8-2 ACC)
When: Thursday. Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Purcell Pavilion in Notre Dame, IN
Key to the matchup: Elizabeth Kitley on the glass if she plays. For the most part, this game is about Notre Dame’s offense vs. Virginia Tech’s defense. The Irish score more points and shoot better from the field, while the Hokies allow less points and have a stronger field goal percentage defense. Oddly though, Virginia Tech has the better 3-point shooting and Notre Dame has the better 3-point defense.
What this game may come down to is the rebounding battle. The Irish have the better margin, but the Hokies have the single best rebounder in Kitley, who is three inches taller than the tallest rotation player for Notre Dame and averages 10.2 boards per game. Maya Dodson (6-foot-3) outplayed and outrebounded 6-foot-5 NC State star Elissa Cunane on Tuesday. We’ll see is she’s up for another challenge against Kitley.
If Kitley doesn't play, look for that 3-point shooting of Virginia Tech to be a major factor. The Hokies may have a weaker all-around offense than the Irish, but, as always, threes being worth more than twos favors 3-point shooting teams.