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Virginia Tech seeks to knock off No. 9 Memphis
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Virginia Tech seeks to knock off No. 9 Memphis

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It’s Thanksgiving week, which means Virginia Tech men’s basketball coach Mike Young and his team could be about to knock off another top 10 foe.

During Thanksgiving week in 2019, Young’s Hokies upset then-No. 3 Michigan State in the Maui Invitational.

During Thanksgiving week last year, the Hokies knocked off then-No. 3 Villanova in “Bubbleville” action at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.

Another ranked foe looms in Tech’s next game.

The Hokies (5-0) will take on No. 9 Memphis at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday on ESPN2 on the first night of the NIT Season Tip-Off at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“Hopefully, our luck doesn’t run out,” junior guard Nahiem Alleyne said.

Does this year’s Tech team, featuring Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts inside and good shooters outside, have the ingredients for a third annual November upset?

“I hope so. There’s no secret formula,” Young said. “Just good, solid ball. Great shot selection. Playing in the halfcourt and being solid and stiff on the defensive end. Putting the ball in the post to Aluma and Mutts, back onto the perimeter to a number of guys that can really shoot the ball.

“So we’re not going to alter anything on Wednesday that we’ve done to this point. It’s who we are and how we want to play. Let’s hope it’s good enough for Memphis.”

The Tigers (4-0) are steered by former Memphis and NBA star Penny Hardaway, who is in his fourth season at the helm of the team. He guided Memphis to the postseason NIT crown in March.

Hardaway’s playing career was slightly more illustrious than Young’s was at Emory and Henry.

“My shoe hasn’t done as well as Coach Hardaway’s,” Young cracked. “There are a lot of similarities between myself and Penny in terms of our backcourt skills.”

The Tigers boast two potential NBA draft lottery picks.

Memphis freshman and 2022 NBA draft prospect Jalen Duren averages 15 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.5 blocks. Fellow freshman Emoni Bates, a 17-year-old forward who is a 2023 NBA draft prospect because he will be too young for next year’s draft, averages 13.3 points.

Duren is a 6-foot-11 center, while Bates is a 6-9 forward. The other starting forward is 6-9 senior DeAndre Williams (9.3 points per game).

“They’re very long and aggressive,” Young said of the Tigers. “They’ll want to play really, really fast. And we’re not geared that way. We can’t play that way and expect to win. They’ll want it in the 80s, 90s. We’ll want it in the 60s. And it’ll be a test of wills.”

The duel inside between Aluma and Duren should be a good one. Duren had 22 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks in the team’s 74-62 win over Western Kentucky last week.

Landers Nolley II, who played for the Hokies two seasons ago, averages 8 points for Memphis. Nolley made the all-American Athletic Conference first team last season, when he was also named the most valuable player of the postseason NIT. But he comes off the bench this season.

The Memphis bench also includes Miami transfer Earl Timberlake, who once played for Tech assistant Mike Jones at DeMatha Catholic High School.

Memphis averages 85.8 points and is shooting 52.5% from the field but commits an average of 21.5 turnovers.

Tech is not only shooting 50.5% from the field but also clicking on defense.

The Hokies are holding foes to 34.3% on field goals.

“Our ball-screen defense still has to improve, but we’re very connected,” Young said. “The kids are smart. The kids know what it’s supposed to look like — getting people chipped and getting to the ball.

“[But] we’re going to run into a lot of teams here that shoot the ball better than some that we have played here in our first five.”

Tech point guard Storm Murphy said the players are trying to take pride in their defense.

“We know how good we are offensively and how good we can be against any defense. But for us on the defensive side, we want to continue to grow there,” Murphy said. “We heard it in the offseason, that that might be a weak spot for us. So coaches have been challenging us, and we’re really working on that every day.”

Tech will face No. 25 Xavier (4-0) or Iowa State (4-0) on Friday night in the tournament, which will be held at the Brooklyn Nets’ arena.

This will be the first time Tech has faced former Metro Conference rival Memphis since the teams met in the postseason NIT in 2005.

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