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2021 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview: #7 Virginia Tech vs #10 Marquette

The Golden Eagles look to win an NCAA tournament game for the third straight tournament.

Liberty v Virginia Tech Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

2021 NCAA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

FIRST ROUND

#7 Virginia Tech Hokies (14-9, 8-8 ACC) vs #10 Marquette Golden Eagles (19-6, 14-4 Big East)

Date: Sunday, March 21, 2021
Time: 11am Central
Location: Strahan Arena, San Marcos, Texas
Television: ESPNU, with Sam Ravech and Brenda VenLengen on the call
Streaming: WatchESPN.com
Live Stats: Dunno!
All-Time Series: Marquette and Virginia Tech have never played each other before.

As those of you who are regular Anonymous Eagle readers are aware, Marquette was the second best team in the Big East this season. They lost just six times all season, with three of the losses coming to Connecticut, the regular season and tournament champion in the conference. Marquette has not fallen to a non-UConn squad since February 7th, when they lost at home to then-#20 DePaul. That’s a 7-2 run to end the season with the losses coming in the regular season finale on the road against Connecticut in a game where neither team had anything to gain in the league standings, and then again to UConn in the Big East title game.

Virginia Tech had an up and down season. They started the year with six straight wins, including the sixth coming in their ACC opener at home against Pittsburgh. The Hokies then lost their next four games and seven of their next eight to drop to 7-7 on the year. The last of the losses was on the road to North Carolina State, the team that ended up as one of the four #1 seeds in this year’s tournament. But that loss was by just two points, 89-87. What did they do in their next game?

Went back home to Blacksburg.... and beat NC State, 83-71, in overtime.

Seems good. That win kicked off a run of another six straight wins to move them to 13-7. They ended up taking a regular season finale loss to North Carolina but then advanced to the ACC quarterfinals where they lost to..... North Carolina State. Feels an awful lot like Marquette’s problems with Connecticut, doesn’t it? The difference, of course, is that the Hokies pulled out the win over the tippy top team, something that Marquette was not able to do in three tries.

It looks like this game is going to come down to whether or not Marquette’s defense can slow down Virginia Tech’s offense. HerHoopStats.com says that the Hokies have a top 40 offense in terms of efficiency this season, while they rank just #139 in the country in defense. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles are just inside the top 60 in points per possession on offense, but they rank #71 on the defensive end. Odds are that MU’s offense will be able to flourish against Tech’s middle of the road defense. But can MU get the Hokies out of rhythm and system on the defensive end?

Marquette’s biggest struggle on defense is going to be taking away three-pointers. Virginia Tech connects on over 36% of their long range attempts, which is #24 in the county. Even worse for Marquette, the Hokies want to shoot as many threes as possible. They rank #16 in the country in three-point rate, meaning only 15 teams in the entire country get a higher percentage of their field goal attempts from behind the three-point line. Virginia Tech has three women — Aisha Sheppard, Cayla King, and Georgia Amoore — who all take more than five three-pointers per game and connect on more than 35% of them. Sheppard is the most likely shooter at 10 triples attempted per game, while Amoore is the most accurate sniper at 40.6%.

None of those three are the leading scorer on the team, though. That honor goes to Elizabeth Kitley, who is going to be a huge problem for the Golden Eagles — literally. The sophomore from Summerfield, North Carolina, native stands 6’5” tall and was First Team All-ACC this season. She averaged 18.5 points per game, just two-tenths of a point more than Sheppard, while shooting 54% from the field. Kitley miiiiight be able to shoot threes, hitting 43% this year, but she only attempted seven of them. She also averages 10.7 rebounds per game, but Kitley is a much stronger defensive rebounder (#65 in the country in rate) than on offense (“only” top 700) largely because it looks like Virginia Tech doesn’t value trying to get offensive rebounds all that much. Still, averaging a double-double is a pretty great situation... well, at least for the Hokies. Marquette has multiple bodies they can throw at Kitley in the post, but no one can match up with the height. MU does rebound the ball exceptionally well as a team, but they haven’t had to compete with anyone who can just tower over them like Kitley can.