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10:00 AM PT11:00 AM MT12:00 PM CT1:00 PM ET6:00 PM GMT2:00 PM 北京时间11:00 AM MST1:00 PM EST, Jan 1, 2019
Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Virginia  Attendance: 8,008

Virginia Tech begins ACC season against Notre Dame

No more preliminaries or cupcakes. No more feeling-out processes.

The basketball teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference will know knock antlers for the next two and a half months. The Virginia Tech Hokies begin the 2019 ACC schedule against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Jan. 1. Coach Buzz Williams can't wait -- partly because he knows he has a good team, mostly because he relishes being able to play big-boy basketball in the ACC.

"This is the best league in the world that's not the NBA," Williams said to Mark Berman of "Any time you play poker in the back room or you throw dice in the back room, when all the other people are throwing it on the first floor, that's what the ACC is. You're in the private room."

Buzz continued:

"Like, Coach (Roy) Williams (of North Carolina) doesn't throw dice where we throw dice," he said. "They already have the chips in the room. And they already have the stick man waiting on Coach when he shows up. That's what the ACC basketball play is."

Virginia Tech's high-stakes poker games might occur against Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina, but any ACC game is extremely significant. Seeding in the NCAA Tournament, being able to get a double-bye in the ACC Tournament, and generally elevating the profile of the Hokie basketball program are all in play each time Virginia Tech plays an ACC game.

The foremost concern for Virginia Tech heading into Tuesday's game against Notre Dame is the health of starting guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The sophomore is averaging 18.5 points per game in 32 minutes. He is allowing only 2.3 turnovers and is shooting 47 percent on 3-point shots. He and teammate Justin Robinson are the foremost catalysts for this undersized team with a limited bench. It is still waiting to hear from the NCAA if 6-foot-7 freshman Landers Nolley will be eligible to play.

If Alexander-Walker -- who missed this past Saturday's tune-up against Maryland Eastern Shore -- is unable to play or is extremely limited in his physical capabilities -- Virginia Tech will need contributions from other sources.

It will also need to rely on its defense, because Notre Dame's offense is not entering this game in good shape.

The Fighting Irish trailed winless Coppin State for much of this past Saturday's game, and trailed the 0-14 Eagles by nine with 9:53 remaining in regulation. Down 47-38, the Irish allowed just nine points in the final 9:53 and managed to survive, 63-56.

Notre Dame hounded Coppin State down the stretch, as the Eagles hit just two of their last 10 shots to fall to 0-15 on the season. Notre Dame almost allowed Coppin State to move to 1-14, but the Irish showed some backbone. They avoided a humiliating loss before this ACC opener.

"We knew we had to do it on the defensive end," Notre Dame guard T.J. Gibbs said. "It wasn't about our offense at that point. We know our offense is going to come."

It might not come very easily without key senior Rex Pflueger, who was shooting 39 percent from 3-point range and handing out 4.3 assists per game in just over 30 minutes for head coach Mike Brey's team. Pflueger's floor leadership enabled his teammates to focus on their own specialized roles. That absence of role distribution was evident in Notre Dame's choppy offensive performance against Coppin State.

Virginia Tech and Notre Dame are both playing in the face of injuries and limitations, but the schedule demands that they play an ACC game on New Year's Day. The Hokies and Irish have to fight through imperfect circumstances. The rest of the ACC won't care what they are enduring at any point in the season. Virginia Tech and Notre Dame have to carve out their own paths, beginning on the first day of the new year.

Updated December 31, 2018

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