Saturday, November 15, 2008

game preview: VMI

Virginia Cavaliers (0-0, 0-0) vs. VMI Keydets (1-0, 0-0)

Possible starting lineups:

G - Mustapha Farrakhan (0 ppg, 0 apg, 0 rpg)
G - Calvin Baker (0 ppg, 0 apg, 0 rpg)
F - Mamadi Diane (0 ppg, 0 apg, 0 rpg)
F - Mike Scott (0 ppg, 0 apg, 0 rpg)
C - Tunji Soroye (0 ppg, 0 apg, 0 rpg)

G - Chavis Holmes (16 ppg, 6 apg, 2 rpg)
G - Austin Kenon (17 ppg, 2 apg, 2 rpg)
G - Travis Holmes (30 ppg, 3 apg, 7 rpg)
F - Willie Bell (12 ppg, 0 apg, 8 rpg)
F - Ron Burks (11 ppg, 3 apg, 3 rpg)

Uh-oh? VMI is one of approximately 250 D-I college basketball teams that gets totally ignored throughout the course of a season, until they go and make life miserable for a team that everyone's already heard of. VMI's anonymity ended on Friday when they knocked off Kentucky, who, thanks to Gardner-Webb last year, is well on their way to establishing a pattern here. So now VMI is in the headlines just in time for Sunday's game. Oh joy.

Truth be told, VMI hasn't been 100% anonymous in recent times. They've earned a couple mentions in the Big News Media for playing a style of basketball best described as the Phoenix Suns on amphetamines. They might lose or they might win, but that 111-103 score over UK is very typical of a VMI basketball game. They averaged over 91 points a game last year, which is NBA territory and good enough to lead the nation - by a lot.

Fortunately, upstarts from 1-bid leagues don't usually have two big ones in them. Santa Clara, you may recall, knocked off UNC a few years back, then promptly got beat by a conference rival, Pacific. Gardner-Webb followed up their UK win last year with losses to UConn and Oklahoma.

VMI's biggest weakness: size. Nobody taller than 6'7" or bigger than 205 lbs (unless you count the guy who racked up a whole minute of PT) saw the floor for the Keydets against UK, and Kentucky countered with nobody taller than 6'9". Between Soroye, Brandenburg, and/or Sene, we should have 7 feet on the court at all times. And we have beef that VMI can't match, when you add Tucker, Scott, and maybe Meyinsse into the equation. Second weakness: fouls. Three Keydet starters ended with four fouls agaisnt UK, and a bench player (Keith Gabriel, who nevertheless scored 20) fouled out.

Match a size advantage with the opponent's propensity to foul and it's not hard to figure how we ought to be attacking the VMI defense. And in any case, this is a great test of how the team will respond to Leitao's challenge to play some damn defense. We're lucky that we got to send the Kentucky Canaries through the VMI coal mine before we went in ourselves. First games can be dangerous. But if we exploit that size advantage, stay patient on offense and diligent on defense, and learn our lesson from Kentucky, then we should be able to treat VMI like the mid-major stomping pad they're supposed to be.

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