Friday, December 3, 2010

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: December 5, 6:00 PM


History against the Hokies: 79-53

Last matchup: VT 61, UVA 55; 2/13/10

Last game: UVA 87, Minnesota 79 (11/29); Purdue 58, VT 55 (12/1)

Opposing blogs: Gobbler Country, The Key Play

KenPom stats:

National ranking: UVA #80; VT #48
Offense: UVA #47; VT #90
Defense: UVA #134; VT #18

ACC basketball season officially kicks off on Sunday; the first conference game of the young year is the VT game this weekend. I'm hoping that maybe Blacksburg will still be hung over from the ACCCG the day before, but it didn't work out real well the last time I tried to use that game as a crutch of hope. It is, of course, even sillier to hope VT students will be studying for finals.


- Win the fouls battle. Tech is one of the worst teams in the country in this regard, averaging over 21 per game. UVA is one of the better ones, with under 17. Jeff Allen is the biggest culprit, having only once this season managed to keep it under four, and fouling out of three of Tech's seven games. Tech's other starting bigs, Victor Davila and Terrell Bell, have each fouled out of a game as well, and they have a real tendency to be forced to play the game in foul trouble. Tech's propensity to foul aside, UVA must not get into foul trouble, not with Will Sherrill sidelined. Assane Sene and Mike Scott need to keep their noses clean or UVA's lack of frontcourt depth is going to be abused by Tech's bigs. And of course, the corollary to Win The Fouls Battle is Make Your Free Throws.

- Defend Malcolm Delaney. Jontel, that's you. Delaney was a hideous, draft-stock-murdering 2-for-18 against Purdue, and Tech goes as Delaney goes. In their loss to Kansas State he was 6-of-18 from the field. Delaney typically plays every minute of the game, so Jontel Evans can be his primary defender but Mu Farrakhan and probably Billy Baron will have to take their turns as well. And really, it ought to be a team effort, with Tony Bennett drawing up rotation responsibilities and implementing the Delaney Rules - I'm willing to let Tech's other players take their cracks at the basket, because they're not likely to be able to carry the team if Delaney is having another lousy night.

- Slow it down on offense and play perfect transition D. This is kind of a generic key to the game here, much like "don't throw interceptions" and "for the love of God stop false-starting" in football. It applies to every ACC game, especially every road ACC game, especially every road ACC game in gyms where they hate us. Turnovers on the offensive end and easy buckets for the opponents in transition will get you slaughtered in the ACC, especially on the road, and unfortunately that's exactly the kind of mistake UVA's been prone to this season. Recall a sequence in the Minny game in which Minny was able to answer a Joe Harris three-pointer with one of their own, because the team loafed back in transition and failed to mark the one guy on the court (Blake Hoffarber) that should never go undefended. Bennett called a time-out immediately and ripped the team for it, and it didn't happen again. Even one time is one too many in the ACC.


- Fatigue. Hey, it's a factor. Charlottesville to Palo Alto to Maui to Charlottesville to Minneapolis to Charlottesville to Blacksburg to Charlottesville is a nasty travel schedule. It's the kind of thing that can multiply the hostile-gym factor and turn a close game into a downhill snowball. Fortunately, Tech is the team with the more recent game, and it was a real letdown-type, an overtime loss in a game they probably should have won. But it's UVA that'll really have to guard against a tired, let's-just-get-out-of-here mentality.

- Get out-athleticized. Quick, athletic guards have been the bane of our offense this year, and Tech as a whole is probably the more athletic team. (UVA has athletes, it's just that most of them have some serious holes in their game.) This is one of the few teams that won't be able to exploit a size advantage over UVA, but Delaney is one of the conference's top players and Tech's forwards are fast movers for their size.


It'd be foolhardy to predict a win, but I have to think the odds of it are better than many may think. VT will likely be unable to take advantage of two of UVA's three biggest weaknesses. Nothing we can do about the youth, but Tech is actually a smaller team than UVA is and they don't roll very deep. Injuries have had a lot to do with both. The tallest player we'll see is 6'8" Victor Davila, except for the likely five-minute cameo by Cadarian Raines. With the exception of the Delaney-Evans matchup, UVA will usually have the taller players on the court. And Seth Greenberg's "rotation" involves playing his starters for over 30 minutes apiece.

But Tech is a top defensive team, and it's not easy to go inside on them. In order to win, the aerial assault has to be in good working order, so as to loosen up the lane a little bit. Tech plays physical - a little bit dirty - and they're not afraid to create contact. It's a style our freshmen won't be used to, and therein lies VT's ability to take advantage of the third weakness. Above all else, composure and ice under pressure will be needed.

A low-scoring game is in the works here. Neither team is equipped for a 90-point shootout, nor is it their style. Last year's games were 65-65 and 61-55 after 40 minutes, and there's no reason for that to change. The good news is, that tends to work in favor of the underdog. But VT will be desperate, having just blown their best chance at a resume-garnishing win for the tournament. And they'll have the best player on the court, and they'll be at home. Those are the kind of factors that usually tip a game in a team's direction. KenPom projects a 19% chance at a UVA win; I think the number is higher than that, but still an uphill battle.

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