Monday, February 17, 2014

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Tuesday, February 18; 9:00


Record against the Hokies: 85-53

Last meeting: UVA 65, VT 45; 1/25/14, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 63, CU 58 (2/15); VT 52, Mia. 45 (2/15)


UVA: 62.2 (#340)
VT: 65.3 (#252)

UVA: 111.5 (#50)
VT: 99.0 (#268)

UVA: 88.8 (#4)
VT: 101.1 (#107)

UVA: .9319 (#7)
VT: .4391 (#187)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (4.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.3 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.3 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (7.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.3 apg)

Virginia Tech:

PG: Devin Wilson (9.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.5 apg)
SG: Ben Emelogu (10.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 apg)
SF: Jarell Eddie (13.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.4 apg)
PF: Trevor Thompson (4.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 0.1 apg)
PF: Joey van Zegeren (5.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 0.2 apg)

I undershot a little bit when I said that UVA could clinch as high as the 6th seed in the ACC tournament on Saturday; when the dust settled, it was the 5th seed that UVA had ended up with as a minimum prize.  And thanks to Pittsburgh's loss this weekend, the Hoos sit poised to lock up one of the four double-byes available - all they need to do is go into Blacksburg in front of tens of rabid Hokie fans and deliver a win.

-- UVA on offense

Fundamentally, very little has changed about VT since last we met.  The lineup is quite a bit different, but the numbers aren't that different.  VT still does a solid job on most aspects of defense, especially in shot-blocking, and the starting lineup now includes reinforcements in that regard in the form of 6'11" Trevor Thompson to play alongside Joey van Zegeren.  Thompson is even more of a yutz on offense than van Zegeren is, but he's a strong (if fouly) defender, and an excellent rebounder.

This gives Tech a really big starting lineup.  They've taken some hits in the depth department, though.  The Hokies don't expect to have Cadarian Raines available, which cuts into their frontcourt and robs them of a lot of experience.  Marshall Wood hasn't played the last three games, either; he only played seven mostly invisible minutes in the last game, though, so if he's absent again, it wouldn't change much.

VT does have one statistical curiosity: defensive time of possession.  The average possession length for opponents is 17.4 seconds, which is 88th in the country (if the shortest possession is ranked first.)  That's not strange in and of itself, but I would've expected a team which never gets turnovers to be forced to defend for much longer, and Tech never gets turnovers.  My only guess: easy threes.  Almost 40% of shots taken against VT's defense are threes, and they probably tend to come earlyish in the shot clock.  I don't know why I mention this, because shooting early threes is something that tends to earn the Tony Bennett evil eye.  If they kept track of Shots Passed Up we'd lead the country.  But I suppose if you can get an early three, you can probably get a later one, too.

At any rate, last time out, UVA was largely able to beat VT at the game the Hokies play best, and not needing help from the generous VT three-point defense to pile up a 20-point margin.  UVA shot .500 from two-point land in the game in Charlottesville, and most teams that have been able to do that, blew out the Hokies.  VT only blocked two shots, less than half their usual game total.  Beat the Hokies with superior athleticism inside, as UVA has, and you take away their main defensive strength, which in turn really leaves them with nothing to fall back on.

-- UVA on defense

Let's not get too fancy with analysis here.  Speaking in terms of conference-only play, this matchup is the ACC's best defense by a lot against the ACC's worst offense by a lot.  UVA's conference-only defensive efficiency is 89.6; second-best is Syracuse at 97.7.  VT's offense rates at 92.1 in conference play; next-worst is Clemson at 95.3.

This is because they're lousy shooters.  Again in conference play, VT is shooting .399 from two and .309 from three.  They've got some three-point shooters who'll hurt you if they get hot, but they're also prone to go on chuck-it streaks, attempting to heat up via volume.  Probably the only consistent inside scoring threat is C.J. Barksdale; after that, their next-best two point shooter (with any reasonable sample size, excluding for example Christian Beyer and his 16 shots all season) is van Zegeren.  Bad news for the Hokies given how ham-handed van Zegeren can be at times.

Barring a really, really hot night from someone's downtown shooting - not out of the question as Jarell Eddie and Ben Emelogu are both capable of it and even Barksdale will pop one in if you fall asleep on him - VT will struggle to score just as they did in Charlottesville.  Individually, most Hokies have a formula for defending them.  Stay in front of point guard Devin Wilson, who never saw a rim he didn't want to drive at; allow Eddie inside where he gets a little frantic and is a relatively easy shot block; hack the bejeezus out of van Zegeren and watch his .344 free-throw percentage go to work.  It's one of the easier teams to prepare for.

-- Outlook

That said, I don't want to act too ridiculously overconfident.  Pride comes before fall etc. and you have to expect a pretty good effort out of VT, which knows the value of the rivalry.  Plus it's a road game.  It's a classic trap, with UVA coming off a tough road win and now having to grind out another one, and VT surely feeling chastened by the 20-point loss last time and wanting to defend their home court.  But objectively speaking, VT shouldn't be able to score, and he that cannot score cannot win.

Final score: UVA 65, VT 45

Just because.


It's worth mentioning a few events from the weekend.  All basketball; we can deal with lacrosse and baseball later.  UVA moved up in a lot of estimation and didn't even do all that much.  Lunardi's latest bracketology has UVA as a 3-seed, surprisingly high.  But Michigan took a rather well-deserved tumble and our win over Clemson - on the road - vaulted us over Cincy and Iowa State, both of which had boring home wins against boringly mediocre teams.  Clemson ain't going dancing but they're quite a show better than Houston and Texas Tech.  At such lofty heights - what looks to be the 11th spot in a 68-team bracket - you probably can't help yourself much by beating the dross that fills the next three slots on UVA's schedule, but I will absolutely not complain about a 3 seed.  I think running the table - really running it, meaning winning every game between now and Selection Sunday - would earn us a 2 seed.  And I think we'd have to run the table to get one.  So a 3 seed looks like the winning combination of both high and realistic hopes.

In related news, Seth Greenberg has managed to go on record saying that not only is UVA his pick to win the ACC, that's his safe-bet pick in a gimmick where ESPN's guys were asked to make two predictions, one safe and one out on a limb.  You have to give the guy credit, he has never let his former Hokie status bias his judgment against UVA - in fact he's almost overcompensated for it the same way Kirk Herbstreit is conscious of never talking up Ohio State too much.  Maybe he's got a ton of respect for Tony Bennett, having coached quite a few games against him; maybe he's getting back at his former employer for the disgraceful way they kicked him to the curb; maybe he's simply more familiar with UVA than any other opponent he coached against while at Tech.  Or maybe he's just the smartest damn analyst they got and we don't know it yet and he's fixin' to look like a genius for going against the Syracuse and Duke grain.  (I do like his studio analysis.  It's more insightful than most of the faces they trot out.)

Speaking of Duke, how about that Duke-Maryland game?  In which the ACC admitted screwing up the possession arrow and not flipping it to Maryland after a tie-up when Duke had it, thus giving Duke a possession they shouldn't have had.  Of course they scored on that possession and of course they won by two.  Flippin' brilliant is what I say.  Maryland gets screwed, which is A-OK by me since the school is a dirty Benedict Arnold.  (Ok, the players didn't make that decision and screwing them over is decidedly not that exciting since they don't have a Greivis Vasquez at whom to direct delightful schadenfreude.)  I'm still rooting against the Terps at every turn, though, including when they went to Blacksburg.  So Duke getting that win is nice, and what's even nicer is it's thoroughly tainted.  We all like to believe you're playing 5-on-8 when you go to Cameron and now we have concrete proof of that, and not just in some judgment, block/charge call.  The ACC was forced to come flat out and say "yep, some Duke opponent got hosed."  They left out the "for the zillionth time" because those aren't official.  But this one is.  Now any time a Dookie pretends like they got screwed because they didn't get that charge call their players worked so hard for, we all have something to point to.  Maryland getting screwed and Duke and the refs looking like asshats - this is known in the bizness as a "win-win."

There's just one thing I have a beef about: the conference's statement that "The matter has been and will be handled internally by the league office."  Look.  I know that the conference's priorities really don't align with those of the fans.  They never do, and that's not unique to the ACC.  And I don't expect them to run out and make big procedural changes.  And I know that PR 101 says to just clam up, call it an internal matter, and the media will go away and stop bothering you about it.  This all said, every fan outside of North Carolina thinks the league office exists to grease the Tobacco Road skids, and the league is not so completely thick and tone-deaf that they don't know this.  Would it kill them to make a small effort to change that perception?  Maybe by saying this: "We understand that there's a perception of favoritism from referees and conference officials toward certain schools in the conference.  While nothing could be further from the truth, we're also aware that the inexcusable mistake during the Duke-Maryland game may exacerbate those concerns.  We want to assure our competitors and fans that we hold our officials to the highest standards and to that end we are [blah blah blah whatever corrective measures you're taking.]"  Battening down the hatches only makes you look even more like the All Carolina Club that everyone already thinks you are.

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