Friday, January 24, 2014

game preview: Virginia Tech

Date/Time: Saturday, January 25; 3:00

TV: ACC Network, ESPN3

Record against the Hokies: 84-53

Last meeting: UVA 73, VT 55; 2/12/13, Charlottesville

Last game: UVA 76, UNC 61 (1/20); WF 83, VT 77 (1/22)


UVA: 63.1 (#333)
VT: 67.1 (#185)

UVA: 110.0 (#68)
VT: 100.9 (#237)

UVA: 88.8 (#5)
VT: 101.9 (#123)

UVA: .9215 (#13)
VT: .4733 (#174)

Projected lineups:


PG: London Perrantes (4.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.7 apg)
SG: Malcolm Brogdon (11.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.8 apg)
SF: Joe Harris (11.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.1 apg)
PF: Akil Mitchell (6.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.3 apg)
C: Mike Tobey (7.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.4 apg)

Virginia Tech:

PG: Devin Wilson (9.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.8 apg)
SG: Will Johnston (3.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 0.5 apg)
SF: Jarell Eddie (14.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 apg)
PF: C.J. Barksdale (8.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 0.7 apg)
C: Joey van Zegeren (5.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.3)

One of the cruelest jokes of basketball season thus far is a schedule that gave us two absolutely exquisite main courses last weekend and then made us wait all week for dessert.  Virginia Tech comes into town, sitting exactly where you like to see the Hokies: the basement.  It's a near-certainty that the other end of the ACC standings will feature a race to the bottom between VT and Boston College, currently #'s 174 and 175 in KenPom's rankings.  UVA has a chance to help speed the Hokies on their way this Saturday.

-- UVA on offense

VT's defensive numbers actually feature pretty solid rankings almost all the way across the board.  Except for one thing: turnovers, where the Hokies are literally dead last in the country in forcing them.  Nobody steals the ball less often than Virginia Tech.  Only Quinnipiac sees fewer turnovers, and that just means their opponents have been a smidge less sloppy.  This is a feature of James Johnson's teams; VT sat near the very bottom in this category last year, too.  Ironic considering that Johnson's bio on the VT site promises "a more pressure-oriented defense."  VT fouls rather less than they did under Seth Greenberg, but they also don't have notorious hack artist Jeff Allen, either.

UVA, meanwhile, in conference play, has been among the best in the ACC at protecting the ball.  Only 5.4% of UVA possessions have ended in steals and only 13% have been turnovers.  We still get shots blocked all the time, but the more shots you take, the more that go in, and UVA will probably not turn the ball over hardly at all tomorrow except for those few of their own accidental doing.

One thing VT has going for it is a fairly deep frontcourt with good size.  Start with a couple of tall skinnies in Joey van Zegeren and Trevor Thompson; these two block a ton of shots, although their lack of heft means they foul a lot, too.  Marshall Wood has put some meat on his bones and where last year he used to be a foul factory, he's improved mightily in that regard.  Add veterans C.J. Barksdale and Cadarian Raines and a couple biggish small forwards in Christian Beyer and Jarell Eddie (plus 6'4" point guard Devin Wilson), and VT is a size match for our players without much trouble.

That didn't help Florida State, though.  UVA had a really rough time down low in Tallahassee, with Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey both going bucketless from the field, but the Hoos crushed it on the offensive glass in that game and won the turnover battle by a huge margin in both games, and knocked off the Noles that way.  VT, in conference play, has been allowing plenty of offensive rebounds, and what's more, allowing too much three-point shooting too.  Combine that with the turnovers they don't get and you have an easy recipe to beat the Hokies.

-- UVA on defense

Offense is where VT has been losing games, though.  They already don't score a lot, and they're likely to be missing two of their top three scorers in Adam Smith and Ben Emelogu.  Smith is also the ballhandler when Devin Wilson is out of the game, and James Johnson thinks so little of his other options in that regard that Wilson simply never left the game against Wake Forest this week.

Wilson is someone out of the "drive and see what happens" school of point guard play.  He's a slasher through and through, and a fairly big one, so he can make some good things happen.  Gets fouled a ton, as you'd expect, but not a great free throw shooter, and like many freshman point guards, somewhat turnover-prone.  Still, he's a fairly legitimate weapon.

VT relies heavily on the stylings of Jarell Eddie, even more so with the injuries they've had; unfortunately for them, that can help as much as hurt.  Eddie has shooting talent, though he's one of those weirdos that fares better from outside the arc than inside it, where he shoots just .336.  Eddie, though, is streaky as hell; he shot 3-for-14 against BC (a big reason the Hokies lost), followed that up with two games where he scored a combined five points, then blew up for 20 against Wake Forest.  Wake made the mistake of letting him do most of his shooting from three; Notre Dame and Boston College forced him inside the arc.

Eddie is actually somewhat of a microcosm of the whole team, actually.  VT shoots .401 from three (17th in the country) and .446 from two (315th in the country.)  In conference play they're both the worst two-point shooting team (a pathetic .413) and the worst free-throw shooting team (.573.)  Problem is that all that forward depth is actually really bad at putting ball in bucket.  Wood, Thompson, Eddie - all junk from two.  van Zegeren, too, except that he gets some putbacks.

The dangerous part for VT's opponents is that Eddie will shoot your lights out from deep if you let him; Wood can do that too, to some extent, and Wilson doesn't take many threes but he's deadly when he does.  This is a good game not to have the pack-line sag off too much.  Extending the defense and daring Tech to beat us inside, where we have some pretty damn good athletes of our own, is a likely strategy.

-- Outlook

In this game, the country's 8th-best two-point defense takes on the worst interior scoring team in the conference, and a team that takes care of the ball well lately goes against one that has no interest in getting turnovers at all.  There are big, big mismatches in various categories here.

I wasn't a fan of the Justin Anderson alley-oop at the end of the FSU game - except in one respect. It showed whose turn it is to be the big kid on the block. The big kids don't lose games like this. They efficiently and ruthlessly take care of business and move on.  With a sellout crowd for a Saturday game at a great time of day for students to show up, and an opponent that everyone hates and loves to see struggle - and struggle is exactly what they're doing - the atmosphere should be excellent.  In my season preview I wrote that VT is a potential time bomb the way they shoot threes, and will probably score a big upset somewhere because of it.  So that could always be now.  But UVA has superior athletes just about everywhere, a better system, and P.S. we're rolling.  That train should roll on for at least this weekend.

Final score: UVA 71, VT 57

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