After crushing Georgia Tech on the road 70-38 Thursday night to move to 15-2 (2-1 ACC) on the season, the Hoos return home to face another Tech on Sunday: the cross-state rivals from Blacksburg. The Hokies are reeling, having lost their first four ACC games, culminating in a 82-68 loss at The Barn to UNC on Thursday in which the Gobblers fell apart in the second half. Can the Cavaliers win their third straight against the Hokies?
On to the Virginia Tech primer …
1. A win on Sunday would give the Hoos their first three-game winning streak against Virginia Tech since 2004-2006, when UVa took four straight games against its neighbors, then ACC neophytes. Last year, UVa took early leads in both games and then held on for a 57-54 win in Blacksburg and a 61-54 win at JPJ. The latter of those victories came with self-avowed Hokie hater Mike Scott out for the season, and he will of course be back and better than ever for Sunday’s tilt.
The same can’t be said for Virginia Tech’s dynamic duo of Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen , who the rest of the ACC (and Virginia Tech itself) doesn’t have to kick around any more. The two accounted for almost 2/3 of the Hokies’ points (71/108) against UVa last year, and I have a tough time seeing anyone on their roster picking up the scoring slack this year. Also gone from last year’s team are Terrell Bell , who pitched in 7 points in 69 minutes in the 2 games, and Manny Atkins , who was scoreless in 8 minutes in those games. On the year, the Hokies are 11-7 and bringing up the rear in the ACC standings with an 0-4 record so far after home losses to UNC and FSU and road losses at Wake Forest and Boston College. They are ranked No. 56 in KenPom, No. 56 in TAPE, and No. 87 in RPI.
2. The Hokies are of course helmed by Seth Greenberg, now in his ninth season in Blacksburg, where he has led Tech to 5 NIT berths but only one Big Dance as their bubble and Greenberg himself have burst on more than one Selection Sunday. Greenberg’s offensive scheme is the Multi-Entry Ramsey offense. But, despite this name, the Hokies’ offense has been noticeably lacking in, well, entry this year. Tech’s backcourt starters have been averaging 27.1 shots per game compared to only 11.8 shots per game for the starting frontcourt, and the first guard off the bench has almost twice as many shot attempts per game (7.3) as the first big off the bench (3.8). Of course, when you are No. 319 in the country in having your shots blocked, you can see why your guards would hoard the shots, especially when they’re shooting a solid 36.3% from deep. Conversely, the Hokies are only hitting on 46.4% of their shots from inside the arc (No. 220 in the country), giving them an effective field goal percentage of 48.9%, good for only No. 174 in the country.
The Ramsey offense is a continuity offense, which usually starts as a “3 out, 2 in” and is characterized by constant cutting (including back cutting), several screens (often of the scattered variety), and the ability to start the offense from either side. You can look at some of the plays that Greenberg calls out of this offense by clicking here, and I’ve always felt that the Ramsey offense was more suited to go up against a pressure defense, which is why Greenberg’s Hokies have had more than their fair share of success against Duke. Conversely, I expect it to struggle against a stay-at-home defense like the Pack-line. Last year, with a No. 54 rank in adjusted offense, the Hokies managed just 54 points in each game against the Hoos. This year, with the No. 60 offense facing a fortified defense, the Hokies could struggle to hit the half-century mark although UVa’s loss of Assane Sene for the next few weeks could complicate matters.
3. On the defensive end of the ball, Greenberg prefers to play man-to-man, with an emphasis on closing out on shooters and owning the defensive glass. This year, those goals are not being accomplished. The Hokies sport a No. 62 rank in adjusted defense (compared to No. 27 and No. 20 the last two years) and a No. 233 rank in defensive rebounding percentage. The Hokies are also only No. 180 in forcing opponent turnovers, well off their usual mark. Virginia Tech seems pretty similar to Georgia Tech defensively this year, and I expect UVa to get about the same number of good looks it got in Atlanta on Thursday. The Hoos should win the battle of the boards decisively again even without Sene in the lineup.
Mike Scott will try to keep his jump shot going against VT.
4. Starting Lineup:
PG: Starting at the point for the Hokies is Erick Green , a 6’4″, 185-pound junior and Tech’s best player. Green is a terrific defender and much more of a true point guard than Delaney ever was as evidenced by his 3.3-1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio per game. In addition to leading Tech in assists, Green also leads the team in points (16.1) and shots (11.6) per game as well as free throw percentage (88.5%). Green’s more of a slasher than an outside shooter although he is hitting 40% from behind the arc on the year. That last stat is a bit misleading, though, as Green was a scintillating 15-26 (57.69%) from long range in his first 6 games but has been a pedestrian 9-34 (26.47%) in his last 10. Injuries have been a persistent problem for Green, and a recent Achilles’ tendon injury forced him to miss the Boston College game, but he returned to play 34 minutes against the Tar Heels. Last year, he went for a total of 14 points against Virginia on 5-of-13 shooting in two games. Unless Green can find reignite his long range flame, I see him struggling against the Pack-line and Jontel Evans ‘ dogged defense.
SG: At the “2,” the Hokies start Dorenzo Hudson , a 6’5″, 220-pound redshirt senior and the second best player for Greenberg’s squad. Hudson missed most of last season, including one game against UVa, with a right foot injury. Hudson is a decent enough defender and is second on the Hokies in scoring (11.7 PPG), but he isn’t very efficient. He’s only shooting 40% from the field and isn’t exactly rolling in the deep with a poor 27.1% 3-point shooting percentage. Hudson’s having a great year at the line (87.9%), but he has a weak handle, resulting in a team-high 2.1 turnovers per game. He went for 5 points on 2-7 shooting in his one game against the Hoos last year. I can see Sammy Zeglinski getting a few steals against Hudson and think that Malcolm Brogdon has the ability to hold his own against him.
SF: VT’s starting small forward is highly touted freshman (and former UVa recruiting target) Dorian Finney Smith (DFS), whose measurables are 6’8″ and 192 pounds. DFS is a very long and athletic player, who to this point has put that length and athleticism to much better use on the defensive side of the ball. DFS has been a beast on the boards, corralling 7.8 rebounds per game, and a decent passer, tallying 2.3 assists per game. That said, his shot is more crooked than Richard Nixon, and he’s only managed 32.7% shooting from the floor and 64% accuracy from the line. Moreover, he hasn’t taken it strong to the hole consistently, resulting in 2.1 turnovers per game and about as many shots blocked per game. I don’t see DFS doing much against UVa offensively, but he could create some defensive problems for Joe Harris if he can stay with him.
PF: Playing out of position at the “4” after JT Thompson blew out his knee is Jarell Eddie , a 6’7″, 209-pound sophomore. As a freshman, Eddie often seemed lackadaisical. This year, though, a light has come on, and he’s become a reliable and efficient third scoring option for the Hokies, averaging 9.8 points per game and shooting 46.3%, 50.8%, and 87.2% from the field, 3-point land, and the line, respectively. He’s also chipping in a solid 4.9 rebounds per game. While Eddie has been a nice surprise for the Hokies, I don’t see him slowing down Mike Scott on the boards or the offensive end.
C: At the center position, Victor Davila , a 6’8″, 245 pound senior, has been lacing them up for the Gobblers. Despite his size, Davila is a back-to-the-basket post that often relies on a hook shot to take him higher. Davila shoots a sweet 52.2% from the field, but only registers 6.8 points per game because the Gobbler guards haven’t gotten him the ball enough. Despite his girth, Davila isn’t much of a rebounder, averaging only 3.8 boards per game. If Akil Mitchell and Darion Atkins can deny Davila many touches and hold their defensive positions when he gets the rock, I like this matchup much more than some of the others the two will face against taller centers down the road.
PG: Marquis Rankin , a 6’1″, 165-pound freshman, sees about 11 minutes of floor time and has proven to be a good facilitator, with 1.5 assists per game. But he’s shown no ability to shoot consistently (25% from the floor, 22.2% from 3, 57.1% from the line), and while he appears to be a good defender, you have to think that Jontel Evans could easily overpower him.
SG: Robert Brown is a 6’5″, 190-pound freshman, who sees a little more than 20 minutes of action per game. Well more than 50% of his shots come from behind the arc (4.1/7.3), and he’s a streaky 3-point shooter, hitting on 33.8% of his attempts on the year. He’s neither great from the field (38.2%) nor the line (69%), and he doesn’t exactly bring the intensity of the defensive end of the floor. When he’s in, I can see Sammy Zeglinski and Malcolm Brogdon getting some quality looks from long range.
PF/C: Cadarian Raines , a 6’9″, 238-pound sophomore is an energy guy off the bench for the Hokies, much like UVa’s Darion Atkins . In only about 15 minutes a game, he’s averaged 4 rebounds and a block per game while scoring 4.6 PPG on 52.2% shooting from the field. If he’s matched up with Atkins during the game, it should be fun to watch.
PF/C: C.J. Barksdale , a 6’8″, 232-pound freshman, is the Hokies’ other backup big and he’s also provided the team with a burst of energy off the bench. In 12.5 minutes per game, he’s chipping in 3.4 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Barksdale and Raines are sort of VT’s version of Darion Atkins and Akil Mitchell , and I like Virginia’s chances if those four are in the game at the same time.
5. Sabre poster 504-C Brandon has the game as a 59.1-50 UVa, with the good guys having an 80% chance of winning. The Team Rankings simulation (available here) has it closer, with UVa winning 60.1-57.1.
As with the Georgia Tech game, I think the Hoos win more comfortably than either of these projections unless Greenberg has an Ace Custis up his sleeve. This Virginia Tech team is a lot like the George Tech team Virginia crushed on Thursday, albeit a bit better in most aspects of the game. Before learning that Assane Sene was out, I had this projected as a 61-46 Virginia win. With the big guy sidelined, I will adjust that to a 60-49 Virginia win as I just don’t see any way that Mike Scott lets this team lose at home to the Hokies in his senior year.
Author’s Note: Many of the statistics and analysis in this article were gathered through watching the two teams, ESPN.com, 504-C Brandon’s TAPE site, Warren Nolan RPI site, Teamrankings.com, and KenPom.com.