Hearts will be heavy as the Hokies and the hoos do battle on Thursday. Tomorrow will be tough to deal with for many people with the news that the body found on Tuesday near Charlottesville was that of 20-year-old Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student that went missing after attending a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena, the place where Thursday’s game will be played. In many ways, it is too soon, but perhaps while the game is going on it can be a temporary distraction for the fans of both schools. For me, personally, the harsh reality of it all won’t be lost on me as I walk into JPJ to cheer on my Hokies.
That said, this is a big game for both teams, especially the Hokies. Tech is going to have to steal two road games in my estimation to get to 8-8 in conference and likely earn a NCAA Tournament bid. While uva is sitting at 3-1, they are one of the weaker teams in the league in my opinion. This is the first of four road games VT has against the teams picked 9-12 in the conference before the season (uva, miami, bc, and nc state). If they are going to win two road games, it likely has to come from those four as opposed to at duke or georgia tech, the other remaining road games.
For uva, a win would match their ACC win total from last year at four. It would also put them back in first place in the ACC, tied with maryland at 4-1.
- All time: uva 79-50
- At uva: uva 31-11
- In ACC play: uva 6-5
Winning at uva has not been a common occurrence for the Hokies. Tech has won just once at uva since 1968. That stat is a tad misleading, though, since the teams played at neutral sites (mostly Roanoke and Richmond) from 1977-2000. But they are just 1-10 over that stretch, still pretty rough.
Tech did defeat the wahoos at uva two years ago, 70-69 in overtime on a Deron Washington acrobatic layup at the buzzer. Check it out!
The two teams split last year with Tech controlling the game in Blacksburg until the hoos made it close with a furious late rally and uva winning in Ch-ville (the Hokies didn’t have a suspended Jeff Allen for that game): at VT 78, uva 75 – Recap and at uva 75, VT 61
While the hoos certainly aren’t the most talented team in the league, they did return almost their entire squad from a year ago. And they got rid of Head Coach Dave Leitao in favor of defensive specialist Tony Bennett. Only Mamadi Diane, a mercurial role player who graduated, and Jamil Tucker, another role player who was dismissed from the team a month ago, are gone. Back are leading scorer and reigning ACC Rookie of the Year, Sylven Landesberg, and big man Mike Scott.
Landesberg still is not a three-point threat. He hit just 16 last year and has made 9 to date this season. Sylven earns his points off the dribble. He is tremendous at penetrating, drawing contact, and finishing (the Hokies could really use that latter). Landesberg hit close to 150 free throws last year and has hit 83 of his 100 FTs this year, so he is deadly from the line. Sylven is averaging 17.5 ppg, just up from last year. His scoring in ACC play has been much better than it was last year when teams really focused on shutting him down. Tech has to cut him off and not allow to get anywhere near the rim, especially in transition. Help defense will be key.
uva’s other main threat on offense is 6’8″ junior Mike Scott. Scott is a bit of an enigma – some nights he can dominate, others he is invisible. Heck, he can be that way in the same game. He’ll get two dunks and drain a fall-away, then not do a thing for 15 minutes. He has been on a tear though. Mike had reached double digits in eight straight games before wake held him to 6 points on Saturday. He was just 3/10 from the floor. He is averaging just under 13 ppg and 7.2 rebounds per game (the latter leads uva). Scott does not get to the line very much, he has just 31 attempts on the season. That tells you he isn’t going hard at the rack when covered. His game is open midrange jumpers or fall-aways, or wide open putbacks or dunks. Tech does have to respect his jumper from about 16-feet in and must get a body on him on the glass.
One of the big keys for the hoos has been the play of sophomore point guard Sammy Zeglinski. The Chicago auto part king has upped his average from 7.8 ppg to 10.1 ppg. Not a huge jump, but the key has been shot selection. Sammy shot just 31% on threes last year but is hitting 47% this season. He hit at least two 3s in 11 straight games before wake held him scoreless from the field, limiting him to 1 point. Sammy will not force threes, he looks for open looks. Play out on him and force him to pass or drive. If he drives, he is looking to dish to Landesberg or Scott so be ready to release and help rotate.
Jontel Evans, a freshman, also starts and is a defensive specialist. The hoos will play three guards most of the game.
Mustapha Farrakhan and Jeff Jones have both improved this year, too, averaging just over 7 ppg each. Both are shooting over 40% on threes to match Zeglinski.
The cavs will try and burn the Hokies with threes on offense. uva is 11th in the league in FG% (VT is last) at 45% but 1st in the league in 3-Point FG% at 40%. In other words, they shoot almost as well from behind the arc as inside. uva is third in the league in 3s made per game at 6.3. While Scott and Landesberg do their damage inside the arc, everyone else is almost exclusively looking to sit behind it. Tech will have to choose their poison – collapse inside and limit Landesberg and Scott, or assume they will get theirs, make their men play good one-on-one defense, and stay out on the perimeter players to defend the three. I’m betting it is the former of those two options. Focus on uva’s strength and just hope they aren’t hot from outside.
The hoos are also second in the league in FT%, mostly due to Landesberg.
Inside the hoos are weak except for Scott. Jerome Meyinsse has decent size at 6’9″ and Assane Sene is 7′, but neither is a scorer. They combine for 7 ppg and 8 rpg in about 30 minutes. Sene is a good shot blocker though.
SIX PACK OF KEYS TO WINNING:
- Malcolm in the Middle: Delaney has to do a better job of scoring in ways other than on threes and free throws. He is missing that runner off penetration he’s shot at times in past years, and has had trouble finishing in the lane, too often worried about drawing contact. He’s also seemed hesitant to drive at times. Malcolm must be aggressive and try and force things at times, especially with how offensively challenged the team has been lately. Delaney had 24 in the home win last year but just 11 at uva.
- Revenge of the Big Donut: Jeff Allen had a big donut last year against uva, going 0/7 from the field in the win in Blacksburg and sitting out the game after giving maryland fans the bird a few days before. I’d like to see him come out and really take it to the hoos in this one. They don’t have anyone that can really match up with his post skills. On defense, he will be key to limiting Mike Scott.
- Make Landesberg a long distance call: Don’t let Sylven drive, pure and simple. When he does, he either finishes, gets fouled, or finishes and gets fouled. If he does drive, instantly double and either look to draw a charge or cut him off.
- Help Noah: The arc will be key in this game. If uva’s supporting cast can hit their 6+ threes, VT is in trouble. You have to stop Sylven and Scott, but that will free up perimeter players. Everyone must slide and run out to help when uva does kick it out along the perimeter.
- Finish strong: VT has been terrible in ACC play in second halves. They have scored 36 more points in the first half than the second half on the season (usually teams are the opposite due to late fouls). Tech must find a way to make adjustments at the half and be able to score for 40 minutes.
- Do it for Morgan: Let’s win this game, and temporarily forget the sadness we feel for a life ended way too soon.
|Guard||23 Delaney 6’3″||13 Zeglinski 6′|
|Guard||5 Hudson 6’5″||1 Evans 5’11″|
|F/G||1 Bell 6’6″||15 Landesberg 6’6″|
|Forward||0 Allen 6’7″||32 Scott 6’8″|
|Center||14 Davila 6’8″||55 Meyinsse 6’9″|
As you can see, Tech will have some height advantages at guard. The Hokie perimeter players should be able to shoot over uva with no issue. And on defense, Bell and Hudson have the size to match up with Landesberg, who usually has a mismatch with his height but won’t here.