Spread: Game is a pick’em
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: a pretty good Virginia Tech team takes on a really crappy nc state team. Yet, if you are like me, you’d think we were playing the L.A. Lakers all-time team. Their lousy point guard? He’ll look like Magic Johnson for one night. Their shooting guard that can’t shoot? He’s suddenly Kobe Bryant (on the court, that is, not off it). Their undersized center? You got it, he’s Kareem for two hours. Then add in James Worthy and Jerry West for good measure.
Since joining the ACC, the Hokies have played the role of the Washington Generals with nc state as the Harlem Globetrotters. Let’s look at some of the oddities of this series:
- VT is 2-6 against the pack since joining the ACC. But in the win last year, which snapped a six game losing streak, VT trailed by 18 with less than 13 minutes to go, and in the win in 2005, Tech was behind by 11 with just over 7 minutes to go. So the Hokies could easily be 0-8.
- The Hokies won the first two games at nc state in the series but have lost 19 straight since. Tech hasn’t won in Raleigh against the pack since 1917! That’s and even longer streak than clemson at unc, though clemson is something like 0-54 at unc so that’s a good bit worse.
- At nc state is one of just two places VT hasn’t won at since joining the ACC. florida state is the other (and they just vacated a home win against the Hokies).
- The Hokies have never led in Raleigh after the first 2:30 of the game. NEVER. Yeesh.
- Tech has trailed by 19 or more points in 5 of the 8 ACC meetings. VT’s biggest lead ever against the wolfpack is six.
- The Hokies are -75 in scoring differential in the series in ACC play.
- Tech went 0-3 against the pack three years ago – a year in which VT made it to the 2nd round of the NCAA’s and nc state finished 5-11 in conference.
- VT has had a better conference record going into every meeting except one. Yet Tech is 2-6 against the pack.
Well, guess what, nc state is tied for last in the ACC again this year at 2-7, while the Hokies come in at 5-3, good for fourth. And here we go again!
TV Note: The game will be on ESPN, not ESPNU, in areas where the duke at unc game is blacked out (most of the ACC area). It should be on ESPNU for everyone else.
How can I sum up the wolfpack in one sentence? Hmm. How about this: they aren’t good at anything. I mean it, nothing. Check out the ACC stats and you’ll see. They are not in the top four of any statistical category in the league, overall or in ACC games only, except for 3-pointers made per game (they are fourth in that category). They are 10th or worse in FG% offense and defense, and are in the bottom half of the league in offensive and defensive rebounding. They don’t get many steals or blocks, and have an average turnover margin. They are only eighth in 3-point %.
nc state also has, hands down, the worst coach in the league. I’m sorry Sidney Lowe, but you are, uh, not good. You stink. The pack are 17-40 in ACC games in his four seasons since they ran Herb Sendek out of town. They have finished 10th, 12th, 10th, and are currently tied for 11th in the ACC. If he is kept around for a fifth season it will be for one reason – they have an awesome recruiting class coming in next year. While he may be a nc state legend from their 1983 National Championship, it is time to move on.
The good news for Hokie fans is three of the guys that owned the Hokies the most are gone. No more Brandon Costner, Ben McCauley, or Courtney Fells. Those guys were 5-1 against Tech and regularly had career days. You know they had their calendar’s circled for any meeting between these two clubs.
The pack entered this season fairly inexperienced. You’d think they were a young team since you don’t recognize many of the names, but in reality it is just because they aren’t very good and didn’t play much in past years, even though state stunk then, too. Four of their top five scorers are juniors or seniors, but just one of those guys averaged more than 6.6 ppg last year (Tracy Smith).
Speaking of Tracy Smith, that kid is a player. He’s the most talented packer by far. Smith ranks sixth in the ACC in points per game and rebounding, at 17.6 and 8.3 respectively. He’d be a strong candidate for First Team All-ACC if he played for a better team. Smith is very talented in the low post and is deadly from six feet in. Tech must keep him from setting up, and receiving the ball, on the low block. He does not shoot from outside (he has never attempted a three in his career). His midrange game is decent from 16-feet in, but you’d rather force him to beat you from out there than near the hoop. Tech must also get a body on him and keep him off the offensive glass, Tracy is by far their best offensive rebounder. Smith has been on a roll, too, averaging 19.1 ppg over his last seven games and hitting 53 of his last 88 shots, an amazing 60%. Smith leads the league in FG%.
Javier Gonzalez runs the point for the pack. He has also underwhelmed me talent-wise. He has an average assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.2. Javier is a good three-point shooter at 40% for the second year in a row, but he hasn’t made more than three in any game. So he is selective about when he shoots. Get out on him and force him to drive, and when he does drive, expect him to dish the ball. In other words, the support defense needs to collapse and look to pick up open man in the post when help comes. Gonzalez averages 10.2 ppg but he can disappear completely some nights. He’s just 5’11″ so taller defenders can be an issue for him on the perimeter. The key is stopping his drive.
Dennis Horner would be on my All-ACC Ugly Team. The senior plays forward at 6’9″ but his game is not in the low post. He needs a few steaks on him. I’ve always thought of him as a three-point shooter but he’s never averaged even one made three per game in his career. That said, he’s not a back to the basket guy and will shoot threes from the corner when open. Horner has double his ppg from last year, up to 12 per game this season.
If you are the Hokies, you’ll take you odds on leaving guys like Horner open. The key is stopping Gonzalez’s drive and the feeds to Smith. Double down on Smith and force someone else to beat you.
That someone else could be freshman Scott Wood. Wood is averaging just 8.3 ppg but exploded for 31 against fsu in one of the pack’s two ACC wins. He hit 7/11 threes that game, and 10/15 from the floor overall. He has made four or more 3s four times this season, so he is their most dangerous shooter behind the arc. Like with Horner, Wood is way too scrawny to battle in the low post. He is 6’7″ but just 170 pounds. Heck, new VT QB Ricardo Young is considered skinny at 170 but he’s just 6’1″. You could use Wood to jimmy a door, he’s so thin. Almost two-thirds of his shots are threes. He is a guy you want to watch on the perimeter.
Senior Farnold Degand had been starting at the off-guard spot for state, but missed the last game with a thigh bruise. He did not practice Monday and is listed as day-to-day, so he may not play.
state has a 7-footer in freshman Jordan Vandenberg, but he averages just 8 mpg and 1 point. He is from Australia and probably would not be playing for any other team in the league yet in his career. But state really lacks any size inside and needs help from him and C.J. Williams, an undersized forward at 6’6″ and 220. Freshman Richard Howell does give them some bulk at 6’8″ and 265. He grabs 5 rebounds in about 15 minutes per game. But inside is not their strength other than Smith.
The pack used just three guys off their bench last game without Degand, so they lack depth.
So, in summary, it is hard to see how this team can win ACC games. That said, if Tech keeps shooting under 40% in games, anyone can stay with him. And the RBC Center is a tough place to play (for the big games like unc and duke… we’ll see what the crowd is like for this game with them at 2-7). The Hokies are due for a breakout game, let’s hope this is it.
SIX PACK OF KEYS TO WINNING:
- Have VT’s sports psychologist convince the Hokies they are playing someone else.
- Double team Tracy Smith and make someone else beat you.
- Do a better job on the defensive glass – the Hokies were dominated on the boards for half of the unc game, and most of the clemson game. This is not a good rebounding team but they do shoot a lot of threes, so everyone needs to help on the glass.
- Find the barn and water: Tech hasn’t been able to hit the broad side of a barn, or hit water, of late. Hopefully Delaney can break out of his 4/34 three-point shooting slump and the Hokies can start hitting open looks. nc state is not a good defensive team, ranking 11th in ACC games in FG% defense, so Tech should be able to get good looks. Plus, this is not an athletic team so the Hokies should be able to beat them in transition. Speaking of which…
- Tech is #1 the league in ACC games by far in Turnover Margin. That is how they win games while shooting terrible. Winning the turnover battle is crucial in every game VT plays.
- Get it done, some how, some way. The Hokies seem to invent a new way to win a game each time out (breaking 100 against seton hall, winning despite just 4 FGs in the first half against clemson, or killing the hoos with their press). Well, now let’s figure out one that works in Raleigh. As Malcolm Delaney put it, the Hokies do things other stars don’t. That means selling out and winning 50/50s. The Hokies must give max effort and bury the lowly pack.
|Position||VIRGINIA TECH||nc state|
|Guard||23 Delaney 6’3″||10 Gonzalez 5’11″|
|Guard||5 Hudson 6’5″||15 Wood 6’7″|
|Forward||1 Bell 6’6″||Mays 6’3″ or Howell 6’8″|
|Forward||0 Allen 6’7″||31 Horner 6’9″|
|Center||14 Davila 6’8″||23 Smith 6’8″|
nc state BY THE NUMBERS:
- Founded: 1887
- Enrollment: 23.7 undergrad, 7.4 postgrad
- National Titles (Basketball): 1974 and 1983
- ACC Titles (Basketball): 10 – last was in 1987 – 3rd most in the ACC
- ACC Football Titles: 7 (tied for 4th most) – none since 1979 – in fact, the two state schools (unc and nc state) haven’t won an ACC football title, or even tied for one, since 1980. There’s no pigskins on Tobacco Road.