Spread: Hokies by 8.5
Has anyone checked to see if hell is frozen over? I ask because the Hokies go into their home finale with the nc state wolfpack on a two game winning streak over their Raleigh rivals. Before three weeks ago, Tech had only once strung together back-to-back wins over state since 1922 (and those ‘back-to-back’ wins were 21 years apart). VT owned the early part of this series, winning the first seven games, but state went 34-3 against the Hokies between 1927 and 2008. The Hokies seemingly undid that spell last season when they overcame an 18 point second half deficit and beat the pack in OT. Then the Hokies followed that up with a 20 point waxing of state in Raleigh last month, Tech’s first win there since 1917.
Wednesday’s game means everything to Virginia Tech and very little to nc state. With the pack’s consecutive wins over wake and miami, they clinched finishing .500 at worst at the end of the regular season and ACC Tournament (that was honestly a goal of theirs… used to be for Tech, too).
Meanwhile, the suddenly slumping Hokies are playing a must win game, in my opinion. VT has lost three in a row and gone from being listed as an 8-10 seed in the Big Dance projections to being back on the bubble as an 11 or 12 seed, just barely in. A win Wednesday will clinch a winning ACC record for Tech (used to be a recipe for a NCAA invitation though we saw two years ago that isn’t always true). It will also put the Hokies, who currently sit in the #3 spot in the ACC standings, in firm position for a First Round bye at the ACC Tournament next week.
That said, we’ll see how the game flows. state has nothing to lose and likely will be loose, while Tech could come out tight if they put too much pressure on themselves. Hopefully the Hokies will just come out and bury the pack early like they did in Raleigh three weeks ago…
THE LAST MEETING:
This game was practically over before the ice had melted on your first Coke & Turkey. The Hokies hit their first 10 shots from the field (yes, you read that right) and jumped out to a 26-7 lead when the game was just nine minutes old. Tech finished the game hitting 53% from the field and shot 50% or better in both halves (again, you read that right). To put that in perspective, the Hokies have shot over 50% in just two other games and both of those were non-conference games in 2009. In contrast, Tech has shot under 40% 11 times this season including eight times in ACC games.
So what happened in Raleigh? As I re-watched the game earlier this week it was simple – nc state is a really, really poor defensive teams (as almost all of Sidney Lowe’s teams have been) and Virginia Tech exposed their weak areas. The pack have to be the most unathletic team in the league. The Hokies beat the pack up the floor and scored in transition. Or beat the slow-footed wolves off the dribble and either got to the rim and finished, or dished for an easy bucket. Tech made 16 layups or dunks in this game out of their 27 made shots, including six of those first 10 shots they hit. Pretty easy to shoot 53% from the field when a majority of your makes are within a few feet. It was so easy that Tech attempted just seven three-pointers for the entire game, making three (two of those were in the first two minutes by Zo Hudson… so they made just one in the final 38 minutes).
Tech won in another key category for them – points off turnovers. Despite just a +1 margin in turnovers gained, the Hokies outscored the wolfpack 23-13 in points off mistakes. VT did a good job of getting out and running on turnovers for those easy buckets listed above.
The Hokies did a solid job of limiting state’s star, Tracy Smith. He had just four points at the half, and after exploding for six quick points to start the second half, Tech limited him to just two points in the final 18 minutes.
nc state went 0 for 11 from three-point range. They hit just 29% of their shots for the game, marking the fifth time VT had held an opponent under 30% and third time in ACC play. state also shot just 60% from the free throw line. In other words, they played about as poorly as possible.
So what didn’t the Hokies do well? They did an awful job on the defensive glass. Suddenly this has become Tech’s greatest weakness. While you might expect this against the fsu’s and wake forest’s, nc state has even less bulk and height inside than the Hokies. The state statisticians credited the wolfpack with 27 offensive rebounds on 55 opportunities. That is horrendous for Tech. A bad night is letting your team grab 35% of their misses. Nearly 50% is a Jean van de Velde on the 18th at the British Open like performance. All-ACC Ugly Team member Dennis Horner had nine offensive rebounds all by himself. Another problem was Tech’s butterfingers. state got the benefit of five team rebounds on offense – plays were the Hokies lost the ball out of bounds on a state miss. Tech had similar issues at bc last week. The guys really need to put a lock on the balls as they come off the rim.
state showed some full court trapping press looks in the last meeting. This stunned me with how unathletic the wolfpack are, but I don’t think VT really burned it that much. Personally, I’d be just fine with them showing more of it Wednesday. I’d use some zone if I were Sidney Lowe… then again, I’d be getting my resume ready if I were him. He’s nc state’s ricky stokes.
state is playing better ball since that blow-out loss to Tech. They led maryland by 10 at home two weeks ago before choking down the stretch, then beat wake easily a few days later. After a week off, they won at miami this past week. Greenberg mentioned on Tech Talk Live that they are screening more for their star, Tracy Smith (Boy, what a great idea! Only took until game 25! That’s like when Stinespring figured out he should throw screens to Kevin Jones at the end of the season… but I digress…). They used to screen more for Horner, but now with the screens going for Smith is allows Horner to spot up from three. And I don’t think Tech can expect state to go 0-for-deep again. The Hokies must do a good job of fighting through screens to keep Smith from getting the ball in the low post where he is automatic. And they can’t lose sight of Horner or Wood on the perimeter.
The pack have also been doing a good job of getting to the free throw line more than their opponents of late. They aren’t a great free throw shooting team, but they are an even worse field goal shooting team (10th in the ACC) so getting to the line helps. state is also a lousy three-point shooting team at 8th in the ACC (nice combo, eh?) but have quick shooting so many threes unless they are wide open.
On offense the Hokies need to use the same recipe they used last game – attack the tin. Feed the rock to Mr. Jeff Allen as much as possible. He had a monster game in the loss Saturday, tallying 25 points and 15 rebounds. state has nobody that can guard him. Allen had 14 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks on 5/7 shooting in the Raleigh meeting. And that was in just 26 minutes due to… come on, you know what I’m going to say… foul trouble. If he can stay on the court, he could really go off in this game.
Another encouraging sign was the shooting of Malcolm Delaney and JT Thompson over the weekend. Delaney hit 9 of 17, the first time he’s shot over 50% since the umbc game back in December. The key was he was draining his pull up jumpers and finishing near the rack. That had been the biggest thing missing. He only hit one 3 in the game Saturday but making his two-pointers made all the difference, especially if refs keep putting an embargo on his free throw attempts. Thompson also was knocking down his open jumpers. After not being able to hit water if he fell out of a boat against bc last week, JT hit 5 of 8 from the field including the tying three at the end of regulation.
|Position||VIRGINIA TECH||nc state|
|Guard||23 Delaney 6’3″||10 Gonzalez 5’11″|
|Guard||5 Hudson 6’5″||12 Degand 6’4″|
|Forward||1 Bell 6’6″||15 Wood 6’7″|
|Forward||0 Allen 6’7″||31 Horner 6’9″|
|Center||21 Witcher 6’9″||23 Smith 6’8″|
Expect Lewwwwww to start on Senior Night! Also, the Washington Post reported that Dorenzo Hudson has been seen in a walking boot due to a foot injury suffered earlier in the season and may have resurfaced Saturday (he left the floor for a while in the second half). We’ll see what his status is for Wednesday: Post’s Hokies Journal
Stats don’t lie – nc state is 10th in the ACC in Offensive and Defensive FG%
THE OPPONENT (re-posted from my first preview three weeks ago):
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.
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.