The Hokies will try and ram-jam rhode island on Wednesday and punch their ticket to New York City. The winner of this game advances to the NIT semifinals, which will be played in the Most Famous Arena in the World (which the Hokies own), Madison Square Garden. Tech will try and set a school record for wins, going for #26. They also would add to their greatest home season in program history by locking up their 18th home win and finishing 18-1 in the Cassell.
Two years ago in the NIT I talked about how mississippi would be at a disadvantage having to fly to Blacksburg and play a game just 48 hours after a previous contest. They smoked the Hokies by dominating VT inside. Last year in the NIT I talked about how baylor would be asleep in the Saturday 11 AM contest at VT (10 AM their time). They were up by almost 20 before McDonald’s started serving lunch. So I’m not saying a darn thing here about rhode island having to play in the ‘Burg just 47 hours after defeating #6 nevada Monday night. In fact, I believe rhode island has an advantage of sorts in this game because they play an aggressive full court press all game and Tech won’t have much time to prepare for it. That said, the Hokies have abused presses over the last two years and at this point in the season they should have little trouble adjusting to it.
This marks the second game in a row where the Hokies face a former conference rival. VT and uri battled as Atlantic 10 foes in the late ’90s. Much like uconn owned the Hokies in the Big East, the rams were a real thorn in the side of Tech. VT lost five A-10 games in a row against uri during one stretch, including in the 1996 A-10 Tourney when VT was ranked 15th. Tech did win their final A-10 game against the rams and beat them again in 2001 in a non-conference match-up.VT is 4-5 all time against the rhodies.
Offense: rhode island has the 33rd fastest tempo in the nation, but they are a bit of a contradiction. Some possessions they will rush the ball up the court and shoot the first open look they have inside half court. But if their transition game is held up, they can show good patience on offense and move the ball very well until they find an open man. The former style (crazy shots) they don’t really mind because the rams want to wear you down. Their up-tempo style and full court press are intended to take their toll as a game goes on. So even though it might cause them to waste some possessions, they still know it is forcing you to be more up-tempo and getting to your legs. Plus, as you tire, they know they are more likely to get the rebounds on their misses.
Marquis Jones runs the point for the rams and he is a pass-only guard. He averages less than 5 shots attempts per game and half of those are threes. Jones has a fantastic assist-to-turnover ratio 2.7-to-1, so the Hokies may struggle to lure him into turnovers.
Keith Cothran is their other guard and leads the team in scoring. He is an average three-point shooter (32%). But Cothran, Delroy James, and Lamonte Ulmer (the latter two are starting forwards) all get to the line a lot. They are aggressive and attack the tin. Tech must do a better job guarding Jones and others off the dribble then they have done of late, especially against uconn.
James is a fantastic athlete at 6’8″ and went for 34 against the unathletic nevada team. But he is feast or famine. He takes a lot of bad shots and shoots just 43% from the floor, a terrible percentage for an athletic forward. Force him to shoot jumpers.
Ulmer is rhode island’s best offensive rebounder. Tech must body him up and keep him off the glass, but if the guards are getting beat off the dribble the bigs have to help and that exposes VT to give up rebounds.
Will Martell has a Kevin McHale-like body. That is a NOT a compliment. It looks like the last time he lifted a weight was in junior high. [Note: Larry Bird once said McHale’s preseason training regiment consisted of switching from Miller to Miller Lite.] Martell shoots 59% from the field but almost all his points are on easy layups as Jones feeds him, or on put-backs.
Off the bench Akeem Richmond is their three-point bomber. He shoots a higher percentage on threes (39.6%) than on two-point shots (38%). 80% of Richmond’s shots are three, so you must get out on him and not leave him if possible. He will not dribble penetrate and never gets to the line, so don’t back off him at all.
Defense: uri will use one of two presses – they will use a full court man press where they are trying to make it difficult to inbounds the ball and aggressively going after passes, or a full court trap where they are trying to get you stuck in the corners and get steals.
Martell is not a great shot-blocker despite being 7-foot but they have four guys averaging more than a steal per game.
SIX PACK OF KEYS TO WINNING:
- Read the Press: Delaney must recognize which press uri is in. If it is the trap, pass over it and get numbers up the court and attack it for layups. nevada killed the rams early by throwing over the press and the ram’s free safety was pinching too much. Expect uri to adjust and drop the deep man even deeper. In the full court man, Delaney can wait for his teammates to get up the floor, then dribble it up himself. Tech has had very little difficulties with presses so I’d hope that doesn’t change. VT is 3-1 against pressing teams by my count this year (wins over clemson, georgia tech, and seton hall, a loss to maryland).
- Star Power: Don’t expect Delaney and Allen to have back-to-back bad games. Allen had been on a tear before the uconn game, with three double-doubles in the final four games before the NIT. But he has scored just 6 in each NIT game so far. And Delaney had put together ACC Player of the Week games against nc state and georgia tech before the miami stinker, then had a fantastic game against quinnipiac before his uconn struggles.
- Share the Wealth: Malcolm has 29 assists in his last four games and his teammates have stepped up. Bell has 8 threes in 17 attempts in those four games, and JT Thompson is shooting over 50% in his last six games as he is drilling his midrange jumpers. Even if Malcolm is on shooting-wise, he needs to keep sharing the rock, especially on the break.
- Get Some Rest: No one on rhode island averages over 30 minutes per game, no surprise with their pressing nature. With the minutes Tech’s guards play, they are going to have to find ways to get Delaney and Hudson some rest. That may mean using some timeouts in the first half, even if Tech isn’t struggling, or getting Green and Atkins some work. This will be vital on defense too if the Hokies tire.
- Get Stops: Tech has had several games of late where they have allowed opponents to get 40% or more of their offensive misses. That cannot happen in this game because rhode island is one of the best teams in the nation at protecting the ball. The rams turn the ball over on just 15.6% of their possessions, 4th best in the nation. Tech cannot expect a lot of points off turnovers and must be sure to get rebounds when uri misses. Plus, VT must find other ways to score, including beating the press up the court.
- Be the Winningest VT Team Ever: With a victory, the Hokies not only set a program record for wins with 26, they also get a trip to New York City next week. There’s a lot on the line. Forget the NCAA Tournament snub and give 100% to win the tournament that wanted Tech, the NIT. The guys have been diving all over the court in the first two games and need that same effort Wednesday. VT couldn’t get it done the last two years in the NIT, but this is a new team.
|G||23 Delaney 6’3″||5 Jones 6’1″|
|G||5 Hudson 6’5″||22 Cothran 6’4″|
|F||1 Bell 6’6″||15 Ulmer 6’6″|
|F||0 Allen 6’7″||21 James 6’8″|
|C||14 Davila 6’8″||32 Martell 7′|