Hey, the Hokies have a better winning percentage than the cougars! So you’re sayin’ there’s a chance! Well, yes and no.
This game is not a good match-up for the Hokies in many ways. First, it is in Utah. And Frank, the story is Utah. byu is 8-0 in their home state (although all eight were at home, not in Salt Lake).
Next, byu is a solid program. They’ve made the Big Dance six years in a row and are a top 40 RPI team this year despite their four losses. How? Their four losses are to RPI #43 baylor, #55 iowa state, #74 notre dame, and #130 florida state. They’ve beaten four teams in the top 120 of the RPI (VT has beaten just two). And they’ve played the 13th toughest schedule in the land.
Third, they have 6’9″ senior Brandon Davies. He had 17 last year at VT and is averaging 20 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.4 steals, and 1.8 blocks. He is a real stat stuffer. He has tremendous low post moves and gets to the line a lot, which could put the depleted Hokies in foul trouble. Quite frankly, the Hokies can’t handle him alone. They will have to double him despite the disaster that was colorado state. The key will be releasing the double team if he drifts out from the basket (I’m fine giving Davies 16-foot jumpers — he can make them but this takes him away from the hoop in case of a miss and is a lower percentage shot) and rotating better than VT did against the rams. Tech should NOT double 6’11” Nate Austin in the post. He’s not a scoring threat (3.9 ppg and just 3.6 shots per game).
One good thing is byu is not a great 3-point shooting team (I know, I know, I said that against wvu and bradley and they torched us from deep). But, can that really keep happening? Third times the charm? Maybe, if Tech doesn’t rotate well and play good help defense. The Hokies will need to double Davies, have the oppo-side defender drop down to pick up the other big, and then rotate well with the two remaining perimeter defenders to avoid giving up wide open 3s and at least get a hand in byu’s face. Quite frankly, VT quit in the 2nd half Sunday, tired or not, they quit.
Another good thing is the cougars do like to push the ball. Don’t think just because they are a bunch of mormons (well, not all of them) that they’ll slow the pace. They have the 13th fastest tempo in the nation. Even on makes they’ll inbound the ball quickly and push it up the floor, trying to beat you up the court in transition. Tech must get back on makes or misses and look to push the ball themselves. Hopefully the altitude won’t be a factor and take the wind out of the Hokies.
The fact byu likes to run should help the Hokies. Let’s face it. VT’s offense has been offensive… smelling… of late. Getting more transition opportunities would be a huge plus. Guys like Brown and Eddie who have been in horrible slumps of late could get some confidence if they can get some easy early buckets. And JvZ is great at cleaning up junk on the glass for dunks or putbacks. The problem is Davies is a great shot-blocker if he gets back in time.
Davies is a great rebounder and Haws, a 6’5″ guard, also does a nice job on the offensive glass. But this is an average rebounding team. They only have two guys over 6’7″ that play significant minutes, so they don’t have their usual stable of tall mormons. Perhaps the Hokies will actually show some signs of life in the rebounding game and hold their opponent to a low Offensive Rebound %. Tech has allowed their opponents an average of 16 offensive rebounds per game over the last 5 games.
Also, byu played Thursday night at home against northern arizona (an 84-54 win behind 27/10 from Davies). That means they’ll only have about 41 hours between games. They don’t have a deep bench (they’ll only play around 7 or 8 guys significant minutes), so maybe the cougars will have tired legs on Saturday instead of the Hokies.
Plus, Tech got a much needed break after that woodshed blowout in Vegas. They got a chance to put that behind them with Christmas, and I’m sure are hungry to get back out there and play better, and finish the out of conference schedule on a high note.
The two teams are pretty even in most other stats including FG%, FT%, and Rebounding. As you see below, their Adjusted Offensive numbers are pretty even (~105 points per 100 possessions). The problem is that is trending WAY down for the Hokies (they were #3 in the nation with 109.0/100 going into wvu). And Tech’s Adjusted Defensive numbers are trending up (from 96.9/100 going into wvu to 99.7/100 in this game). But it is time to stop the bleeding and get back to knocking down 3s, pushing the ball, and playing what we thought was Hokie basketball. Let’s turn the calendar back to November.
Expect byu to use some full court man-to-man defense, and they’ll also run some zone in the half court. They’ll give the Hokies different looks which will challenge Tech to read and attack the defenses.
FYI: Erick Green, the nation’s leading scorer, will look to set a VT record with his 13th straight 20+ point game. Here’s hoping someone else gets close to 20 with him.
Note: the graphic below does NOT include stats from byu’s game on Thursday.