The stakes at hand for the Hokies on Saturday are real simple:
- Win and they’ve punched their ticket to the Big Dance
- Win and they’ve earned a First Round bye in the ACC Tournament
I truly believe the Hokies have a great shot at winning the ACC Tournament. They played the two first place teams very tough – they had two opportunities to beat maryland last weekend in 2 OTs and led duke on the road with less than 10 minutes to play. But the Hokies have to earn that first round bye to have a real shot. It is too much to ask for the Hokies to win four games in four days. VT will garner a first round bye with either a win this weekend against georgia tech, or if wake beats clemson on Sunday in Winston-Salem (Go deacs!).
More importantly to most Hokie fans though is that NCAA Tournament bid. Pretty much all the talking heads that do bracketology have the Hokies in the tourney right now. A loss to the jackets though would put in back in the Committee’s hands (depending on what VT does in the ACC Tournament). Leaving it up to the NCAA Tournament Committee is something that has not faired well for Tech the last two years. But with a win Tech gets to 10 ACC wins and 23 overall and there is no way they don’t get in with that resume. The Committee would have to be certifiably insane to not let a team in with those marks. That would be like a bouncer shutting out a 5’9″ blonde with D’s from a club. But with a loss to the jackets and we drop down to a 5’6″ brunette with C’s but a couple extra pounds. Good, but not a sure thing.
VT won’t have history on their side Saturday. Home teams have dominated ACC games this year, winning around two-thirds of the games. But road teams were 5-1 last weekend (gt was the only team to win at home).
Another thing working against the Hokies is they have lost their regular season finale four years in a row. Three years ago it cost them an ACC regular season title, losing at home to clemson. Two years ago it likely cost them a NCAA Tournament bid at clemson. And last year it pull the nail in their NIT coffin at fsu.
The Hokies have absolutely owned the lesser tech all-time. VT is 9-3 against the jackets, including 5-2 in ACC play. The Hokies are even 3-1 in Atlanta, including 2-1 since joining the league. Tech has won two in a row in the series but both were in Blacksburg. VT won 76-71 last year in the only meeting.
The Good News: georgia tech is absolutely horrible on the road, going 1-7 in ACC play this year and 6-34 (think about that for a minute) over the last five ACC seasons.
The Bad News: This game is in Atlanta where the jackets are 14-1 this year, including 6-1 in ACC action with wins over duke, clemson, and wake. The Hokies will really have their work cut out for them to win on the road on georgia tech’s Senior Day.
georgia tech, despite going 2-14 in conference last year, were a trendy pick to get a bye (top 4 seed) this year due to their recruiting class. But as usual, freshmen haven’t been as good as people thought, georgia tech (thanks to Coach Paul Hewitt) has underachieved, and gt still can’t win a road game. They sit in 7th place and can only move up to the 6th seed at best for the ACC Tourney.
Despite Virginia Tech’s past success against gt, this is the exact type of team the Hokies struggle with. The jackets have good size (every starter is 6’5″ or taller), and have talent inside. 6’9″ Gani Lawal is an absolute beast. At one point earlier in the year he was my pick to be the ACC Player of the Year. But he’s fallen off a bit on the scoring end, averaging just 13.5 ppg (he is their leading scorer). Gani has been held to single digits in five of the last nine games after scoring 10+ in 15 of the first 18 games. But he also grabs nine rebounds per contest. Gani also blocks 1-1/2 shots per game.
Despite being a shot blocker, he doesn’t foul much and rarely is in serious foul trouble (read: he doesn’t work that hard on defense, just likes blocking shots). But he has a solid mid-range game and great low post moves. Lawal can play facing the hoop or with his back to it, and has close to 100 offensive rebounds on the year. gt should be feeding him the ball more than they do, he’s their best player right now.
With Lawal slipping slightly on the offensive end, 5-star freshman (and ACC Preseason Rookie of the Year) Derrick Favors has stepped up his game. The 6’10” top 5 recruit from a year ago has shot 50% or better in 12 of the last 14 games. In gt’s last four games he’s averaging 16 ppg and just under 10 rebounds. Yeah, he’s good and is really peaking right now. The good news is Virginia Tech shouldn’t have to worry about facing him next season, or Lawal for that matter. Favors should be yet another one-and-done jacket (Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, Thaddeus Young, and Gilbert Arenas’s buddy Javaris Crittendon).
The jackets then start three guards. Early in the year freshman Mfon Udofia was seeing a lot of action at the point but his time has all but evaporated. Now Iman Shumpert is seeing most of the minutes as the floor general. He is yet another stud point guard recruit of the jackets. His numbers have actually gone down this year in almost every category, but that is the Favors factor. Shumpert can score 30 like he did against unc or 24 like he did against bc, or he can get shutout like he did in consecutive games against wake forest and unc in the second meeting. So you never know what you’ll see from him. Iman doesn’t have a great assist-to-turnover ratio (1.3) and will still make dumb decisions. georgia tech in general makes a lot of mistakes, averaging 16 turnovers per game (third most in the ACC). That is great news for the Hokies who need turnovers to fuel their transition game.
The other two starting guards are mostly role players. 6’6″ D’Andre Bell is a Terrell Bell clone. Tall and lanky but a good defender. D’Andre is also very selective about the shots he takes. He is hitting 45% of his threes, but has shot just 29. At the other guard is freshman Glen Rice, Jr, yes, the son of Glen Rice. While that Rice was a match-up nightmare – a tall guard that could shoot from anywhere inside half court, his son does his damage inside the arc. Rice has shot just 45 threes, but he has hit 47% so he can be a threat if he gets hot. He hit 4/5 threes against wake and hit 3/6 in their last game, a loss at clemson. Bell and Rice average just 11.6 ppg combined. They remind me a lot of how Hudson and T-Bell were before Zo realized what a great scorer he is. Rice could get to Zo like numbers soon.
The jackets have three guys on their bench that average more than Bell or Rice. And because they love to press, they depend on their bench a lot. No one averages even 29 minutes for them. Zachary Peacock is a dependable commodity off the bench. The senior has averaged in the 9-10 point range the last three years and is a great mid-range shooter. He is hitting 51% of his shots this year. He also shoots over 40% on threes, though again averages less than two attempts per game.
Freshman Brian Oliver (yes, another descendant of a NBA player and in this case a former jacket) gives the jackets 7.7 ppg off the bench. Almost all his damage is from behind the arc – he is also shooting over 40% on threes and has made 56 of them. The funny thing is his dad was more of a low post player, so they are opposites in their game, just like the Rice’s.
Finally is the aforementioned Mfon Udofia. The 6’2″ freshman was bombing treys early in the year but is in an Erick Green like slump of late – he’s hit just one three-pointer in their last 10 games. He’ll only see about 10 minutes. In his place, the forgotten stud recruit guard has seen more time – Maurice Miller. Miller has played 17 or more minutes in the last five games and has averaged just under 7 ppg in that stretch. Yes, they have a lot of depth at point guard, they just aren’t that good compared to their expectations and all turn the ball over a lot.
georgia tech plays an uber aggressive style. They press full court and love to trap. Unlike clemson’s press that is really about creating turnovers, the jacket press seems more interested in either stealing your wallet or seeing how many bruises that can inflict. They will mug you. If the refs are letting them play on Saturday, VT is in trouble. The Hokies can get easy looks by making extra passes, and getting the ball over the press as they do so well. Or take jacket live-ball turnovers and convert them into transition opportunities, something VT has done a better job with of late (i.e. not settling for 18-foot jumpers on 2-on-1 breaks).
On offense the jackets also will be aggressive. gt shoots 46% from the field, 2nd best in the ACC, and 37% on threes, 3rd best in the conference. They don’t mind getting shots up quick and then they will rain down on the offensive glass like a tsunami. Again, let’s hope the refs are calling over the back and the Hokies must do a good job on the boards. They must get in position to box out and have everyone helping. Then look for an outlet and burn the jackets up the court. But secure the ball first.
And the jackets weakness on offense if foul shooting. They hit just 65% from the line. This could be key in a close game late – foul early if behind.
SIX PACK OF KEYS TO WINNING:
- Hat Trick for Allen: Jeff has scored 43 points and grabbed 24 rebounds in 77 minutes in VT’s last two games. The Hokies absolutely must keep him on the floor. Two quick fouls in this one and the Hokies are in a world of hurt. Tech needs him as much for his defense against Lawal or Favors as they do for his offense.
- Make the jackets Earn their Points: Even though georgia tech shoots a solid 37% from behind the arc, I’d rather force them to beat you from there. Don’t let them pound it inside and get easy buckets in the paint, or crowd-riling dunks from Favors or Peacock or Lawal.
- Windex: And if you force georgia tech to beat you from three-point range, that means you have to get rebounds to get stops. VT must box out the aggressive jackets, and then look to push the ball to use their aggressiveness against them. gt grabs 39% of their misses – the Hokies need to hold them under that (around 33%) to win.
- 4-Star Turnover: The jackets have three 4-star point guards, one from each of the past three years. But they average 6.5 turnovers per game combined to just 8.6 assists (read: throw the ball to Lawal and Favors! Their PGs are selfish.). The Hokies need to do what they’ve done all season – win the Points off Turnover battle by turning jacket mistakes into transition hopes. Get easy buckets off gt before they can set their press up.
- Read Your Calendar: It is March and VT needs to start playing every game like it is a NCAA Tournament play-in game, because that’s just what this is. Luckily, it might still be double elimination for the Hokies. But it is time to crank things up to tournament intensity, and that means not starting 3/13 from the floor like they did the other night.
- Remember 2008 and 2009: The Hokies were left out of the dance in 2008 when they really felt they deserved to be in. They didn’t make it last year because they just couldn’t close out big games late in the season (and had bad losses early). Here’s your chance at redemption. Here is your chance to say we are crashing the party and there is nothing you can do about it. Tech’s worked so hard to be in this position, now let’s rip up that NIT invitation. VT has a lot to play for (NCAA bubble and clinch a First Round bye) while gt has very little to play for (they will be the 6th or 7th seed no matter what).
|Guard||23 Delaney 6’3″||1 Shumpert 6’5″|
|Guard||5 Hudson 6’5″||41 Rice 6’5″|
|F/G||1 Bell 6’6″||13 Bell 6’6″|
|Forward||0 Allen 6’7″||14 Favors 6’10”|
|C/F||14 Davila 6’8″||31 Lawal 6’9″|
Note: Let’s hope Zo’s foot holds up. He was in a boot most of Wednesday yet played 37 minutes against the pack.
- Malcolm Delaney has hit 15/29 shots in his last two games (52%). He had been shooting 74/205 (36%) in ACC games before that.
- Jeff Allen has scored double digits in 8 of 10 games. He had been held under 10 in 5 of the 6 games before that to start ACC play.
- Allen’s 24 rebounds in the last two games were more than in his previous five (20 boards). Jeff’s 77 minutes were more than in his previous four games combined.
- Lewis Witcher has 4 points against nc state on Senior Night. He had just 2 total points in ACC action before that.
- Zo Hudson is averaging 18.1 ppg in his last 7 games and has scored in double digits in every ACC game but one.
Not so Hot:
- VT has been outrebounded in 7 of their last 9 games.
- Erick Green is 5/40 (13%) in ACC play and has missed 12 shots in a row.
- Victor Davila has scored 6 or less in 11 straight games and hasn’t hit double digits since December 9th.
- The Hokies have lost 4 straight regular season finales.