Virginia Tech is in the rare position of having lost their best player from last season and actually becoming a better team because they can now run an offense besides, "Jesus christ Delaney will you give the ball to somebody else!" They also lost their best post player in Jeff Allen, who averaged nearly a double-double last year, but of course that would be a bigger deal except for the fact that your precious god hates me and Minnesota sports in general and struck down our hercules with a lightning bolt or something. I don't know shut up. I'm grieving.
Anyway, Virginia Tech comes in at 5-1 with a win over Oklahoma State and their only loss to Syracuse, and they're doing because the guys who were supposed to take steps forward did so and their much heralded freshman class (#12 according to ESPN) is living up to the billing. They're actually a pretty fun team to watch outside of their coach Seth Greenberg who's a giant bag of dicks because their sort of built in that all swingman mold - the majority of the team is between 6-3 and 6-9, athletic, and skilled enough to handle the ball or play in the paint.
Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson are the team's two leading scorers (14.8 and 14.3 per game) and although nearly is what you'd call a true point (although Green is closer), but both can handle the ball and run the offense. Both are more penetrators than pure shooters, though both can hit the open three ball when it's made available, and both are lock-down defenders. All of which means the Gopher guards are going to have their hands absolutely and completely full all night long. Jarrell Eddie, whose name I'm pretty sure is all backwards, is the third starter out on the wing and the teams third leading scorer at 8.8 per game. He's a big wing (6-7) who can rebound (4.2 per game) and handle the ball (2-1 A-to-TO ratio), and another who can hit the three but doesn't depend on it. I really hate this back court.
Up front is where the Gophers could have done some damage if the world wasn't just one gigantic F-U. Victor Davila starts at PF or C depending on how you want to define it and one of the few guys on this team who is basically locked into one position. At 6-8, 242 he is one of the few guys who might have been able to handle the Mbakwe/Sampson tandem which obviously is a mute point now. Davila is not spectacular and just kind of goes about his business, but that could be because the guy who starts next to him, freshman Dorrian Finney-Smith brings about the kind of unstated spectacularity that you might not even realize is there until you look at the stat sheet. He's not a big-time scorer yet (just 8 per game), but at 10.3 rebounds per game and 3.3 assists (leads the team despite being 6-8) he's obviously one of those guys who can really play the game but who is just waiting for his offensive game to catch up to the rest of what he can do. He's struggled with his shot so far (.378 shooting percentage) but eventually he's going to figure it out and rip someone's spine out like he was Sub-Zero performing a Murder Death Kill. I hope it's not the Gophers, although their heart was already ripped out so what's another body part?
Coming off the bench is some talent as well - freshman guard Robert Brown is the team's third leading scorer, sophomore Cadarian Raines gives the team some size coming off the bench, and combo forward C.J. Barksdale is a big time recruit who is athletic and a bit raw, but the team relies pretty heavily on its starting five and Brown (Green, Finney-Smith, and Hudson all average at least 31 minutes per game and Brown is the only bench player to average over 14) so that's who you need to worry about. A bunch of long, athletic wing types who play shut down defense, rebound well, and can score a variety of ways. Great. Can't wait.
As far as team style goes, the Hokies play slow, but play efficiently by moving the ball for open shots. They are a good three-point shooting team (40% for the season), but don't rely on it because they have guards who can get into the paint. Based on Minnesota's performance in Orlando I expect Virginia Tech to do everything they can to get the ball to their guards while they're moving and in position to turn the corner on the defender and get into the paint, drawing help and the kicking it to the open man either for a three pointer or a short jumper or lay-up. Actually I expect every team to try that since the Gophers can't defend it so far, but Va Tech is built for success using that exact strategy. Defensively, Va Tech is outstanding defending the three - which the Gophers don't bother with anyway - but are also excellent at defending the two pointer and blocking shots.
Honestly maybe it's just my natural pessimism setting in after Mbakwe's injury after a small period of denial/optimism, but this is an absolutely terrible opponent for the Gophers right now. The guards are going to get murdered on both ends by the Hokies's perimeter guys, and Va Tech's inside play isn't bad enough for Ralph to take advantage without Mbakwe there to help out. Barring a miracle, this isn't going to be close - which is a shame, because the Gophers are favored by three if Trevor's there.
Virginia Tech 77, Minnesota 62. And let the doomsaying begin. For once I won't be part of it, because this injury kills this season, and would for any team and any coach. God damn Dayton. They ruin everything. Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to go listen to this mix CD I made that is nothing but Coldplay, Dido, and that Time of Your Life song by Greenday.
|You know what I think's under that sweatshirt? Nothing.|