#14 R.P.I. Virginia Tech @ #11 R.P.I. Minnesota
The A.c.c. Big-10 challenge tips off for Virginia Tech Wednesday night up in the Land of the Lakes, the home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a made for TV showdown nightcap of a game.
Virginia Tech is 5-1 and is visiting 6-1 Minnesota.
Two pretty good looking hoops teams on paper.
Well, at least it was two pretty good looking teams.
Well, at least it was before a critical injury robbed Minny of their best baller and quite possibly the Big-10 of its best N.B.A. prospect this side of “the” Ohio State; more on that below.
Right now VT might just have the edge in this one for all the ‘rong reasons, because if there is a men’s hoops coach who knows a thing, or two, or three about overcoming injury and adversity that Head Basketball Coach’s name is surely Seth Greenberg of Virginia Tech. Not real sure I wanna be a fly on the way for his pre-game convo’ with Kentucky refugee Tubby Smith.
Sports is a cruel cruel mistress indeed, God Bless Mr. Mbakwe and here is hoping the NC2A suits do the right thing and cut the poor kid a med-red hardship break.
Tubby won it all in 1998 for the Wildcats, then his bluegrass got weed-whacked and he was deported to the State of Minnesota to cool down a bit after a tumultuous ending at Kentucky. That said, Tubby will bust the 500 win mark early next year and he has taken 4 different programs to the big dance or the NC2A tourney; making him only the fifth D-1 head coach to ever do so.
Right now Tubby and the Golden Gophers must narrow their ranks and circle the early winter wagons. The early vibe outta the East Bank of the Twin Cities is to expect extra duty for the ‘Sota starters, which will effectively leave Tubby with a 6 to 8 man team.
Minnesota at a glance:
- 8th in defensive rebounding
- 36th in offensive FG% (48.6%)
- 36th in blocks (5.6)
- 36th in steals (9.4)
- 278th in 3-point makes per game (4.6)
The Gophers backcourt was not exactly seen as a strength heading into the 2011-2012 hoops season; in fact it was the very thing that had ‘Sota pegged as a middle of the pack Big-10 basketball squad.
As of now 6`4“ 180 lb. sophomore 2-guard Austin Hollins leads the Gophers backcourt rotation with a second best team wide 10 points per contest and very high basketball I.Q. As his pops (Lionel Hollins) is the head coach of the N.B.A.’s Memphis Grizzlies and a member of the 1977 N.B.A. champion Portland Trailblazers of Bill Walton and Dr. Jack Ramsey fame. So you know defense runs in his blood as he does enjoy a pretty fair sporting pedigree. The other backcourt Hollins (no relation) is all-world freshman 6`1“ 190 lb. Andre Hollins who was last years Mr. Tennessee as High School hoops goes and you can see the South Eastern (Conference) connection in full effect across the entire Golden Gopher roster as Tubby Smith no doubt maintains some geographic ties to his days at Kentucky. Andre nets you 9 points and his range is basically the gym itself, if he is in it, he is open from range as his 50% shooting mark from downtown clearly demonstrates. JuCo transfer Julian Welch is a 6`3“ 195 lb. lead-Guard who is also known as an offensive wizard which makes you wonder if there are enough backcourt shots to keep both of these gunners happy? Julian is more of a get to the rim slasher with more of a north-south street baller attitude as he does not quite possess true 3-point range. Chipping in in the Gopher backcourt is 6`2“ 192 lb. Maverick Ahanmisi who has some 3-point range of his own in his sophomore season. That said, this ‘Sota backcourt is a 3-headed monster, at best, that is only foul-trouble away from suddenly being very thin and quite possibly rather fatigued.
When you find out the next day that he blew his A.C.L. and is done for the year it is a bad day, week, month and sometimes possibly a straight up bad season.
That is precisely where Minnesota finds itself left with their leading scorer (14), their leading rebounder (9.1), their leader in blocks (1.7) and their leader in minutes played (28.7) and in FG% (at 60.4%) all done for the year with a blown A.C.L. 6`8“ 222 lb. powerhouse senior Trevor Mbakwe was sorta pushed from behind vs. Dayton and this video link is nothing short of disturbing if you’ve ever felt the so-called “hot knife” signature of a soft-tissue rip. I suggest you do not watch this, unless you wanna see your lunch, twice.
Still standing upfront is Ralph Sampson III. Yes, that Ralph Sampson’s son. They look alike, they wear the same number (#50) and Ralph the III is a 6`11“ 240 lb. P-F/Center combo outta Duluth Georgia. That said, Ralph’s numbers are way down from last year, having been fundamentally cut in half thus far. 6 points, 4 boards, a block and a couple of assists is playing down to your level of competition or beneath yourself for a kid who flirted with turning Pro a year early last year with 11 points, 7 boards and some fine defensive work for the Golden Gophers. Young Ralph really needs to step his game up in the presence of Mr. Mbakwe’s absence and he must step it up in a hurry; as there is not a whole lot else to work with up-front for Coach Tubby. 6`11“ 245 lb. true Center Elliot Eliason will no doubt be called upon to help fill the big-man void of Mr. Mbakwe. 3 points, 3 boards on 57% shooting does not suck when you have the time and the room to develop at your own pace as a frontcourt understudy. Right now however that is not enough. Also pitching in will be 6`8“ 205 lb. freshman Latvia native, one Oto Osenieks and 6`7“ 200 lb. swing Rodney Williams. The high-flying Williams does start and he is a useful role player in his junior year with 7 points, 3 boards and a team leading 3 assists and likewise team leading 1.6 steals per contest. Williams is also known as the best finisher at the rim in the Big-12 and he will dunk on you if you let him. Oto is a skillful big who has drawn comparison to Robbie Hummel of Purdue for his all-round game and raw ability to score.
Closer and OPT digits:
A countersunk volleyball court or positively Vanderbilt looking benches that are almost dangerously below the playing surface itself, with a loud right in your face crowd, all signatures of the 1927 era so-called “Barn” (or Williams Arena) up in Minnesota. If that’s your kinda basketball than you have come to the right place. The “Barn” is no easy place to win and represents one of Vah.Tech’s tougher tourstops this year.
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Coach Tubby Smith is known for his so-called “Ball-Line-Defense” which is not all that dissimilar of the ole pack-line-defense up at uva. The ball-line-defense is a base man-to-man that is designed to sag and therefore prevent dribble-perpetration or low-post shots close to the basket; which in turn should force opponents to win the game from the perimeter on contested jump-shots. This is also a defense that will gamble a bit in man-to-man terms and go for a few more steals than you might expect. It takes two things to deal with this defense, athleticism and 3-point or shooting as the ball-line-defense has a tougher time closing out on deeper shots after sagging to defend the post or clog the lane itself.
As of now Seth and company are 45th best in 3-point% at 40.2% per game; whereas ‘Sota is 275th best at defensing such. This should give the Hokies a nice advantage when dialing long-distance all the way out in the state of Minnesota on Wednesday night. Ditto the fact that this is at least a semi fluid or athletic looking 2011-2012 Virginia Tech hoops squad with lottsa fresh-legs.
Right now I see several things in play in conjuring up some OPT digits for this one, among them would be:
- VT averaged high 50′s in the NYC away from home
- VT is playing on plane ride cramped and tired legs
- VT is playing the late game of the A.c.c. Big-10 challenge nite
- Minny struggled to bust 70 vs. Dayton
- Minny could very well be emotionally hungover from missing their leader
Or in other words, I am seeing nothing to suggest a high-scoring kinda basketball game here tonite. In fact I am seeing a game where points will be at a premium. The ball-line-defense of Minnesota will muck around with Tech; conversely, it is actually VT who is 9% better in defensive FG% allowed from the floor, and a vice like 13% better in 3-point percentage allowed from beyond the arc! If defense is your thing you’ve come to the right place –what with the massive and downright spacious “Barn” with its oddball lines of sight and depth perception problems for the visitor.
I’ll take VT, mainly due to the final bullet point, in what will not be a game that is easy on the eyes.
And oh by the way, Sampson rolled his ankle yesterday and is listed as: “doubtful” for tonite.
Virginia Tech=64 Minnesota=52