Saturday, January 06, 2007

ACC Preview #11: Virginia Tech

Team: Virginia Tech
Record: 10-4 (1-0 ACC)

Zabian Dowdell (78.8% minutes, 1.12 PPWS, 16.7 A/B%, 4.1 Stl%)
Jamon Gordon (75.2% minutes, 1.03 PPWS, 21.0 A/B%, 5.4 Stl%)
Deron Washington (64.5% minutes, 1.13 PPWS, 14.0 DRB%, 10.2 A/B%, 3.1 Blk%, 3.7 Stl%)
Coleman Collins (47.3% minutes, 1.11 PPWS, 19.7 DRB%, 4.1 Blk%)
Lewis Witcher (42.9% minutes, 1.00 PPWS, 12.5 ORB%, 3.0 Blk%)

Key Reserves:
AD Vassallo (51.3% minutes, 1.14 PPWS, 20.1 DRB%, 3.1 Stl%)
Cheick Diakite (31.1% minutes, 1.13 PPWS, 13.6 ORB%, 19.7 DRB%, 5.4 Blk%)
Markus Sailes (37.7% minutes, 0.94 PPWS, 16.1 A/B%, 3.83 A/TO, 2.9 Stl%)
Nigel Munson (33.0% minutes, 1.14 PPWS, 15.2 A/B%)
Robert Krabbendam (22.1% minutes, 0.66 PPWS, 10.3 ORB%, 11.3 DRB%)

Biggest Win:
Honestly, it’s probably the 72-55 win over Old Dominion.

Worst Loss:
58-59 at Marshall last weekend (narrowly edging 68-71 to Western Michigan in Orlando).

Conference Schedule:
Play Twice: Boston College, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Miami, Virginia
Play at Home: Maryland, Clemson, Wake Forest
Play on the Road: Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech

This coincides nicely as a preview of the conference season for Tech and a preview of Duke’s conference game. Virginia Tech is a somewhat disappointing 10-4, a record both revealing and misleading. It’s misleading in the sense that the 4 games the Hokies have lost have been by a combined 10 points, suggesting that they’re probably just a couple bounces away from 12-2 or 13-1. It’s revealing, though, because VT has played a crap schedule so far, and they’ve lost to the two best teams they’ve faced (Southern Illinois and George Washington). All in all, it’s been an up and down year for the Hokies – they can beat an ODU by 17 or a Seton Hall by 19, but have lost ugly to Marshall and W. Michigan.

Virginia Tech has been playing football-style basketball – they’re winning with ball control and time of possession. The Hokies are great at holding the ball – just 17.3 turnover %, good for 13th in the country. They’re also great at forcing turnovers – opponents turn it over 28% of the time, which is in the top 25 in the country. Finally, Tech plays a slow, slow, slow style of basketball. The result is that opponents have very few possessions in which they shoot at the basket – usually under 50 a game. Making matters even more difficult for opponents, the Hokies block 9% of all opponent field goal attempts. Needless to say, the Hokies aren’t involved in a lot of high scoring games.

Starting in the backcourt for Virginia Tech are 6’3” senior Zabian Dowdell and 6’3” senior Jamon Gordon, both of whom seem like they should have graduated twice by now. Both have started almost every game in the 4 year careers, and give the Hokies the most experienced backcourt in the league. They play like experienced seniors – both force a lot of turnovers (4.1 Stl% for Dowdell, 5.4% for Gordon) without turning the ball over much themselves. Dowdell has a very good 2.17 A/TO, and Gordon’s 1.76 A/TO is not at all shabby. However, in a condition that is emblematic of the Hokie team this year, neither really have shot the ball that well. Dowdell’s EFG% is .506 and Gordon’s is .510, both below the league average. Still, they’re an extremely solid backcourt, and always scoring threats.

6’7” junior Deron Washington starts on the wing. He’s had a very solid season so far, outside of his propensity to shoot the 3 (and do so badly). Washington has made 61.4% of his 2 point buckets, but his EFG% is only .550 because of a dreadful 23.1 3pt% on 26 attempts. He takes about 2 threes a game, but hits one only about once every two games. But that’s been his only negative so far – he scores more than he shoots (21.1% shots, 24.1% points), is active on the glass (8.3 ORB%, 14.0 DRB%), gets steals (3.7%) and blocks (3.1%), and even dishes out a few assists (10.8%). He’s been an extremely valuable role player – a guy who can create matchup problems for a third guard because of his size and quickness.

In the paint, Virginia Tech seems to have settled on 6’9” freshman Lewis Witcher and 6’9” senior Coleman Collins. Collins has been extremely disappointing so far this season. He started out well with a double-double against Coppin State, but has only 3 other double figure scoring games, and just one other game with more than 6 rebounds. A guy expected to be right there alongside Dowdell and Gordon leading the team on the court has instead played under half the minutes. I was looking to see if he’s been injured, but couldn’t find anything. His defensive numbers have been solid (19.7% rebounds, 4.1% blocks) but his offense has struggled – 53% shooting against a soft schedule is not good for a big man. Collins’ reemergence as a powerful post player and offensive threat is vital to Tech’s success in the ACC – otherwise, he’s really the only big guy on the roster who can score. Witcher is kind of a starter by default more than by merit. He doesn’t figure in to the offense very much (13% of the shots) and his shooting is not so good (just 1.00 PPWS). His best asset has been on the offensive glass, where he pulls down 12.5% of VT’s own misses. He’s one of few forwards who has more offensive than defensive rebounds. Bonus random statistical anomaly – Witcher is one of four players in the ACC with more than 8 minutes a game who has not recorded an assist.

Off the bench, VT turns to 6’9” soph Cheick Diakite and 7’0” soph Robert Krabbendam in the post. Diakite was starting for a brief period, but has seen a substantial reduction in his minutes lately – just 38 in his last 6 games, and he didn’t play at all against Richmond. He plays good defense and rebounds well, but can’t really create his own shot on offense. Krabbendam, simply put, has been awful. His 0.66 PPWS and .310 EFG% are both the worst in the league. He also doesn’t really rebound well for a guy his size, and doesn’t block shots at all – he’s played 124 minutes and has just 1 block. You’d think as a seven-footer that he’d even just accidentally block more than that. Now you see why VT needs Collins to get things going – neither Diakite or Krabbendam are a valid option down low for ACC play.

Like Clemson, VT has a super-6th man who’s more of a 6th starter. 6’6” soph A.D. Vassallo leads the team in shot%, scoring%, and shooting. He’s mostly an outside shooter (63 threes against 54 twos), and his shooting out there has been solid at 38.1%. Vassallo also posts a ridiculous 20.1 DRB%, which leads the team, and puts A.D. up there among the best rebounders in the conference (specifically, 5th). He’s been a big surprise for VT this year. Vassallo has had some trouble staying on the court – he plays barely more than half of the minutes, but turns in an extremely productive 20 minutes while he’s out there. I’d be very curious to see numbers on what VT’s scoring margin looks like when he’s on the court compared to when he’s off the court.

In the backcourt, Tech turns to 6’5” senior Markus Sailes and 6’0” freshman Nigel Munson. Sailes is a pure distributor – he has a 16.1 A/B% and a very, very good 3.83 A/TO, leading the ACC (he just barely qualifies in terms of minutes). However, he can’t score, and nor does he try to. His 7.6 shot% is the lowest in the conference, as is his 6.7 score%. Sailes has taken just 23 shots in 211 minutes, which isn’t really even enough to keep defenses honest. They play 4-on-5 offense when he’s on the court. Munson has seen his minutes vacillate heavily all season. When he gets playing time, he’s largely productive – he actually leads the team in PPWS and EFG%, though doesn’t play enough minutes to qualify. He’s VT’s only real pure shooter (Dowdell, Vassallo, and Gordon are all scorers more than shooters), knocking down 45.8% of his threes on the year.

Seth Greenberg has contributed somewhat to the instability of the team this year. His starting lineup has fluctuated, as have players’ playing time. After the loss to Marshall, Greenberg sent a message by benching most of his starters, and going with a lineup of Munson, Vassallo, Washington, Witcher, and Krabbendam to open the game. It only kind of worked – Tech won 65-53, but trailed 45-40 and didn’t pull away until late in the second half. Tech’s conference schedule is about average – even though they only play Duke, FSU, and Georgia Tech once, they all come on the road, which is tough. They’re likely looking at somewhere between 6-10 and 8-8 in conference play, which will land them squarely in the NIT. That’s actually disappointing for a team with so much senior leadership (Dowdell, Gordon, and Collins) who seemed on the cusp of breaking through last year.

As for today’s game, it gon’ be ugly. Duke could end up turning the ball over quite a bit (as they did last year), and so will have to shoot well to compensate. On the other end, Duke takes the league’s best field goal defense against the league’s worst field goal offense. Duke’s going to have to work hard to control the boards, because VT will toss up a lot of bricks. This is going to be a slow, low-scoring affair, but at the same time will be high energy – both teams work extremely hard on defense. Hopefully the students are back and can breathe a little life into the crowd, which needs to be rocking for the first conference game.

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