Coaches vs Cancer Classic Continues as Hokies host Western Carolina

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

Hokies look to build on Tuesday's home win vs West Virginia and start this season's first win streak

The Virginia Tech Hokies Men's Basketball team returns to action tonight at 7pm at Cassell Coliseum vs the Western Carolina Catamounts in what will be the second leg of the Philips Norelco Coaches vs Cancer Classic. The first leg saw the Hokies fall to USC Upstate in embarrassing fashion, 64-63. Instead of calling it a close shave, which is almost certainly something the sponsors should be paying me to say; i will instead compare that game to a deep chin gash that attracts concerned looks at your 8:30AM staff meeting because it won't stop bleeding through the tissue you used to clot it.

The Hokies suffered through the subsequent hangover in the early portion of the West Virginia game before roaring back to erase a 17 pt deficit in beating the West Virginia Mountaineers. They were led by 22 points from Ben Emelogu, and an eye popping 13 blocked shots. The Hokies also made the most of the new rules that outlaw most forms of defensive hand-checking that have gone uncalled in the past, making up their margin of victory from the charity stripe. NO TOUCHING!

The Hokies have not been overly impressive statistically to date, but with the small sample size we won't stress out over the numbers just yet. Here are a couple of the more interesting stats on the offensive end:

  • The Hokies are not assisting on made baskets. They are averaging 9 assists per game (just 7 vs WVU). Though freshman floor leader Devin Wilson has demonstrated poise, we need to be finding guys in position to score and moving the ball better. The guards had good success off of dribble drives against West Virginia, but driving solo into the lane and traffic isn't going to bear much fruit as a long-term strategy.
  • We are getting 24 ppg off the bench, but that is largely due to Emelogu scoring 28 of the 48. The mere fact that the team has a bench is no small accomplishment. If we can continue to get upwards of 20 points a game off the bench, that will be like found money for this group.

As for Defense:

  • We've only gotten 3 steals to date, and given up 11. This will likely improve, but i am thinking that with a youthful team Johnson doesn't want them gambling in the passing lanes at the expense of fundamentally sound positional defense. We'd rather funnel the other team towards our big men and disrupt shots. It is more imperative that we take slightly better care of the ball ourselves.
  • 19 blocks! 13 in one game! This is going to be a strength. We can afford to be aggressive this year with 4 men rotating in the post. CJ Barksdale is not due to return from suspension until Monday's game vs VMI, but when he does we'll be able to bring in Joey Van Zegeren off the bench with Trevor Thompson and make Jay Bilas proud: We'll be described as extremely LONG.
  • Though the Hokies are even with their opponents overall in rebounding, they are -9 in offensive rebounds. I don't find the number of offensive rebounds the Hokies are grabbing to be "offensive", but i do deem the number they are allowing to be of slight concern. This is an area they must tighten up before playing Michigan St. next weekend at Barclays Center (Friday night, 9:30pm) in the Coaches vs Classic semi-final.

Jarrell Eddie has not played with the consistency you would hope for out of the gate, he is averaging 14 ppg, but his usage level is too high for that output. His career has been marked by streaky play. Freshman captain Emelogu is doing a fine job spelling him off the bench and has demonstrated early efficiency from the 3 pt line. shooting 5 for 9. Emelogu and Eddie can definitely share the 60 minutes available at the backup 2 and minutes available at the 3 spot, but Eddie needs to improve or I couldn't justify starting games with Emelogu on the bench for long.

But enough about our guys, I know why you're still reading: You want to know about the opponent and what to look for, and I'm only happy enough to oblige. Tonight we play Western Carolina, and they hail from Cullowhee, NC, which is smack in the middle of Western North Carolina. They are close to both the South Carolina and Tennessee borders near the Smoky Mountains, kind of close to Asheville if you're familiar. The school is within a 3 hour drive of Charlotte, Knoxville, and Atlanta. Their prominent alumni include:

  • Georgia Tech Football Coach Paul Johnson
  • Middling SNL Comedian/Actor Rich Hall (middling might be generous)
  • Philadelphia Eagle Sackmaster Clyde Simmons (was he really that good or was he picking up Reggie White and Jerome Brown's scraps?)
  • And most importantly: they have fostered the growth of not 1 but 2...TWO!!....WWF (i refuse to call it WWE) wrestlers..."Showtime" Percy Watson and "Heavy Metal" Rick Savage...for some odd reason folding chairs and thumbtacks were always in constant shortage around campus during their tenure.

You might also remember that we played WCU in Football this year, handling them 45-3 in the second week, righting the ship after the Alabama bruising. They are not as small a school as you might imagine. They have a student body of roughly 10,000; and they play their basketball in the Southern Conference, which is typically a "1 bid conference" as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned. Their program has made one tournament appearance in 1996, losing by a basket to Gene Keady's Purdue Boilermakers. Their other minor claim to fame is that their program hit the first ever official NCAA 3 pt basket in 1980. So, not a whole lot there in terms of program history. Kevin Martin of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves is their most prominent NBA player. The 5 other guys who have seen time in the league are not noteworthy.

Western Carolina had opened the season with two ho-hum wins against Wittenburg and UNC Asheville which looked to be ample preparation, as they threw a big scare into Oregon in Eugene on Wednesday night, before finally succumbing in the second half 107-83. The fact that they played in Oregon two days ago should be to the Hokies benefit, that's a long distance to travel and a short turnaround. I don't know if they came directly to the 'Burg or made a pit stop at home in between. I can only hope they were forced to ride the bus to Blacksburg after a long cross-country flight. #Brutal

In the Oregon game, the Catamounts welcomed back r-SR guard Trey Sumler who scored 29 points on 10 of 15 (3-4 3pt) shooting from the floor. Sumler has scored 20+ points three games in a row, and has been in double digits in 11 straight. He was instrumental in them only trailing a ranked Oregon team on the road by 2 points at the half (41-39). Unfortunately for Western Carolina, Oregon featured a hotter hand in Joseph Young who dropped 39 for the hometown Ducks; and eventually the new rules got the best of Western Carolina as they gave up 16 extra FTs, and Oregon capitalized, making 15 of them. The game ended a streak of 189 straight games in which the Catamounts had held their opponents under 100 pts, dating back to 2007.

West Carolina is in stark contrast to the Hokies in that they feature a veteran roster. They have 2 redshirt Seniors in Sumler and Tom Tankelewicz, along with two other seniors in the rotation, and get heavy minutes from a junior and two sophomores. Senior Brandon Boggs needs just 30 points to reach 1,000  for his career. James Sinclair, Sumler, Tankelewicz, and Boggs all average multiple 3 pt makes per game so they are not hesitant to shoot from distance. It is a balanced attack that is witnessing them open the campaign with 3 straight games in which they've had 3 scorers reach double digit scoring for the first time since 2006-2007.

On defense, they have active hands and play a pressure defense, and have come up with 11 steals per game so far. It is difficult to tell what kind of post presence they have because their offense doesn't emphasize it, but i can say from looking at the team photo that their type of big men are the opposite of ours. They have two guys who go about 6'8, 245 down low, while our guys are taller and much skinnier in base. We need to make sure that we box out both Tawaski King, a wide bodied SR, and Torrion Brummitt, their Sophomore.

This game should be more of a challenge than i had previously anticipated. The fact that they are a veteran squad, particularly in the backcourt where we are young, could lead to difficulties controlling the pace. We need to make sure we get out on the 3 pt attempts and deny the ball side cuts which will help disrupt the rhythm their shooters need; and follow the successful strategies on defense that led to our win vs West Virginia. The fact that they traveled so much this week is a welcome assist, their legs should not be as fresh as ours.

We have a limited history with Western Carolina in basketball, having played them three times in the past. We have played all three games at home, and never lost. The last time the two teams met was in 2005. The only shared opponent we will have with them is USC Upstate who they play next weekend. Hopefully, we will have beaten Western Carolina and can cannibalize their victory over USC Upstate which might dilute the overwhelming negative RPI hit we took due to that loss.

Even if we lose another "tournament" game, we are still an anchor in the Coaches vs Cancer Classic along with Michigan St, Oklahoma, and Seton Hall. We are an automatic semi-finalist even if we lose this game and the VMI game on Monday night. It is apparent that the tournament organizers are looking to feature a Michigan St-Oklahoma Final next Saturday night. All of the games at Barclay are on TruTV so that means it MUST be good. Winning these next two games will likely do little to help the RPI, but go a long way towards stabilizing our rotations and roles moving forward.

Hopefully you found this abundantly informative, and i look forward to providing these on a regular basis for you throughout the season! If you are going to the game, cheer loud and enjoy yourselves! For the rest of us, we will have to make do on ESPN3, which is a gift from heaven for those of us fanatical enough to watch the lesser matchups. I will be back with more after the game. Please stay tuned for more and tell your friends that Gobbler Country is the spot to be for Hokie basketball.

H-O-K-I-E-S ......HOKIES!

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