The Virginia Tech Hokies Men's Basketball team has only lost to the Virginia Military Institute Keydets twice since in 25 meetings since 1971. At first glance, it appears to be another one sided regional match-up that functions as a marriage of convenience in preparing both schools for their conference slates. Certainly, the Hokies would like to continue their reign of mastery in tonight's game at Cassell Coliseum (7pm, ESPN3).
But in order to run their win streak to three games, and continue building momentum towards their Friday night clash in New York with #1 Michigan State; it would pay dividends for the Hokies to reflect upon the similarities between this season's team, and the two unfortunate Hokie squads who suffered those two losses to VMI. This is because, those two losses to the Keydets took place in what could be described as transitional years for the Hokies basketball program.
While this isn't Coach James Johnson's first year at the helm in Blacksburg, it is the first year that he is without a true veteran floor leader, having lost exceptional Senior Erick Green to the NBA draft and then Europe. There was nobody in the country who produced at a higher level while combining that output with remarkable efficiency. If one thinks QB Logan Thomas is the entire Hokie offense in football, then they could easily surmise that Green was his basketball counterpart. With the season still young, it's too early to determine exactly how much he will be missed.
The most recent loss to VMI was in 2004 at Lexington, an embarrassing affair that not only destroyed the teams Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), but created a great deal of angst with our first season in the ACC to begin just two weeks later against a top 5 North Carolina Tar Heel squad. This was Seth Greenberg's 2nd year as coach, and we had a number of prominent Sophomores on the team with Zabian Dowdell, Jamon Gordon, and Coleman Collins. Additonally, much like Cadarian Raines serves in an important leadership role as a r-SR, Carlos Dixon served as the ballast for that team, also as a 5th year SR.
The other loss was in Blacksburg in 1997, in Bobby Hussey's first year on the job, replacing bench veteran Bill Foster (also memorable for his long bathroom breaks during games....HAS ANYONE SEEN BILL?). This was also the year after we graduated Damon Watlington, Shawn Good, Shawn Smith (Smitty!), and Travis Jackson from our 1995 NIT Championship team and 1996 NCAA 2nd round Tournament team. Which left us with an out-manned Ace Custis and little else. But it was once again another transition year for the program. The Hokies need to take care not to let down on VMI, as the team isn't yet sturdy enough on its own legs to take any team for granted. The season opening loss at home to the neophyte USC Upstate Spartans is proof positive in that regard.
Before you take all this to be a gloom and doom prophecy yet to be fulfilled, there is some good news. These Hokies played VMI last year, and absolutely walloped them, 95-80. Yes, Green factored heavily with 23 pts; but SR Jarrell Eddie, JR CJ Barksdale, and Raines combined for 42 pts and 24 rebounds, with Raines notching a double-double. The Keydets shot an absurdly abysmal 8 of 37 from three, while the Hokies shot 11 for 24. So this group has experienced success against a team that will return much of the same cast. Additionally, Barksdale will return tonight from his 3 game suspension. I am eager to see how much better he makes us. With his strong showing down the stretch last year, I have a hunch it will make us a substantially more stable squad; and afford the younger guys the latitude for some growing pains.
As always, i try to emulate my main man Chicago Maroon and go to great pains to help you better know your enemy. We play chess here at Gobbler Country folks, and though checkers is a fine game, we bore easily unless we're stimulated with data..tons of data! To me, this research is a tremendous amount of fun, and i hope you enjoy it.
Virginia Military Institute is a military college nestled in the quaint town of Lexington, VA which some of us may know as the home of the Rockbridge County Courthouse where they hear such cases as Reckless Driving, and Reckless Driving Again. It is about an hour and a half drive from VT up I-81, with a cut-over onto I-64W. The school itself is small, with only 1,500 undergraduates. They have been a member of the Big South conference since 2003, after spending the 20th century as a member of the Southern Conference. VT used to be a member of the Southern Conference as well, and played VMI twice a year from 1908 until 1962, including 3 times in 1961. Virginia Tech exited the Southern Conference to become a Major Independent in 1965, and the series went on hiatus from 1962 to 1971. Since then, the teams have played 25 times, with VT winning all but the two aforementioned contests. VT leads the series 87-43 overall. Before ACC expansion, VMI was our most played opponent, but has been surpassed by UVA (137 games).
Their basketball team is coached by Dugger Baucom. He has been coach since 2005, and had previously assisted at Western Carolina. He has a losing record (104-109), but has been to 3 Big South Finals, not yet advancing to the NCAA tournament. Baucom has a pattern of having a bad first year with a group, then progressively building his team up to a good 4th year. This year is that 4th year for Baucom. And based on his returning players and the early returns, i'd project them to make a run at a 20 win season.
As for VMI basketball history, there isn't a ton there. They have one current NBA player, the Houston Rockets Reggie Williams, and aside from one other guy who had a cup of coffee, he represents the entirety of their NBA lineage. They have made 3 NCAA tournaments (1964, 1976, 1977), and while the 1976-1977 squads hold a good deal of nostalgia for older Keydet fans, the 1964 appearance saw them get destroyed at the hands of Princeton and future US Senator and NY Knicks player Bill Bradley. The 1976-1977 squads actually won tournament games. In 1976 they defeated the Bernie and Ernie Tennessee Volunteer squad that was featured on ESPN's excellent 30 for 30 series just last week, before beating the legendary Dave Corzine of the early Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls. Not only was Corzine's beard epic, but rumor had it that he could no longer dunk as a 7 footer towards the end of his career (I still say impossible). They finally fell to future NBA coach Eddie Jordan's Rutgers squad in the Regional Final. In 1977, the VMI team defeated future two time NBA all-star Norm Nixon's squad, but fell in the sweet 16 to Kentucky. Baucom, no doubt has his sights set on the Big South's automatic bid and a heroic return to the Big Dance, but he will have to go through the always tough Winthrop Eagles to get there. It's likely the Big South will only receive the one bid.
The Hokies have a few common opponents with the Keydets. The Keydets have already lost to Wake Forest 98-71, and have a game with Clemson on the Horizon. Additionally, the Hokies non-conference schedule features a game against Winthrop in early December. The ACC schedule expands from 16 to 18 games this season, so the out of conference slate will contain less games, which reduces the opportunity to match up common opponents for RPI purposes.
Now this brings us to perhaps my favorite portion of this exercise....my own little halftime show:
ALUMNI I PERSONALLY CONSIDER TO BE THE OPPOSING SCHOOLS' MOST INTERESTING!!!
- Dabney Coleman, famous actor. To a 10 year old, The Man with One Red Shoe was just the most sublime piece of American Cinema, and was certainly robbed by the Academy (Out of Africa, my ass...and don't even get me started on the snubbing of The Money Pit the next year). Coleman was Tom Hanks evil foil, and furthered his status among elite villains in 1980s movies pre-teens loved, as he was also the bad guy in Wargames and Cloak and Dagger. I don't get HBO, but am surprised to see him still cashing checks with a regular role on Boardwalk Empire. Coleman also hit for the cycle on 1970s cop shows, appearing in any and all you can think of; and had an extended role on Barnaby Jones (hasn't aged poorly). Coleman also did his civic duty as the voice of the Mayor on Pound Puppies.
- Fred Willard, comic actor. As Ted Burgundy's boss in Anchorman, i can only hope he has gotten those kids of his some counseling. Absolutely nails whatever role he's in, and you never see the one-liner coming. With his all-time deadpan delivery, i imagine that he's even funny in his sleep
- Benjamin Ficklin, Founder of the Pony Express. Definitely had to be one of the most exciting jobs for the least reward i can think of. Imagine traversing mountain ranges and battling disease, hunger and Native American warriors to deliver thank you notes for birthday and wedding gifts. Priorities!
- Bobby Ross, football coach. He is the only coach to get the San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl (1994), and took Georgia Tech to a bogus share of a national title (1991). He was also the last coach to take the Detroit Lions to a playoff game (1999). He still makes his home in Richmond, where it is rumored he is closing in on Tom Landry's lifetime mark of never having cracked a smile.
- Finally on a serious note, because we did just celebrate Veteran's Day. We need some war heroes. The alumni section on Wikipedia has too many Congressional Medals of Honor to list. But i will name two prominent military figures, and dare anyone to do better: Generals George C Marshall and George S Patton. Marshall of the Marshall Plan, and organizer of victory in WWII, and Patton of the game-winning strategy executed to eliminate Rommel in the European Theater of WW Twice (in honor of my step-grandfather and his nickname for it).
Now we return to the scouting report:
VMI is 3-1 on the season, having claimed the All-Military Classic last weekend with wins over The CItadel and Air Force on their home floor. Then got blown out by Wake Forest, before rebounding against Bluefield State 121-80. In their loss to Wake, they played a close first half until Wake closed on a 16-3 run; and then never came closer than 11 the rest of the way.
The Keydets rely on their backcourt. The are led by SR Rodney Glasgow, and FR QJ Peterson. Glasgow goes for 21.3 ppg, and scored 13 in their losing effort at VT last year, being effectively bottled up by Erick Green. QJ (i love that name, such rare use of the Q) has gone for 28 once this year, and averages 15.3. Glasgow is the main distributor, but as in most backcourts they share ball-handling duties.
The VMI center is DJ Covington, a 6'9 wide-body who gets a number of second chance points, and averages 14.4 ppg and 6.5 rebounds. Covington scored 23 last year, but Raines kept him off the glass and he didn't notch a single rebound. I know VT shot the lights out, but zero rebounds for a big man like that is probably the rarest of anomalies, and one i'm sure Coach Baucom won't let him forget. Here's hoping that he is overly aggressive against our churn of frontline depth, and he gets himself into foul trouble as a result.
The two forwards are r-SO Jordan Weethee, and FR Craig Hinton. By the numbers Weethee is a contributor (and it would help if his parents would decide if was Wee or Thee, it's a miracle he isn't institutionalized with an identity crisis) who averages a respectable 10.8 ppg and 6.5 boards. Hinton is young, and is rotated out frequently as he receives the least minutes.
VMI has a rotation of 8 players, and the bench is horrible. The 3 bench players used most frequently are a less than robust 13 for 57 (22.8%) from the floor on the season. That's not even enough to leave the tip. The team likes to shoot the long ball, and the numbers are somewhat deceptive as the team goes for a mere 30.7%, though the starting back court is 19 for 48 (39.6%). On defense, they only allow 30.1% on far less 3 pt shots, so by advanced metrics they are winning the battle at the arc. They also win the turnover battle (+27) though the Bluefield St game was extremely helpful in that regard. And finally, they are 67% from the charity stripe, which is about average these days, or a little below. With the rules changes this year, the Hokies will need to shoot better than the 23 of 41 (56.1%) they managed against Western Carolina. Particularly in these non-conference home games against teams with inferior size and athleticism. We will be the beneficiaries of a bit of home cooking, and converting the front end of one and ones must improve.
In brief (i know right?), the Hokies have gelled since the opening loss and the play has steadied across the board. As long as we have success i don't expect the rotation to change much, with the possible exception of CJ Barksdale returning to the starting five. The depth right now is a strength, and a true luxury for those of us who have lived through the days of 7 guys getting 30+ minutes while we exhaust ourselves in crunch time. Tonight's game should result in an easy win if we push the tempo under control and force them into the same 3 pt gunning game plan that we forced on WCU. If the Keydets get hot, as it appears they can, i will be interested to see what kind of defense Johnson goes to, as we've been playing strict man all year. A zone in this game might prove effective, but of course we can't get into our typical offense out of the zone. We've seen the same game plan two games in a row, which is nice because it means we are forcing our style on teams and they aren't countering enough to force us out of it. At the risk of sounding like a homer, i am encouraged by pretty much everybody's play. Nobody is the Cassell doghouse for now.
Again game time tonight is at 7pm, on ESPN3 for those who can't be at Cassell Coliseum. So make sure you watch the game and get acquainted with the team before we go on National TV Friday night (TruTV, 9:30) vs Michigan St. I will be back tonight after the game with the post-game. Have a great Monday! (Or if because of Beamer and the Football effort this weekend you have a "case of the mondays" , take a hit from your desk bottle and wash 'em away....i kid, i kid)
As always, mi Cassell es su Cassell.