Hokies Look To Return To Winning Ways, Face Furman At Home Tonight

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

After dropping two games over the weekend, the Hokies look to return to the winning methods that led to their three-game win-streak.

The Virginia Tech Hokies basketball team has returned home to Blacksburg from a humbling learning experience in New York last weekend. The wheels came off of the three-game win streak as quickly as you or I could figure out how to spell Adreian correctly on Friday night. This because senior Adreian Payne was scoring at will for Michigan State in what eventually became a 30-point Spartan advantage midway through the second half. Nothing worked Friday night, but that was not unexpected, for at least Michigan State came in highly regarded at #1 in the country.

The loss in the consolation game to Seton Hall was much harder to forgive. With the Hokies holding onto a 4-point lead late, they didn't execute fro the final minute and a half, as Seton Hall erased the deficit and iced the game. Senior small forward Jarrell Eddie led the way in both games, averaging 21 points and 6 rebounds. However his efficiency dipped versus Seton Hall and he failed to convert several baskets in close. There weren't too many other consistent performances though, and the team was far too streaky. That point couldn't be better emphasized than seeing Adam Smith score 33 of his weekend's 38 points in a 20-minute stretch that spanned the second half of the MSU game and the first half of the Seton Hall game. He was otherwise quiet, or even mistake prone. As I noted in a tweet yesterday, the VT front-court has only taken 87 shots in 6 games, for just 14 attempts per game. The back-court has shot it 259 times. This balance needs to be re-calibrated. I understand the game is dominated by guards at the college-level, but you'd to see a 2-to-1 split at most, not 3 to 1. It is important that we try to establish the frontcourt in our half-court offensive sets, and work on it in games where we have the latitude for some mistakes. Tonight's home game against Furman appears to be just that sort of game.

The Paladins, named for the 12 Peers of Charlemagne (think King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table), opened up the season with two wins over Sewanee and Gardner Webb before stumbling hard in their last two. They lost by just a point (70-69) to Florida Gulf Coast University, who you may remember as being the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 last season. However, as one could expect the notoriety of that success led to a series of job offers, and you could hardly blame up and coming Coach Andy Enfield and his supermodel wife for opting to re-locate to the University of Southern California. Had the FGCU not been transitioning as they are, the game wouldn't have been so close. Furman then followed this tough loss by getting trashed by The College of Charleston (89-55) on Sunday. The College of Charleston is led in scoring by Canyon Berry, the youngest of Rick Barry's multitude of basketball-playing spawn. Is this the end of the line for Rick? Considering he was about 50 when he fathered Canyon, I'd say kudos to Rick if he had the energy to teach the underhanded free-throws to yet one more. Canyon shoots the free throws under-handed just like his dad. The game was never close as Charleston cleared their bench early.

Part of the key to the CoC's success was that they harassed Furman's sophomore point guard Stephen Croone all over the floor. They picked him up full-court and forced him to turn several times to shield the ball crossing the time-line which eats up valuable shot-clock. Croone still finished with 20 points, but had been averaging 27 points against Division I opponents. Croone, is 6'0, 170 lbs. so he relies on his quickness to get into scoring areas as he's only 2-for-14 three-point shooting on the season. Taking into consideration his FG attempts account for 25% of the teams', his FT % accounts for 33% of the teams' and his assists and turnovers account for another eight possessions, his usage rate is the highest of any player the Hokies have faced this season.

Here are the key stats and info for their eight rotation players:

  • Stephen Croone  (32 mpg....So-PG, 6'0"/170): 21 ppg, 4.3 turnovers per game, just 2-for-14 from 3-point range and 24-of-27 from the FT line. He will try to draw the contact. I think we should put Adam Smith up to the task of defending him and match quickness.
  • Larry Wideman (31 mpg....So-SG 6'4"/199): Wideman does little but shoot. He's put up 40 shots for (.350 fg %), 3.3 rpg. He has just four assists on the year, so if he gets it, he will shoot it. He is the definition of the proverbial "black hole".
  • Kendrec Ferrara (29mpg...So-PF 6'9"/225): 7.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg
  • Keith Belfield (23mpg....r-So-SF 6'6"/205): 4-of-14 from 2pt, 4-of-11 from 3-point range
  • William Gates (28mpg...Fr G 6'1"/180): 11.8 ppg as first man off bench. Per Niemo of TechHoops, he also is the son of William Gates who was featured in the movie Hoop Dreams. The same William Gates who was on the losing end of the 1995 NIT Championship game won by two Shawn Smith FTs.
  • Aaron O Neil (16 mpg....JR G 6'0", 190): Does nothing with these minutes, but starts each game.
  • Chris Acox (Fr-SF....6'6"/215) From Iceland, averages 5.3 rpg, 2.5 offensive. However he doesn't score on putbacks, with just 1.3 ppg.
  • Adonis Rwabigwi (18mpg....6'8"/210) Played 18 minutes in the first game, suffered an elbow injury and missed the next three games. He is expected back. He had four points and eight rebounds in his limited minutes. So he sounds like a high-energy fellow.

Furman is coached by first-year man Niko Medved, who took over a seven-win team from last year. They shoot the ball poorly as a team (just 40.4% from two-point range, and a struggling 29.4% from three-point distance). The Paladins only have 32 team assists, which is quite possibly the only team worse than VT at sharing the ball. This is an exaggeration on my part, but I was intimating that the Hokies need to play with their heads up and get everyone involved. Furman has 19 steals and 14 blocks, which leads to about eight natural fast break situations a game (not accounting for long rebounds). I'd like to see us pressure their turnover-prone PG into some bad plays, and see if we can get some easy-flow buckets. Most of all though I'd like to see some half-court offense, with some inside-out play.

Furman plays in the Southern Conference, just like Western Carolina who the Hokies beat at home on the 15th of November. Additionally they have two other common opponents in UNC-Greensboro and Clemson. Furman is just 86-219 all-time vs the ACC, without much recent success. And just because I have to say it, they haven't beaten an ACC team since 2000-2001 when they beat Florida State. I hate that fact, because I just know that we are so dicey when we are made aware of such facts. VT is always so accommodating.

The Furman program has gone to six NCAA Tournaments, their last in 1980 when they lost to a Tennessee squad that featured Reggie Johnson and future three-point-contest Champion Dale Ellis. The Paladins won a game in the 1974 tournament, amazingly defeating a South Carolina squad that had two future NBA coaches (Mike Dunleavy, Brian Winters) and 25,000 point club member Alex English. All three of these players had ties to the Milwaukee Bucks in their career, with Dunleavy and Winters both coaching them, and English having been drafted by them before making his career with the Denver Nuggets. After advancing to the Sweet 16 in 1974, the Paladins coolly dispatched by Billy Knight's Pittsburgh Panthers. We all know Billy now as the bumbling President of the NBA Player's Union, but he was once a two-time NBA all-star with the Indiana Pacers. Their basketball program has one former NBA'er of note: Frank Selvy who was a two-time all-star back in the mid-1950s.

Furman University is a small liberal arts college located in Greenville, South Carolina. It is about an hour and a half south of Charlotte, and two and a half hours north of Atlanta, giving it two nice metropolitan areas to recruit. It was founded in 1826, and has just 2,700 undergraduates and 525 graduate students. They boast 308 academic staff for the 3,225 students. That's some close supervision at that ratio. What is this? Detention!? Sounds like a lot of time for "office-hours".

In an off-topic sports note, the Hokie football team rebounded from their Kick-Off Classic loss to Alabama in Atlanta in 2009 with a ho-hum 24-7 win against the FCS Paladins. We hadn't played them in football since the 1940s.

ALUMNI  I PERSONALLY CONSIDER TO BE THE OPPOSING SCHOOLS' MOST INTERESTING!!!

  • Certainly not the University's namesake: former President James Clement Furman. YAWN!
  • Charles Townes: Invented the laser. Which made the movies Goldfinger and Real Genius rule.
  • Thomas T. Goldsmith: Father of the video game. Patented in 1948, his Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device was merely a shooting gallery in which you tried to aim and hit a dot on the screen. So poor a little egg-nog on the curb for TTG when you're opening your XBox 1s and PS4s this holiday season.
  • Clint Dempsey, US National Soccer Team: DEUCE!!!!
  • Herman Lay, Founder Lay's Potato Chips: Also founder of the greasy brown paper lunch sack and greasy shirt tail due to his product's overwhelming tendency to retain their surface oils. For this is why Utz rules Lays. Somebody bring a sign that says that to the Cassell. Our 1,000 fans (since it'sbreak) will overwhelm their fan with the satire.
  • Consequences Creed/Xavier Wood, WWF Wrestler: He dresses like Apollo Creed (a character made famous by Carl Weathers in the Rocky movie franchise). It's fabulous.
  • Sam Wyche/Stanford Jennings, 1989 Cincinnati Bengals, Super Bowl 23 losers: Wyche was the coach, a former Bill Walsh protege. And his Bengals were pitted against Walsh and his San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII. Stanford Jennings returned a kickoff to break a late 3rd quarter tie to put the Bengals up 13-6. But then Joe Montana found the late actor John Candy in the crowd, found John Taylor in the end zone, and in what was to be Walsh's final game as coach the 'Niners stamped DYNASTY on the 1980s. 

Finally, a couple of notes regarding the availability of two players:

  • Marquis Rankin will not play again due to continuing personal reasons.
  • Mike Barber tweeted yesterday that Ben Emelogu would potentially miss tonight's game due to flu-like symptoms, and curiously, also post-concussion symptoms. So in looking up when the concussion occurred, there was a tweet from Norm Wood (dated October 25) that said that Ben was suffering the after-effects of a concussion as early as the second week of October. I imagine the huge collision at half-court Saturday night diving for a loose ball didn't help; although he didn't appear to be feeling the ill-effects as he buried the two long three-pointers at the end of the game. I guess, maybe he was in the parlance, literally unconscious. Let's let Ben recover fully, I'm relatively surprised that he was allowed back out there if he was so close to re-aggravating that injury.

Tonight's game is in the Cassell, begins at 7pm, and is being streamed on ESPN3. I'm just glad we have the opportunity to watch VT get back on track. Hopefully there is enough of a crowd there to root our team on, though I have my doubts with the local weather and many people having left for break. Enjoy the game, and join me on Twitter throughout @GobblerCountry. Please continue to visit us as we make GobblerCountry the place to be for Hokies basketball coverage.

Best wishes for a happy Tuesday, mi Cassell es su Cassell.

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