In a sleepy game marked by low attendance and inclement weather outside the gym, the Virginia Tech Hokies clubbed the Furman Paladins on Monday night, 75-54. The game wasn't as close as the final margin indicated, as the Hokies were without their star freshman sixth man Ben Emelogu (out with post-concussion symptoms); and relied heavily on their bench to make up some of the scoring void. Marshall Wood and Will Johnston combined for 25 points on 7-of-11 three-point shooting, the Hokies cruised to victory and a well-deserved rest, having just completed their third game in four days.
Amazingly enough, due to the schools' proximity to one another, this is only the seventh career meeting between the Radford Highlanders and the Virginia Tech Hokies in basketball. The Hokies lead the series 5-1, with the last meeting an 80-50 Hokie victory in 2005, before the health problems derailed that season for Tech. The Hokies only loss came in 1999 during the Ricky Stokes era, just as so many other "onlys" and "first time evers" occurred. All the games have been played at Cassell Coliseum.
Radford University is only 15 miles from Blacksburg, and is a very fun place to visit on weekends. The fact that it has a 3-to-2 girl-to-boy ratio has always been a plus. Head west on Prices Fork, turn right on Pepper's Ferry, and 10 minutes later you're in another very fun college environment. I've always had an affinity for Radford, even when I worked a summer at the Old Colony Box Company punching out cardboard corners for eight hours a day.
Founded in 1910, primarily as a Women's Teacher's college, the school has 9,370 students, all but 1,000 of them undergraduate. They are called the Highlanders because they are located in the highlands between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. They play their basketball in the Big South Conference, and have won the conference tournament twice in 1998 and 2009; advancing both times to the NCAA Tournament as a #16 seed. Each time they were demolished by an ACC team (UNC in 1998, Duke in 2009)
They are coached by Mike Jones, a former assistant to Shaka Smart at VCU, who just like VT Coach James Johnson at George Mason, has been pivotal in a shocking Final Four run. Jones was instrumental in installing VCU's "Havoc" defense which involves pressing after every made basket or dead ball. Jones took the job in the wake of a fairly major scandal that involved former head coach Brad Greenberg (brother of former VT coach Seth Greenberg). Greenberg was involved in the cover-up and lying to NCAA officials regarding payments to a former recruit. For these transgressions, Greenberg received a five-year show-cause ban, which effectively ended his coaching career. Considering his age, the relative unimportance of the Radford program to begin with, and the brash mendacity of the offense, it'd be tough to justify him for a future hiring after the five-year ban expires.
Jones accepted the job after the magical VCU Final Four run in June of 2011. Due to the scandal, he had just five returning scholarship players from a squad that went just 5-24 (2-16) in 2010-2011 (after Radford had won 19 and 21 games the two years prior). His initial campaign wasn't much better, going 6-26 (2-16) in a season that included a 15-game losing streak. Last year the program showed marked improvement as he began to fill his roster out, and Radford finished 13-19 (7-9). As a result of the program's prior upheaval, he has only one senior on his roster this season.
Radford opened up their season with a bad loss at George Washington, then won their next four, including their last two coming on the road. They have two common opponents with VT: VMI and Winthrop.
Here is the nine-man rotation the Highlanders use (they have nine players that average 10+ minutes):
- #11 Ya Ya Anderson 6'2", 195 JR G .... 29mpg, 11.6 ppg, 11/20 3-point .....started all five games
- #10 RJ Price 5'11", 180 JR G....26 mpg, 11.8 ppg, 9-of-29 3-point, 4.2 apg, 14-of-17 FT .824)....started all 5 games
- # 2 Javonte Green 6'4", 205 JR SF....24 mpg, 17 ppg, 7 reb, leads team in TOs with 11....started all 5 games
- #5 Rashun Davis 5'11", 185 SO G.... 21 mpg, 10.2 ppg, 25-30 FT 3.4 apg .....third guard
- #00 Kion Brown 6'7", 210 SO F.....20 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg , just 6-for-17 FT
- #55 Brandon Holcomb 6'7", 215, r-SO C.....19 mpg, 5.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg
- #33 Kyle Noreen 6'4", 210 JR F, we played his brother Kevin at WVU....18 mpg, 2 ppg 3.6 rpg....started all 5 games
- #12 Allen Dickerson 6'2", 210 SR G.....16 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 9-of-17 from 3pt
- #30 Jalen Carruthers 6'8", 205 JR F ....10 mpg, 5.4 ppg little else.
As evidenced above, this team has nowhere near the height to compete with the VT front-line. Additionally from looking at team statistics, they have forced just 14 turnovers a game this year, so I'm not sure the diamond press that is the foundation for the HAVOC system they use at VCU is implemented by RU on more than on a case-by-case basis. It certainly isn't used all game long. The Highlanders only have 14 blocks on the season, and this is a number the Hokies almost matched in their one game against WVU (13). The Hokies size advantage must be capitalized on, and this is the perfect game to work out some kinks and reward our big men with some touches in the post. The few guys the Highlanders do have that qualify as bigs are also slender, so there won't be instances of shorter big men with squat bases pushing our guys away from their preferred scoring spots.
Radford shoots the ball well, 48.6% from the field, 39.8% from three-point range. They are only 88-of-136 from the FT line which is a fairly weak 64%. With their guard heavy attack and a smooth small forward in Javonte Green, the Hokies will need to be sure to get out on the three-point attempts and make sure to avoid surrendering the long offensive rebounds. If VT controls the glass, and holds Radford to 1-of-3 three-point shooting or less, the Hokies should win in a walk. Once again, a heavy responsibility rests on freshman Devin Wilson to avoid the turnovers and take care of the ball. We had two sequences against Furman where we turned the ball over on three or more consecutive possessions. For a team that has had historical issues with the six and seven minute scoring drought, eliminating the turnovers from our modus operandi would go a long way towards avoiding those crippling periods of offensive futility.
A few notes on what to watch for from the Hokies:
- Cadarian Raines. Played just the first three minutes vs Furman, sat the rest of the game. Coach Johnson's reasoning was flimsy at best, and there were rumors of words on the bench. Will this linger, or will Raines resume his spot in the rotation?
- Devin Wilson has 19 assists in his last two games. Can he continue at six assists per game pace he has established against yet another veteran backcourt?
- Can Jarrell Eddie get his points without shooting upwards of 20 times?
- Marquis Rankin will miss this game as well. He went home for the break. Things look worse for his future with the program the longer he is absent and quiet.
- Ben Emelogu's status for today is still to be determined.
My apologies today for not including the half-time show I enjoy so much, but the Radford University has absolutely ZERO alumni that interest me. They have Frank Beamer as a graduate student, and some actress on the show Glee which I'd probably rather have my fingernails pulled out than watch. Seriously, check the Wikipedia section, it literally has tumbleweeds blowing through it. Radford has also never boasted even one NBA basketball player.
The game today is in Cassell Coliseum and it tips at 2 p.m. Once again, low attendance is expected due to holiday break. It will be streamed on ESPN3. I will be on Twitter throughout posting updates on @GobblerCountry. I hope everyone here had a Happy Thanksgiving and is enjoying their long weekend. I will return with the post-game later this evening.
Mi Cassell es su Cassell.