For the second time in two years, the Hokies find themselves one win away from a trip to New York for the NIT semifinals in Madison Square Garden. By all accounts, this team is taking this tournament very seriously and wants to get by Rhode Island Wednesday night and make their way to MSG.
Standing between Tech and the city that never sleeps is a Rams team that is tough to figure. Like the Hokies, they looked like a lock for the NCAA Tournament before a series of questionable losses sent them to America's favorite consolation bracket.
You always have to wonder about whether or not each team in the NIT field wants to be there. What we have in Wednesday's semifinal match-up in Blacksburg are two teams that want to be here and are motivated to move on to the next round. Rhode Island's Delroy James showed it in his team's 85-83 win over a talented Nevada team on Monday.
James scored a career-high 34 points, going 10-for-19 from the field. James is an intimidating physical specimen who stands 6-8 and can step out for a 3-point shot. Containing James will be key for the Hokies but Terrell Bell isn't big enough and Jeff Allen isn't athletic enough to take him on alone.
Nevada tried to play zone against Rhode Island and James shot them out of it, going 5-for-7 from behind the arc. When they switched to man, James became a force in the paint. The Hokies need to find a way to disrupt the Rams and to do it they may want to press early. Conventional wisdom says teams that press, like Rhode Island, don't like to be pressed.
On offense, the Hokies should try to go inside early when they're able to break the press and set up their half-court offense. Rhode Island has a 7-footer in Will Martel, but when a 7-footer only averages 7.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game it tells me he isn't very athletic. And while Allen and Victor Davila will never be confused for Dwight Howard, they do present problems for lead-footed centers.
The other key on offense will obviously be Virginia Tech's ability to break the press. It faced a pressing team in Clemson earlier this year in Cassell and while the Hokies were able to avoid turnovers against the Tigers, committing only 10, they were held to 31 percent shooting, including 15 percent in the first half. Of Tech's 70 points in that game, 38 came at the free throw line. If the Hokies can avoid turnovers AND make shots, they'll be fine against the Rams.
Both of these teams want to be here, both have exciting players to watch and both just played two-point games in the second round of the NIT. I think this will be an exciting game to watch and neither of these teams turn the ball over a lot so it should be cleanly played. In the end, I think the Hokies will win if they're able to break URI's press and are able to set up against its suspect half-court defense.
Watch the Box Score For:
- Virginia Tech Turnovers
- Virginia Tech A/FG %
- Rhode Island Defensive Efficiency
Virginia Tech Players to Watch:
- 23 - Malcolm Delaney, Jr., G
- 1 - Terrell Bell, Jr., G
- 5 - Dorenzo Hudson, Jr., G
Rhode Island Players to Watch:
- 21 - Delroy James, Jr., F
- 22 - Keith Cothran, Sr., G
- 10 - Akeem Richmond, Fr., G
Virginia Tech 72, Rhode Island 70