There's not just one game going on in Blacksburg on Saturday. The Hokies men's basketball team hosts the Virginia Military Institude Keydets in both teams' third game. VMI is also 1-1 on the year, losing their opener to Penn State, 62-50, and beat Tusculum, 88-76. Their head coach is Dan Earl, a former Penn State point guard, who played for the Roanoke Dazzle of the NBA D-League. He came to VMI via Navy, where he was the associate head coach for four years. This is his first year at VMI, so he's definitely out-experienced by Buzz Williams.
At this point in time, VMI's scoring differential is exactly 0 (138-138). They're a much better free throw shooting team than the Hokies are- 69.7% to 57.1%, along with having a superior 3-point percentage, 37.8% to our abysmal 25%. But we score more, our 153 to 147 for our opponents. Of course, due to this being college basketball, this suffers from being from the land of SuperSmallSampleSizeTopia, so you can't make a ton of it. That's especially true due to competition levels being hard to compare in college basketball until you somehow run across common opponents- and we all know that that kind of transitive property doesn't work. But right now, the Keydets are a better shooting team than the Hokies, with an overall 47.6% shooting percentage to 45.7%. It's not that much better, but it's enough that if the Keydets can gun away at the arc, they could stand a chance at being a problem. However, Virginia Tech, thanks to the past game, has really come away well off the glass. Tech has 95 rebounds to VMI's 66, allowing for many more second chance points. It's going to be a brutal low-post game if Tech wants to really put the Keydets in a hole.
VMI is the team we've been the past couple of years- iffy to alright shooting and zero size. Their tallest forwards are 6'-6", and they don't feature a true center. We'll have to avoid their small-ball lineup, speed, and shooting, but if you want to throw someone like Hamilton, Blackshear, or LeDay down low, there's a size mismatch that favors the Hokies. This is a less efficient way of scoring, but since we currently don't have an excess of shooting, it's best to go at what strength you have- and BOY does it sound different to say that ‘Tech has size' for once. After years of having a team almost exclusively of guards outside of the departed Joey Van Zegeren, it'd be a good change of pace to get the rebounding done down low and clean the board for more and more second chance points.
Right now, VMI's leading scorer is QJ Peterson, a 6'-0" junior guard from Hedgesville, WV's Massanutten Military. He's averaging 31.0 minutes a game, and hanging around 33.3%FG at around 16.0PPG. This means he's an inefficient volume shooter. However, QJ's poor numbers stem from a gunning performance against Penn State, in which he went 3-18 in a defensive dogfight game. The better shooters are Julian Eleby, a 6'-3" guard from Fayetteville, NC via Fork Union; and Phillip Anglade, a 6'-5" forward from Davidson Day School of Long Island, NY. They're shooting over 50% (62.5% and 71.4% at 14.5 and 10.0PPG, respectively), which is more efficient but still not amazing volume.
For Virginia Tech, the big player to look for is talented freshman Chris Clarke, a highly recruited guard/forward from Virginia Beach via Cape Henry, at a huge 6'-6" that allows him to tower over their smaller guards. I'd expect Buzz to continue to let him attack the paint on drives, hopefully propelling him to the foul line (Though that's a dicey proposition for this team). Clarke shows a lot of talent and aggressiveness; the next tool to add to his inventory is to look for the open man and see passing lanes. At this point he's a scoring guard and not a shooter or a point, so we'll take what we can get, but he's obviously the future of the team over the long term. He's also big enough to rebound, and that allows him to bully opposing guards on those wild drives to the basket. He's only averaging 11.0PPG, but expect him to see more and more minutes as Buzz tries to figure out his rotation. I would also watch Zach LeDay, a transfer from South Florida, as we have a chance to use him as that low-post bully against their smaller lineup. He's averaging 20.5PPG right now on 59.3% shooting, and I expect that will continue.
Virginia Tech will win if:
It uses its superior size (!!) to bully VMI in the low post, and maintain the advantage on the boards. Rebounding, solid defense, and physicality will go a long way against a smaller team. I'd love to see Clarke push the ball against the VMI defense, hopefully with more kicking out to Bibbs or assists to the interior big men.
VMI will win if:
Virginia Tech continues to waste its opportunities at the foul line and VMI takes advantage of their superior perimeter shooting and smaller size to run rings around Tech. It's not that difficult to envision VMI confusing Tech's spotty defense- at this point the team is teetering between ‘overeager to help' and ‘failing to rotate'. There were often times during the Jacksonville State game where the Hokies wouldn't close out the shooters. If VMI starts hitting perimeter shots, size might not matter.