Who: Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Maryland Terrapins
What: My Christmas (the start of ACC basketball season)
Where: Comcast Center or your blurry computer screen for ESPN3
When: A little to early at 12:00 PM
Line: Maryland (-12)
It’s wildcard weekend for everyone here at BSR. Everyone except for me, because my coach is in the Bahamas and is technically one of the few idiots left wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey. But before you get good and drunk on Sunday (and discover that Andrew Luck’s name rhymes with other more fun words), it’s ACC basketball season. Maryland gets their first real test since Kentucky in the form of Virginia Tech on Saturday at high noon. Tech started off the year 7-0, including a win over an Oklahoma State team that ravaged NC State, and became a trendy dark horse contender in the ACC. But upon further inspection, it appears the Rolling Stones may have gotten to the horse, and now the paint is washing off. The Hokies are 2-4 in their last 6, and were flat out embarrassed by Colorado State and BYU in the last 2 games. Without further ado, it’s time to start the real basketball season.
The Hokie wagon is hitched firmly to Erick Green, as any wagon featuring the nation’s second leading scorer (24.4 ppg) should be. Green’s numbers this season are strikingly similar to Kemba Walker’s senior campaign: he’s a little bit taller and doesn’t have the same electric first step, but has the same superhuman finishing ability around the rim. Seriously, watching highlights of him is like watching a personal game of HORSE: all manner of floaters, lefty layups, pull-up jumpers. Once he gets into the teeth of the defense he can find the bottom of the net from angles previously undiscovered. When his shot’s off, he makes up for it by being deadly at the line (in a 3-game stretch in November, he went 31/31). Oh, and Green LOVES playing the Terps: his first ever 20 point game – and really his coming out party as a college player – was in Comcast (12/16, 24 points). He’ll face his toughest test of the season against what I’m guessing will be a combination of Faust and Wells.
Although it’s tempting to say that Tech lives and dies with Green, it’s not really true. Outside of their most recent loss – a blasting in Provo by BYU – Green has been his “roll out of bed with 20” self all season. What’s killed them is the lack of supporting cast, and that starts with #2 scorer Jarell Eddie. After starting the season off looking like Joseph Gordon Levitt’s version of Robin (17.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 53% 3pt), he’s slowly regressed into Chris O’Donnell territory (12.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 28% 3pt). That cliff dive in three-point percentage really hurts, considering it’s really the only thing that Green can’t do on a basketball court. If Eddie can find his shot again (and he will eventually, he shot 44.2% from deep last year), Maryland will really have their hands full this game.
Green’s backcourt mate Robert Brown was another Hokie who started the season well, but his drop off has been significantly more dramatic. After three really nice games about a month ago culminating in a 21 point effort in the loss to WVU, Brown has scored 23 points COMBINED in his last 5 games. Similarly rough times have come upon second leading rebounder Cadarian Raines, who has scored 18 points in his last 5 (16 of which came in one game).
I’m looking forward to making a lot of stupid sex jokes about VA Tech, because they’re legitimately deep and long. 9 players average 10 minutes or more on this team, and of those 9, only two (Green and guard Marquis Rankin) are shorter than 6’5”. Cadarian Raines, C.J. Barksdale and Marshall Wood are three forwards, all 6’8” or bigger, who average at least 18 minutes and 4 rebounds per game. This is a team that will make Maryland work on the boards (39.2 RPG, 47th in NCAA).
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned the Hokie defense, and that’s by design. They’ve been brutal on that end all season, and in the last two games have allowed 88 and 97 points respectively. Besides being good at defending the arc (28.0 Opp 3pt %, 20th in NCAA), they allow a ton of offensive rebounds, and KenPom ranks them right between North Texas and Marshall in adjusted defense.
Realistically, Green is probably going to get his 15+. This game is about shutting down the peripheral options. Eddie is the only perimeter shooting threat on the team, so it’s imperative that Maryland defenders don’t allow him to get back in his groove. Other than making sure Brown doesn’t rise from the dead (his 18 points in the Oklahoma State game were huge), the strategy isn’t too complicated. All the numbers say that Maryland should have their fill of second opportunities, and I think the way Virginia Tech is playing now is more representative of the team they actually are.
It should be interesting to see how Turgeon attacks the three-point line. On the one hand, the numbers would seems to indicate that Virginia Tech has been very successful at perimeter defense this year. However, just like everything VA Tech has done this season, they were successful for all of 7 games. With the exception of a team that I’m not sure actually exists (the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils), 5 of the last 6 Hokies opponents have shot better than their season percentage in their respective games against VA tech. For example, on the season West Virginia is one of the worst 3 point shooting teams in college basketball (27.5%, 326th in NCAA). Against Virginia Tech, they looked like Duke (10/24, 41.7%).
Despite not being an outstanding three point shooting team, Maryland ranks as the 3rd best three point shooting team VA Tech has played all season, and they’ve been shooting much better of late. Over their last 6 games, the Terps have shot 38.1% from three, including an 8/17 performance against IUPUI. Judging by these recent numbers, expect Allen and Aronhalt to have the green light to fire away when open.
Really, it all depends which Hokies team shows up. If a complete ass kicking at the hands of BYU jolts them back to defending the perimeter, and Jarell Eddie rediscovers his deep stroke, Maryland should slow this game down and pound it inside with Len and the rest of the bigs. If the VA Tech from the past 6 games shows up, Maryland should win regardless of what they do.
Who guards Green: It’s early, but Green is probably the best scoring guard in the ACC, and it bears watching to see which guard gets the difficult assignment. I think Wells is actually the better fit to guard Green because of the physicality he provides, but with how important Wells is to the offense, I’d rather have Faust on him. Faust is the third or fourth cog in the offense at this point, and if he dedicates all of his energy to throwing a dimmer on Green’s high wattage act, it will leave Wells fresher on the other end of the floor to attack the weak Hokie defense.
How many minutes does Len get: Providing that he doesn’t get in any foul trouble, it’s been more than a month since Alex Len was green-lighted for half an hour. He got 30 minutes of PT against George Mason on December 2nd, and was only semi-productive (12/9/3). In news that I’ll tell you in two paragraphs, I think Maryland is going to win this game, but it should be their most difficult game since Kentucky. Len really announced himself on the national stage with that game, and if he has a game anything like his 23/12 masterpiece, I don’t see any way that Tech wins this game even on their best day.
Turnovers, yet again: Maryland is the better team in this game, and the most often way that a better team loses a game is with stupid turnovers. That plotline has been noticeably downplayed the last three games with the team doing a respectable job in the ball security department (11.7 TOpg). Tech isn’t a ball-hawking defense, so there’s really no reason this trend should break. But as an astounding 23 turnovers against Monmouth will remind you, it really doesn’t matter who Maryland’s playing, sometimes they’re just careless. Turnovers can give an opponent hope, and although some bad games didn’t come back to haunt them against weaker opponents, a butterfingered performance Saturday could be one of the few roads to a loss.
Prediction: Erick Green plays well, but scores below 24, and Jarell Eddie provides a decent threat from the perimeter. But no one else scores more than 10 for Tech, and Maryland dominates the boards on the way to their first ACC win.
Maryland – 78, Virginia Tech – 68