SCOUTING THE HOKIES
Tech's unexected 7-0 start has been fueled by health, a core of returning veterans and an offense that is averaging more than 86 points per game. The Hokies were expected to be in something of a rebuilding mode after firing prickly head coach Seth Greenberg, who produced just one NCAA tournament berth in his nine years on the job, but new boss James Johnson has put together a team that shoots the ball well (48% from the field, 78% from the line) and maximizes its possessions by not turning the ball over.
The backcourt is particularly productive, where senior Erick Green (6-4) leads the scoring parade with 24.9 points per outing. He's not a shot hog, though -- he's averaging fewer than 14 attempts per game. He's built his gaudy average by a combination of great marksmanship (51% from the field, 87% from the line) and excellent shot selection. He also leads the team with 31 assists, showing that he is hitting the open man when he's covered and not forcing shots.
Sophomore running mate Robert Brown (6-5) contributes 13.4 points per game, and makes Green even more dangerous by providing a second perimeter scoring threat. Brown doesn't shoot it quite as well as Green, but his 39% success rate from three-point range means he has to be attended to, which forces defenses to spread out across the floor. That creates driving lanes and space for passes to the interior, making the Hokies very difficult to defend.
Junior forward Eddie Jarrell (6-7) is an inside-outside threat who also helps spread the floor. His 19 threes lead the team and help yield 17 points per game. All that time outside does hurt his offensive rebounding (he has but five on the season), but he pulls in a team best 7.4 per game overall. The tougher interior work is handled by junior center Cadarian Raines (6-9) and sophomore forward C.J. Barksdale. Raines averages nine points and seven rebounds, and fills his role as a cleanup guy in the lane very effectively. Twenty of his 49 rebounds are of the offensive variety, and he protects the ball well, suffering just nine turnovers on the season. Barksdale (6-9) adds 5.6 boards and 4.4 boards per outing.
Sophomore guard Marquis Rankin (6-1) has seen his minutes rise of late, tallying 20 against Appalachian State and a like number against Oklahoma State. He has not been a scoring threat, and has instead concentrated on eating minutes and running the team while Green and Brown get breathers. Fellow soph Will Johnston is a designated sniper off the bench, taking all 15 of his shots from beyond the arc. He's made nine, which means he has to be accounted for whenever he checks in.
A pair of freshmen have provided the bulk of support in the frontcourt. Marshall Wood (6-8) is actually getting more run than Barksdale, as he sees more than 21 minutes per game. He averages 6.4 points and 5.6 rebounds, giving Tech another active player in its rotation. Freshman forward Joey van Zegeren (6-10), a native of the Netherlands, has been very good in his role, making 63% of his shots in 13 minutes of action per game.
West Virginia accomplished its first goal of the week in knocking off Marshall, but it has to get a win over the Hokies in order to bolster its non-conference RPI.
The Herd might or might not provide that boost depending on how its season plays out, but Tech's good start and wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa would certainly provide the ratings boost that WVU needs.
WVU 3-3, 0-0
VT 7-0, 0-0
WVU - 150
VT - 57
To get there, West Virginia must play its best defense of the season. The Mountaineers got some work in covering the three-point line against Marshall, but the Herd didn't have the inside players to pitch the ball to when WVU fanned out defensively. Tech does, so communication and fundamentals will play a big role in this game. West Virginia can't leave players unguarded when the ball swings to the opposite side of the court or inside. It has to try to deny the ball to Green, as that's the most effective way to keep him out of the scoring column, and it can't allow Tech to get second chance points on offense. The Hokies are likely going to score enough on their initial shots, given their excellent shootin percentages, and WVU can't count on them bricking free throws either. The Mountaineers will also have to eliminate the silly fouls that have placed foes in the bonus very early -- if Tech gets to the line 20 or more times, it's likely going to improve to 8-0.
Offensively, WVU will try to get the ball inside again, as it did against the Herd, but watch for more emphasis on pushing the ball upcourt quickly. Obviously, that depends on the defense, but West Virginia has to be able to match Tech's scoring pace, and it's not going to outshoot the visitors. The Mountaineers will also have to use every possession wisely, and perhaps scrape out an advantage in that area. Tech has forced just 11 turnovers per game this year, and is averaging fewer than six steals per game. If West Virginia can get into double digits in steals and limit Tech to one shot per possession, it's going to have a much better chance to get a win.
A final factor to watch is Tech's reaction to a hostile venue. The Hokies have played just one road game to date, and that was at UNC Greensboro. The wins over Iowa and Oklahoma State, while impressive, did come at Cassell Coliseum. That doesn't taint those victories in any way, but Tech hasn't been tested on the road yet. How will they handle a sold out WVU Coliseum and fans that view them with disdain?
Tech head coach James Johnson has won his first seven games, but that's just the fourth-best such start in Hokie history. Monk Younger (1920-21, 8-0), H.P. Sanborn (1916-17, 11-0) and Branch Babcock (1909-11, 19-0) all are ahead of him on that list. Their schedules may have been as home friendly as Johnson's, who will play just two true road games prior to the ACC season.
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WVU is 61-3 at home against non-conference teams in the last 10 years. It has lost one once to a non-conference foe at home in its last 43 outings. That lone defeat came last year, when the Mountaineers dropped a 70-60 decision to Kent State.
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Bob Huggins had the best scoring output of his career against Tech. WVU needed every one of his 28 points to record a 74-73 home win against the Hokies on Dec. 1, 1976.
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A quick look at the Hokie roster reveals just one scholarshipped senior and two juniors, but the fact is that the list is studded with experience. Tech's returning players have accounted for 314 game appearances, including 110 career starts, entering the 2012-13 season. Add in the seven games they have played this year, and it's clear that "been there, done that" has been a big factor in Tech's great start.