2012-13 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. #15 Oklahoma State

, TechSideline.com, on November 30, 2012
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After passing their first test against Iowa this past week, the Hokies now move on to a greater challenge: unbeaten #15 Oklahoma State.  The Cowboys will head to Cassell Coliseum for a Saturday afternoon game that unfortunately won’t be televised because there were no available time slots, thanks to the abundance of college football games.

Virginia Tech has defeated Oklahoma State three times in the last two years.

November 26, 2010: 56-51 in Anaheim, CA
November 25, 2011: 59-57 in Madison Square Garden
December 31, 2011: 67-61 in Stillwater, OK

Tech faced the Cowboys in a neutral site tournament last season, and also played in Stillwater in the first game of a home-and-home series.  Oklahoma State returns the favor this year, visiting Blacksburg for the first time in school history.

The Cowboys are ranked #15 for a reason.  They are 5-0 on the season, and they won the Puerto Rico Tip-Off event two weeks ago.  Here’s a look at their results thus far:

73-65 win over #72 UC Davis (Stillwater)
69-65 OT win over #135 Akron (Puerto Rico)
65-42 win over #137 Tennessee (Puerto Rico)
76-56 win over #11 NC State (Puerto Rico)
81-58 win over #149 Portland State (Stillwater)

Because they’ve played a tough RPI schedule, the Cowboys currently rank #8 in the StatSheet.com RPI.  Boosting that number is the fact that they have three neutral site wins.  Saturday’s game in Blacksburg will be their first road game of the season.

Travis Ford is the head coach at Oklahoma State.  He made the NCAA Tournament his first two years, then made an appearance in the NIT, and then suffered through a 15-18 season last year.  The fans were getting restless, as the program seemed to be steadily declining.  However, a quick 5-0 start and a national ranking have folks talking about the Cowboys again, and Ford probably feels a lot better about his future.

The Cowboys

Oklahoma State had some bad luck earlier this season when senior wing Jean-Paul Olukemi tore his ACL.  Olukemi tore his ACL last year as well (against Virginia Tech, actually), so he’s having all sorts of bad luck at the end of his career.

Also, starting center Philip Jurick (6-11, 260, Sr.) might miss tomorrow’s game.  Jurick took an elbow to the face during practice this past week.  It split his upper lip in half, and he required 12 stitches.  Nevertheless, we’ll list Jurick as a starter because he will be a game time decision.

G Marcus Smart (6-4, 225, Fr.): Smart was the jewel of Travis Ford’s 2012 recruiting class.  The 5-star recruit is averaging 13.4 points and seven rebounds per game thus far, and he also leads the team with 29 assists and 12 steals.  Smart is a big, physical guard who can get to the glass and earn trips to the free throw line.

G Markel Brown (6-3, 190, Jr.): Averaging 14.6 ppg and 5.2 rebounds, Brown is one of the nation’s most athletic guards.  He is also perhaps the best rebounding 6-3 guard nationally.  He had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting last year against Virginia Tech.

F Le’Bryan Nash (6-7, 230, So.): Nash averages 19.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.  He is a very talented combo forward.  However, he struggled in two meetings last season against the Hokies.  In the first game, he had no points and no rebounds in 11 minutes.  In the second meeting, he had four points and four rebounds in 33 minutes.  Nash and Jarell Eddie will be going head to head in this one.  Eddie needs to have a good game against the bigger player.

F Kamari Murphy (6-8, 215, Fr.): Murphy is the second freshman starter for Oklahoma State, and he’s averaging just over 25 minutes per game.  He’s averaging five points and 6.8 rebounds per game.  As a freshman, he’s struggling to finish around the rim (shooting 36% on the year), but he’s giving the Cowboys quality minutes.

C Philip Jurick (6-11, 260, Sr.): Jurick could miss the game with his lip injury.  He averages just over 17 minutes per game.  He’s not much of a scorer, at only three points per game, but he does pull down an average of five rebounds, and he clearly takes up a lot of space.

Oklahoma State doesn’t have a huge bench, much like Virginia Tech.  Phil Forte (5-11,195, Fr.) plays 27 minutes per game, and averages 11.4 points.  He is Oklahoma State’s best outside threat, knocking down 50% of his three-pointers so far this season.  Kirby Gardner (6-2, 200, Jr.) also plays around 11 minutes per game, though he’s averaging less than two points per game.

That’s only seven players in Oklahoma State’s rotation, and if Jurick misses the game they will be down to six players.  This is a good team, but clearly there are depth issues.  This could be the only team on the schedule all season that has a shorter bench than the Hokies.  Foul trouble could be a major issue for both teams.

To me, this game comes down to the matchup in the backcourt: Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash vs. Erick Green, Robert Brown and Jarell Eddie.  Both trios are playing at a very high level this season.  However, if Philip Jurick misses the game, expect Nash to slide down and start in the post for Oklahoma State.  In that case, it would be C.J. Barksdale’s responsibility to keep Nash off the glass and to limit his points.  That might be a better scenario for the Hokies, because if the bigger Nash managed to get Eddie in foul trouble, that would be bad for Virginia Tech.

If Jurick misses this game, then three of Oklahoma State’s remaining six rotation players would be freshmen, and they would all be playing in their first road game.

By the numbers …

Here is a comparison of both teams, according to TeamRankings.com:

Power rating: VT #45, Oklahoma State #11

Virginia Tech is a top 50 team, but because of their better schedule and neutral site wins, Oklahoma State is in the top 15.  Statistically, here’s how they match up:

Offensive efficiency: VT #13, Oklahoma State #77
Defensive efficiency: VT #144, Oklahoma State #20
Floor percentage: VT #19, Oklahoma State #78
Opponent floor percentage: VT #155, Oklahoma State #16
Effective field goal percentage: VT #15, Oklahoma State #134
Opponent effective field goal percentage: VT #126, Oklahoma State #13
True shooting percentage: VT #8, Oklahoma State #65
Opponent true shooting percentage: #86, Oklahoma State #10

Rather than using regular statistics to make comparisons this year, we’re going to use some more advanced data.  Clearly Virginia Tech has been a very good offensive team this year, ranking in the top 20 nationally in all of the categories above.  On the other hand, Oklahoma State has been very good on the defensive end.  Here’s a guide for the categories listed above:

Efficiency ratings: The average amount of points scored by a basketball team per shot taken

Floor percentage: The percentage of a team’s possessions that are scoring possessions.  For example, if a team scores on four out of eight possessions, then their floor percentage is 50%.

Effective field goal percentage: This statistic adjusts for the fact that a 3-point field goal is worth one point more than a 2-point field goal. For example, suppose Player A goes 4 for 10 with 2 threes, while Player B goes 5 for 10 with 0 threes. Each player would have 10 points from field goals, and thus would have the same effective field goal percentage (50%).

True shooting percentage: True shooting percentage is a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.

A Big Game

Clearly this is a big game for Virginia Tech.  If the Hokies run their record to 7-0, with wins over Iowa and undefeated and ranked Oklahoma State, would Virginia Tech break into the top 25 next week?  They would at least get strong consideration from a lot of voters.

A win over Oklahoma State would also be a resume building non-conference win.  Or not.  I think Oklahoma State is a talented team, but like Virginia Tech, they are an injury away from being not being particularly good.  If the Cowboys lost Nash, Smart or Brown, they would be in some trouble, just as Tech would be in trouble if they lost Green, Brown or Eddie.

It’s still much too early to be thinking about resumes.  Virginia Tech should be taking things one game at a time.  If they can knock off Oklahoma State tomorrow and pick up a win over a top 25 team, I think the fanbase would start to get excited.

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