2012-13 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi Valley State

, TechSideline.com, on December 10, 2012
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Coming off their first loss of the season, Virginia Tech returns to Cassell Coliseum on Monday night for a home game with the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils.  If the Hokies win tonight, and win again on Saturday against Georgia Southern, they’ll head to Las Vegas with a 9-1 record.

Mississippi Valley State made the NCAA Tournament last season, and at one point during the year they had won 17 games in a row.  They lost to Western Kentucky 59-58 in one of the First Four games in Dayton, OH.

So far this season, the Delta Devils are off to an 0-5 start.  However, they’ve played a brutal schedule with road games at Ole Miss, Cincinnati, Northwestern, LSU, and UVA.  Their most recent loss came on Saturday in Charlottesville, and they’ll complete their tour of the Commonwealth tonight in Cassell Coliseum.

The Delta Devils have a new head coach this season.  Sean Woods departed for Morehead State, and Chico Potts was promoted from top assistant to head coach.  He is still in search of his first collegiate victory.

Mississippi Valley State and the RPI

According to StatSheet.com’s RPI, Mississippi Valley State currently ranks #81 in the country thanks to playing the nation’s toughest schedule so far, despite their 0-5 record.  After their 1-point loss at West Virginia on Saturday, the Hokies dropped to #96 in the RPI (WVU is #69).

So, according to the RPI, Virginia Tech – with wins over #35 Oklahoma State and #54 Iowa – is not ranked as high as Mississippi Valley State, who is 0-5 on the season.

That’s not a knock on the Delta Devils.  I’m just using it as an example of how flawed the RPI can be.  We all know the RPI doesn’t mean much in the month of December, but …

The Players

Mississippi Valley State’s starting lineup is expected to look like this:

G Darryl Marshall (5-11, 167, Jr.): 6.8 ppg, 3.5 apg.  46.2% three-point shooter.

G Davon Usher (6-6, 209, Jr.): 20.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg.  The leading scorer, and a 51.9% three-point shooter.

F Matt Smith (6-4, 181, Fr.): 7.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg.  Despite his lack of size, Smith is leading the Delta Devils in rebounding so far.

F Blake Ralling (6-6, 211, So.): 5.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg.  Ralling is a typical small conference power forward.  He can make outside jumpers, but he shouldn’t be tough to handle inside.

C Julius Francis (6-11, 255, Jr.): 8.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg.  Francis is the biggest player on Mississippi Valley State’s roster, and he will match up with Cadarian Raines.

The Delta Devils are capable of making shots.  Darryl Marshall and Davon Usher in particular have proven to be very reliable outside shooters.

Usher scored 35 points and made 7-of-8 three-point shots against Northwestern earlier this season.  He is a JUCO recruit who is originally from Baltimore, though he only averaged nine points per game for Polk State College last season.

Marshall is also a JUCO, originally from Memphis Tennessee.  He started off the season fairly strong, but has failed to score in his last two games.  His size really hurts him when he gets inside the three-point line.

Win the Games You Should Win

Mississippi Valley State isn’t going to help Virginia Tech in the computer numbers, but they could really hurt the Hokies if they manage to pull the upset.  I break the remaining non-conference schedule down into two parts:

Part 1: The games Tech should win at home.  If the Hokies beat Mississippi Valley State and Georgia Southern, they’ll be 9-1.  That would also mean an undefeated home record in the non-conference portion of their schedule.

Part 2: The toss-ups.  Tech will play Bradley in Las Vegas, and the Braves are 6-2 and ranked #100 in the RPI.  They narrowly lost to a highly-ranked Michigan team.  Tech will face either Colorado State (#27) or Portland (#267) in game #2 in Las Vegas.  Let’s hope it’s Colorado State.  After that they’ll head to Salt Lake City to play #68 BYU.

I’m counting on Virginia Tech winning tonight and Saturday to go to 9-1, and then I’m hoping they can close the non-conference portion of their schedule by winning two out of those last three games on neutral court.  If they can do that, then Tech will be 11-2 heading into ACC play.

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