After taking the week off, Virginia Tech will play BYU in Salt Lake City on Saturday. The Hokies hope to play much better than they did in their last outing against Colorado State.
These teams met last year in Cassell Coliseum. It was a back-and-forth game, with the Cougars eventually claiming a 70-68 victory. Erick Green’s inside shot was blocked with three seconds left, and then Robert Brown’s last second three-point attempt was no good. BYU escaped, went on to the NCAA Tournament, while the Hokies suffered through a difficult season.
The program: BYU has made six consecutive NCAA Tournaments. They advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2011, and made the second round last season.
The coach: Dave Rose is in his eighth season in Provo. He led the Cougars to the NIT in his first season, and the NCAA Tournament every season over the last six years. In all seven seasons as a head coach, Rose has won at least 20 games. He is clearly one of the best and most under-appreciated coaches in the country.
That’s all that really needs to be said. BYU is an underrated program, they are well-coached, and odds are they’ll be playing in the NCAA Tournament again in March. They are currently ranked #36 in the RPI.
The BYU Players
BYU has started eight different players this season, so we’ll just take a quick look at their usual playing rotation. First, the three key players…
G Matt Carlino (6-2, 175, So.): Carlino runs BYU’s offense. Though he’s not a particularly good shooter in his own right, he leads the team with 53 assists this season.
F Brandon Davies (6-9, 235, Sr.): Davis is a very talented and skilled power forward. He averages 20.3 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game. He can shoot the ball very well. He’ll be a difficult matchup for the Hokies.
G Tyler Haws (6-5, 200, So.): Haws averages 19.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. He is BYU’s best outside shoot. He’s also automatic from the free throw line, going 59-of-62 (95.2%) this season.
A team is only as good as its role players, and the Cougars have a solid bench to work with…
Brock Zylstra (6-6, 210, Sr.): The experienced senior plays 23.2 minutes per game on the wing. He averages 6.8 points per game. He’s a solid outside shooter, and a good overall player.
Craig Cusick (6-2, 185, Sr.): Another experienced senior on the perimeter, Cusick has 33 assists on the season while playing 23.6 minutes per game. He can play either position in the BYU backcourt.
Josh Sharp (6-7, 185, So.): Sharp plays just over 20 minutes per game, and he’s contributing 4.5 points and 4.5 boards per contest. He does all his work inside the three-point line, having not attempted an outside shot this season.
Nate Austin (6-11, 230, So.): Austin plays nearly 14 minutes per game, and he has excellent size on the inside.
This is a good BYU rotation. They have star power in Davies and Haws, and a solid and experienced bench. They are a confident team that is 7-0 at home this season, though technically this game is on a neutral court.
Who are the Hokies?
I’ve seen three different Virginia Tech teams this year.
1: A really good VT team that whipped Iowa and Oklahoma State.
2: A solid, but unspectacular team that beat the non-conference teams they should have beaten.
3: A bad basketball team that lost to Georgia Southern at home, and got crushed by Colorado State.
Which is the real one? I’m concerned about the direction things are heading. The Hokies haven’t played well since they beat Oklahoma State. Their shooting has dropped off, the flu bug has passed through the team, and whatever shot in the arm they received with the new coaching change appears to have worn off.
Tech’s offense, which was lights out at the beginning of the season, is starting to struggle. Tech doesn’t get the ball inside to their big men, who seem to have been relegated to the less glamorous duty of setting screen after screen for Erick Green at the top of the key. Robert Brown has been completely ineffective since his bout with the flu, and with only Green and Jarrell Eddie scoring in double figures recently, the Hokies have become easy to defend.
I don’t think BYU is a good matchup for Virginia Tech, unless the Hokies get their offensive mojo back. Tech doesn’t rebound well enough, or defend well enough, to win games unless they are scoring. That was a problem that got them beaten badly by Colorado State, and it nearly lost them the Bradley game as well.
How good are the Hokies? Not as good as the team we saw against Iowa and Oklahoma State. However, they aren’t as bad as the team we saw Colorado State, either. They’ve got to get back on track offensively, they’ve got to completely kick the flu bug (if they haven’t already), and they’ve got to get their confidence back.
Unfortunately, this will be a very difficult game to accomplish those goals. BYU is a very good team, they’ve played good competition, and they are playing in what amounts to a home game. The Hokies will have to play their best game of the season to win, most likely.
Tipoff is on Saturday at 2pm, and the game will be televised by ESPNU.