The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team will get a chance to see how they stack up against a Pac-10 team on Saturday when they take on the Stanford Cardinal in the Las Vegas Shootout. The Hokies (7-3, 0-1) have been playing good basketball of late, losing to Duke on a halfcourt shot, blowing out North Carolina A&T, and defeating former Big East foe St. John’s. Stanford (2-3) has not enjoyed the same type of success.
The Cardinal returned three excellent starters from last year’s NCAA
Tournament team and were expected to be a force in the Pac-10. Those hopes haven’t yet materialized, as they have dropped games to three
out-of-conference teams that left observers scratching their heads.
Stanford hosted UC Irvine to open the season and got shocked at home 79-63. They rebounded with two wins against overmatched San Francisco and Cal Poly, but then went on the road and got ambushed by 6-1 Montana 88-69. They then traveled to UC Davis and lost 64-58 in a loss similar to the Hokies defeat at the hands of Bowling Green. UC Davis and Bowling Green have one win each on the season, against Stanford and Virginia Tech.
The loss to UC Davis came on December 4, so that means Stanford will have gone nearly two weeks without playing a game. They have not played good basketball at all and would like nothing more than to get their season back on track with a big win on ESPN against an ACC team.
Stanford has three outstanding seniors that they will rely on to beat the
Hokies. Center Matt Haryasz has had a great season, leading the Cardinal in
scoring (19ppg) and rebounding (11ppg). Haryasz will be the tallest player
on the court at 6-11, 230. He is shooting 49.2% on the year. Haryasz missed
the season opener against UC Irvine, and his absence is one of the reasons
the Cardinal lost that game. He is irreplaceable and his loss is equal to
the Hokies losing Coleman Collins for a short time in each of the past two
Point guard Chris Hernandez was named first team All-Pac-10 as a sophomore and junior. He is averaging 11 points, three rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. Hernandez is known on the west coast for his defensive prowess, and it will be interesting to see how he is used against the Hokies. He could be used to shadow the dangerous Zabian Dowdell on the perimeter or to stop the penetration of Jamon Gordon.
The third senior starter is guard/forward Dan Grunfeld. Grunfeld was named first team all-Pac-10 last season despite tearing his ACL on February 12 against California. He is a big perimeter player at 6-6, 220. He is
averaging 16 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He is an intelligent player
with a good feel for the game.
Like the Hokies, Stanford has a power forward with the body of a small
forward. Sophomore Taj Finger is 6-8, but weighs only 190. He averages
eight points and 5.2 rebounds per game. The matchup between Finger and
Deron Washington will be interesting to watch. The other starter is
sophomore Tim Morris, who averages 6.6 points per game. Morris, an Atlanta
native, played against Tech’s Wynton Witherspoon in high school, once
grabbing 20 rebounds against Witherspoon’s team.
At the risk of sounding like a basketball expert, I’ll point out that the
simple reason that Stanford is 2-3 is that they’ve executed poorly on
offense and defense. They are only shooting 41% from the field, 27.6% from
three-point range and 67.9% from the free-throw line. Meanwhile, their
opponents are shooting 46.4% from the field and 40.8% from three-point
rage. Considering the level of competition that the Cardinal have played,
that isn’t very good.
Looking at Stanford on the offensive end, only two starters are shooting
above 40% for the season. Haryasz is hitting 49.2% of his shots. Taj Finger
is shooting 63%, but he has only 27 attempts on the year. Dan Grunfeld
(36.5%), Chris Hernandez (34%) and Tim Morris (39.5%) have all had a bad
season shooting the ball. However they are capable of playing much better,
as Grunfeld and Hernandez shot better than 40% from three-point range alone
This is a very interesting game between two teams that I think are evenly
matched. Both teams have a productive center with the body of a power
forward, and their power forwards are extremely undersized. If the Hokies
base their gameplan in this season, they will pack the inside with
defenders to take away Haryasz. But don’t bet on Tech doing that because
Grunfeld and Hernandez have been very good three-point shooters in the
past. This game should be very close and will likely come down to the team
that makes the most plays at the end.