2005-06 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Florida State

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Virginia Tech will play the first of 15 consecutive ACC games when they travel to Tallahassee to take on Florida State in the Donald L. Tucker Center on Saturday night. The Seminoles are off to a solid start on the season, standing at 9-2 overall and 0-1 in ACC play. They have suffered two close defeats to Florida and Clemson but have shown great improvements over last year’s team, which was one of the worst in the ACC.

The Seminoles haven’t played a very tough schedule thus far, but most other ACC teams haven’t either. Like the other schools, FSU’s season will be determined by how they do in conference play. They are deep and they play very good defense, which is a good recipe for success in any conference. Even in their two losses, they have played good defense for the majority of the game. They are also capable on the offensive end. They blew out Purdue 97-57 earlier in the season in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Their most impressive victory was arguably a 74-60 win over a 10-3 Nebraska team last weekend.

Head coach Leonard Hamilton has used a lot of players in the early going, but that appears to be changing as his team enters ACC play. Todd Galloway leads the team in minutes per game at 27.2, and 11 players average double figures in minutes played. But against Clemson on Wednesday night, Galloway played 37 minutes, one of three FSU players to play over 30 minutes. Only eight Seminoles played ten minutes or more. Hamilton used the out-of-conference portion of the schedule to figure out his best lineups, and many backups will not see the court as much. For example, former Virginia Tech recruiting target Uche Echefu is averaging 11.2 minutes per game, but played only one minute against Clemson.

Florida State will likely start a three guard lineup against Virginia Tech. Todd Galloway is the leader of the backcourt. Undersized at 5-11, 178, Galloway runs the point for the Seminoles and averages 8.1 points per game. He has 39 assists and 23 turnovers on the season. His 27 steals in just 11 games shows that he is a very capable defender with quick hands. Galloway shoots 44.3% from the floor, but just 30.8% from three-point range. He is also a poor free throw shooter at 52.8%.

6-3 sophomore Jason Rich joins Galloway in the backcourt. Rich is the leading scorer among FSU’s guards, averaging ten points per game. He is shooting 46.5% from the field. He doesn’t appear to be a threat from three-point range, hitting just 20.8% of his shots from downtown.

Isaiah Swann, a former Virginia Tech recruiting target out of Hargrave Military Academy, rounds out the backcourt with Rich and Galloway. Swann is averaging 7.9 points per game and shooting 50% from the field. He is only hitting 27.8% from three-point range, but that number is misleading, as he is a capable three-point shooter.

The leading scorer and rebounder for the Seminoles is 6-7, 208 forward Al Thornton. Thornton is averaging 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, despite playing just 23.9 minutes per game. That is very good production. He is shooting the ball very well at 55.8%. He has only taken ten three-pointers this season, but has hit six of them. He is also a capable free throw shooter at 74.6%.

The other inside player for the ‘Noles is 6-10, 250 center Alexander Johnson. Johnson played at Bridgton Academy in Maine, the same school as current Tech freshman Cheick Diakite and recent Tech commit Tyrone Appleton-Miller. Johnson is averaging 10.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. He has 11 blocks on the season, as well as 13 steals, which is a good mark for a center. Johnson is an athletic player who was highly thought of when he enrolled at FSU, ranked as the 16th best player in the country by Rivals. He is inconsistent, however. He played 30 minutes against Clemson on Wednesday night and did not have a rebound, which is practically unheard of for a 6-10, 250-pound center.

As a team, Florida State was thoroughly dominated by Clemson on the boards by a final margin of 42-28. Clemson was without one of their top inside players, James Mays, which makes the Seminoles’ performance look even worse. On the season, though, FSU has outrebounded teams 36.7 to 31.

FSU has been proficient offensively on the season, averaging 80.4 points per game and shooting 50.1% from the field. As a team they shoot 35.7% from three-point range. The hit 66.2% of their shots from the free throw line. They also play very good defense, allowing opponents to score just 61.6 points per game, while shooting 38.8%.

The Seminoles don’t appear to match up very well with Virginia Tech in assist-to-turnover ratio. FSU has 147 assists on the season while committing 187 turnovers (versus 197-161 for the Hokies). FSU does have a depth advantage, but it also appears that they will play fewer players in ACC games.

Throw all the statistics out the window right now. According to RealTimeRPI.com, Virginia Tech’s schedule is rated at 274, second from last in the ACC. Florida State’s schedule is ranked 316, last in the conference. The Hokies played well against Duke and Stanford, and FSU took Florida down to the wire, but there is really no way of telling how good these teams are when they have played schools like North Carolina A&T, Morgan State, Jacksonville and Texas Southern (those teams have combined for just one win) in their out-of-conference slates.

This is a very important game for each team’s tournament hopes. It would be especially big for the Hokies, as it would represent a win on the road against a Top 100 team in the RPI. Pulling off an ACC road win, after play Duke so tough in Durham, would be a great boost of confidence for the Hokies.

The game will be televised live on Fox SportsNet-Florida (FSN-FL) and will be tape-delayed at 11 pm on Comcast SportsNet (CSN).

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