2005-06 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Clemson

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Virginia Tech (12-10, 2-7 ACC) at Clemson (14-8, 3-6)

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006, 7:30 pm

TV: none

Special Preview Items:

Virginia Tech will travel south on Wednesday to take on the Clemson Tigers in
an ACC game that both teams need to win. The Hokies (12-10, 2-7) have had a
number of close losses this season and badly need a victory to jumpstart the
second half of ACC play. The Tigers (14-8, 3-6) are losers of five of their last
six games, all of which came against ACC competition. At one point in the season
both teams aspired for an NCAA Tournament berth, but right now it appears that
an NIT bid is most likely for Clemson. If the Hokies want to reach the NIT,
winning this game would be a big step in the right direction.

Virginia Tech and Clemson are very similar teams. They both start undersized
lineups, play tough, pressing defense and generate a lot of turnovers that they
turn into points. Both teams are offensively challenged at times, especially the
Tigers, who are the worst shooting team in the ACC. Let’s take a look at
Clemson’s top players, and how the teams matchup from a statistical
standpoint. (Note that team statistics are for conference games only. Player
statistics include all games.)

As noted above, Clemson is a terrible shooting team. The Tigers hit just
39.6% of their shots from the field. Virginia Tech holds the advantage in this
statistic, as the Hokies shoot 43.7% from the field. (You might not believe it,
but the Hokies rank sixth in the ACC in field goal percentage.) Clemson is
equally bad from behind the three-point line, hitting just 25.8% of their shots.
That is by far the worst mark in the ACC. Virginia Tech is 10th in three-point
shooting at 31.6%, but that number has been climbing the past few games.

The absolute worst Clemson statistic is their free throw shooting. The Tigers
shoot just 58.8% from the free throw line in ACC play, by far the worst in the
league. Virginia Tech is next-to-last at 64.8%, showing just how bad the Tigers
are from the charity stripe. Clemson guard Shawan Robinson shoots 93.5% from the
free throw line, the best mark in the ACC. The rest of the team is shooting just
51.1% in ACC play. Not only is this mark bad, but it is almost unbelievable for
a team of ACC basketball players.

Clemson’s bad shooting percentages translates into fewer points scored. The
Tigers are last in the ACC in scoring offense at 65.1 points per game. Virginia
Tech ranks ninth at 67.1 points per game.

Virginia Tech is the worst rebounding team in the league with a margin of
-7.1 per game. Clemson is next-to-last in the ACC with a margin of -4.6. Both
teams are undersized, and that explains these margins. It will be interesting to
see who can win this battle on Wednesday night, because it could potentially
decide the game.

Both teams force a lot of turnovers, and that helps to offset many rebounding
and shooting problems. Clemson notches 10.44 steals per game, second in the
league in conference play (behind Duke’s 11.11 per game). Virginia Tech is just
behind in third, averaging 9.44 steals. Clemson guard Vernon Hamilton is
averaging three steals per game in ACC play. The Hokies rank first in the ACC in
turnover margin at +6.11 per game. Clemson is third in this category at +2.78.

So as we can see, Clemson forces a lot of turnovers. What we don’t see is
that they have committed a lot themselves in ACC play. The Tigers have turned
the ball over 140 times in nine ACC games, compared to just 94 turnovers for
Virginia Tech in nine games. Clemson ranks last in the ACC in assist-to-turnover
ratio. The Hokies really need to focus on taking care of the basketball in this
game and taking care of the opportunities that Clemson gives them.

Clemson’s best player is Vernon Hamilton. The junior guard from Richmond,
VA leads the Tigers in scoring (12.7 ppg), assists (74) and steals (58).
Hamilton scores a lot of his points by driving the lane. He has hit 47.2% of his
shots this year, and 36.8% from three-point range. Hamilton and Tech’s Jamon
Gordon are perhaps the best on-ball defenders in the ACC.

The other starting guard is sophomore Cliff Hammonds. Hammonds is averaging
nine points per game and is really struggling with his shot this year after
enjoying a nice freshman season a year ago. He is shooting 38.2% from the field,
22.3% from three-point range and 43.2% from the free throw line.

Clemson will bring senior guard and second leading scorer Shawan Robinson off
the bench. Robinson is averaging 11.3 points per game on the season. Except for
his performance at the free throw line, Robinson is having a terrible year
shooting the basketball. He shot well his first two years at Clemson, but with
the departure of center Sharrod Ford, who often drew attention and double teams,
Robinson’s shooting has gone downhill. Robinson is 35.7% from the field and
29.4% from three-point range. In ACC play, those statistics have fallen to 33%
and 24.5%.

Watch Robinson, because he is very capable of having a big game. But his
inconsistencies have plagued him during his junior and senior seasons. He
started the first 17 games of his junior season, but came off the bench for the
final 15. He has started just three games this season, but averages 24.3 minutes
per game.

Clemson’s backcourt will fire up a lot of three-pointers during the game.
This is surprising because none of them are particularly good at shooting the
three-pointer. The Tigers have attempted a total of 512 outside shots this
season, while Virginia Tech has taken 321. Clemson has four players who have
attempted 72 or more three-pointers, while Zabian Dowdell is the only Hokie to
take more than 59 from the outside.

On the inside Clemson will start Akin Akingbala and Sam Perry. Akingbala is
third on the team in scoring at 10.2 points per game. He also averages seven
rebounds per game. Perry averages 6.5 points and 2.8 rebounds. Perry is
undersized at 6-5, 208, while Akingbala is 6-9, 240. The Hokies will not be at a
disadvantage from a size standpoint in this game.

Clemson’s frontcourt has been short since sophomore James Mays was declared
academically ineligible. Mays started the first 11 games of the season for
Clemson and was averaging 9.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He was heavily
recruited by Virginia Tech when he was in high school.

Clemson has most of their offensive success driving to the basket. When their
driving lanes are cutoff, they tend to just stand behind the perimeter and shoot
deep three-pointers. They have virtually no low post game. Most of the points
scored by their frontcourt come off offensive rebounds and dunks.

This is a very interesting game for the Hokies, and a very important one. The
two teams seem very even, with Tech holding a shooting advantage. However the
game is on the road at Littlejohn Coliseum, and road games are tough to win in
the ACC. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 and the game will not be televised.

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