2006-07 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. UNC-Greensboro

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Following their huge win in Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke, Virginia
Tech will head back to the Tar Heel State once again tonight. The Hokies will
play the UNC Greensboro Spartans in the Greensboro Coliseum, and a victory would
set Tech up with a big ACC matchup with the #1 North Carolina Tar Heels on
Saturday.

UNC Greensboro is one of the top teams in the Southern Conference, and they
have the star power in their starting lineup to win their conference if they
play well. They feature two candidates for First Team All-Conference, one of
which is the best big man in the league.

UNC-G doesn’t feature the biggest lineup in college basketball, but they do
have a tough inside-out game that is hard to handle. Here’s a look at their
starters.

UNC
Greensboro Starting Lineup
Position Name Height Weight Year Points Rebounds

G

Dwayne Johnson

5-9
180
Jr.
4.9 2.8

G

Ricky Hickman

6-3
175
Sr.
14.9 3.6

G

Mikko Koivisto

6-4
195
Fr.
7.6 2.6

F

Ben Stywall

6-5
210
Fr.
6.1 7.6

F

Kyle Hines

6-6
230
Jr.
21.5 10.1

Kyle Hines is the best player on the team, and perhaps the best player in the
Southern Conference. Hines isn’t overly tall, but he is very physical, just the
type of player that typically gives Virginia Tech trouble. He has 28 career
double-doubles. Coleman Collins will have to continue to play as hard
defensively as he did against Josh McRoberts last Saturday.

Ricky
Hickman entered the season as the other star on the Spartan roster, but despite
putting up nice statistics this year, he hasn’t been nearly as good as hoped.
Hickman averaged 18.7 points and 4.3 rebounds last season, but those numbers
have dropped significantly so far this season. In fact, in UNC Greensboro’s
eight losses, Hickman has averaged just 10.1 points.

Hickman’s shooting has been downright awful in Spartan losses this year. For
the season he is shooting 36.7% from the field and 30.4% from three-point range.
But in losses, he is just 24.8% from the field (26-of-105) and 21.2% from
three-point range (11-of-52). An obvious key to this game is slowing down Ricky
Hickman.

It could be tough for the Hokies to shut down Hines, as they generally
struggle against physical players on the inside. Instead, shutting down UNC
Greensboro’s outside game could be more important.

The Spartans have a few guys who can really light it up from the outside.
Mikko Koivisto shoots 40.6% from the outside, while Kendall Toney is a 44.8%
shooter from three-point range. Starting point guard Dwayne Johnson hits at a
38.5% clip. And while Ricky Hickman has struggled for much of the season, he is
capable of heating up at any moment.

Dwayne Johnson isn’t much of a scoring threat at point guard, but he can
handle the basketball. He has 73 assists, compared to just 34 turnovers in 15
games this season. As a team, the Spartans have turned the ball over 231 times,
compared to 194 assists.

UNC Greensboro has a good mix of youth and experience. Part of their problem
last season was lack of depth, but their five returning starters and a good
freshman class have solved that problem. Their freshman class was so good in
fact that a couple of newcomers have already pushed into the starting lineup.

The Spartans are getting very good production from freshmen Mikko Koivisto
and Ben Stywall. Koivisto is the third-leading scoring on the team, while
Stywall is the fifth-leading scorer and second-best rebounder.

UNC-Greensboro is just 7-8 on the year, but they could be much better. The
Spartans have lost some very close games this year, including 82-80 in overtime
at Marshall, 66-63 to a very good Davidson team, 95-93 to NC State and 57-54 to
Western Carolina. Because of their close loss to NC State, they will not be
intimidated by the Hokies.

Virginia Tech does have the advantage of more preparation time. The Hokies
took Sunday off and resumed practice on Monday. Meanwhile, UNC-Greensboro beat
Elon 72-68 in a close game that went down to the wire on Monday night.

Despite what many of us thought when we first saw this game on the schedule,
this isn’t an easy win for the Hokies. They will have to earn it.

Bourbonstreet’s View

Several preseason magazines picked the UNC-Greensboro Spartans to win the
Northern Division of the Southern Conference, and a few even picked UNC-G to
flat out win the Southern Conference. So after a very lackluster 7-8 start, what
gives?

Let’s try inverse deductive reasoning. Clearly the probable Southern
Conference player of the year and possible professional small forward, junior
Kyle Hines, is not part of the problem. Hines leads the Southern Conference in
scoring and rebounding and has raised his seasonal averages in each category
this year.

Returning five starters from last years team is not part of the problem, nor
is Spartan health, nor is being ranked 46th in FG% allowed in D-1. But senior
Guard Ricky Hickman, who was tabbed by several as the Southern Conference
preseason defender of the year, has seen his shooting decline in FG%, 3-point%,
and in FT%. Subsequently, Hickman’s scoring has dropped by over four points per
game.

In addition to Hickman’s shooting slump, the Spartans play 4 different
ballers approximately 75% of the game. So fatigue is an issue, and fatigue tends
to breed injuries down the road. Further complicating matters was a fairly
rugged opening schedule that included 4 out of 5 away games to start the year.
On top of that, the Spartans have dropped four games by 3 points or less. So UNC-G
could and possibly should be a 10-4 team or thereabouts. In other words � this
is a dangerous team that is catching the Hokies in-between Duke and the real UNC
in Blacksburg next Saturday.

UNC-G is a better team than their record suggests, quite possibly an
NIT-caliber team when 2007 is all said and done. When the Hokies have been
beaten away from Cassell they have a -13 rebounding margin, and a downright
indigent 22% 3-point percentage to show for it. Tech’s scoring drops by 8 points
per game, via a 7% dip from the floor, and a 17% plummet from 19-9. Those are
your two in-game indicators. Rebounding margin and 3-point shooting, they will
tell Tech’s visiting tale.

Virginia Tech 59 UNC-G 58

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