2007-08 Basketball Game Preview: Liberty at Virginia Tech

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Virginia Tech vs. Liberty
Tip-off: 7pm
TV Coverage: None

Virginia Tech returns home on Wednesday night to take on the Liberty Flames
in another out-of-conference matchup in Cassell Coliseum. The Flames enter the
game with an even record of 5-5, and they’d like nothing better than to steal
a road win from a young ACC team.

Liberty is coached by Ritchie McKay, who may be the most well-traveled young
coach in the nation. McKay, who is just 42, has had head coaching stints at
Portland State, Colorado State, Oregon State, New Mexico and now Liberty. He has
a career record of 165-158. He led New Mexico to a 26-7 record with a berth in
the NCAA tournament in 2005.

He has some experienced players to work with at Liberty, and he’s got them
playing pretty well in his first season. Here is a look at his starting lineup.

Starting Lineup
Position Name Height Weight Year Points Rebounds Assists
TeeJay Bannister
5-11 176 Sr. 8.7 2.1 6.1
B.J. Jenkins
6-0 178 So. 11.9 4.2 3.2
Anthony Smith
6-5 215 Jr. 13.3 4.2 0.9
Rell Porter
6-7 195 Sr. 6.2 3.3 1.1
Alex McLean
6-8 235 Sr. 16.7 8.6 1.2

The first thing you need to know about Liberty is that they like to shoot the
three-pointer. They have attempted 210 three-pointers this year in 10 games.
That’s over 40% of their overall attempts from the field. The Hokies have
played excellent perimeter defense at home this season, and they need to
continue that trend against the Flames.

You probably remember T.J. Bannister, who saw some starting time as UVA’s
point guard before the arrival of Sean Singletary. Well, it’s now TeeJay
Bannister, and he’s now the starting point guard for Liberty after
transferring from UVA to escape the Singletary shadow.

Bannister isn’t one of Liberty’s top outside threats. He’s taken just
15 outside shots this year, and hit just three of them. He can take it to the
glass, and he can distribute, dishing out a team-high 55 assists this year.
However, Bannister also has a tendency to turn the ball over. He’s given it up
41 times in the nine games that he’s played.

As a team, Liberty has more turnovers than assists. The Flames are averaging
15.3 turnovers per game. As we get deeper into the season, the Hokies aren’t
likely to come out on top in turnover margin very often, but they’ve got a good
chance to do that tonight.

With Alex McLean on the inside, Liberty has good balance on offense. He is a
major inside threat that goes hand in hand with their outside shooters. McLean
is leading the team in scoring and rebounding, averaging 16.7 points and 8.6
boards per game. McLean is a late bloomer who was just 6-2 as a high school
senior. He is a JUCO transfer in his second year at Liberty.

McLean had 12 double-doubles in 31 games last year for the Flames. However,
Wednesday night he’ll get to meet Jeff Allen. That should be a great
rebounding war.

Anthony Smith (13.3 ppg) and B.J. Jenkins (11.9 ppg) are also good scorers
for Liberty. They’ve also combined to attempt 104 three-pointers on the
season. With one inside player, one point guard and three wings, the Flamers are
a typical small conference team.

Liberty has two things going against them. First of all, they don’t have a
lot of depth. Only eight players get more than 10 minutes of playing time. Three
players average over 30 minutes per game, and a fourth is checking in at 28.4.
They can be worn down by Tech’s superior talent and athleticism.

Perhaps Liberty’s top weakness is their rebounding. The Flames average just
30.2 rebounds per game, and are being out-rebounded by over two per game. On the
other side, the Hokies are a strong rebounding team with Jeff Allen on the
court. Tech is out-rebounding their opponents by over five rebounds per games,
and they’ve played better teams than Liberty.

If he stays out of foul trouble, Jeff Allen can have a big game. Expect
Liberty to mix in some zones to protect the inside. However, that could provide
Allen and others a chance to get to the offensive glass. Another double-double
from Allen is definitely a possibility.

The biggest key for the Hokies will be how well they fight through screens
and contest outside jumpers. Like the Hokies, Liberty likes low-scoring games,
so if Tech’s offense can finally break out and score over 70 points, chances
are good that they’ll be 6-4 heading into Sunday’s game at Wake Forest.

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