2007-08 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Wake Forest

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Virginia Tech (6-4) at Wake Forest (7-3)
Tip-Off: 5:30pm
TV Coverage: FoxSportsNet

Virginia Tech’s young basketball players will get their first look at an ACC
team on Sunday when they travel to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest. The
Hokies have beaten Wake Forest three times in a row, including a December
matchup in Cassell Coliseum last season. Unfortunately this game is on the road,
where the Hokies have struggled defensively so far this season.

Wake Forest is coached by Dino Gaudio, who took over following Skip Prosser’s
tragic death this past summer. Gaudio has his young Demon Deacons playing well
defensively early in the season. They will be a major challenge for the Hokies,
who aren’t exactly re-writing the offensive record books.

Here is a look at Wake’s starting lineup, which features no seniors. In fact,
there isn’t a single senior on their entire roster.

Wake Forest
Starting Lineup
Position Name Height Weight Year PPG RPG Assists
Ishmael Smith
6-0 165 So. 7.9 3.9 40
Harvey Hale
6-2 190 Jr. 10.5 2 12
L.D. Williams
6-4 205 So. 10.7 5.2 12
James Johnson
6-8 235 Fr. 12.3 10 13
Chas McFarland
7-0 225 So. 7.3 4.6 4

First of all, Virginia Tech must stop the dribble penetration of Ishmael
Smith. He is a cat-quick point guard who took his lumps as a freshman, but has a
bright future in Winston-Salem. Smith isn’t a great shooter (41.8% from the
field, 36% from the outside), but he specializes in getting to the basket, and
either scoring or dishing.

The Hokies can’t be afraid to foul the smallish Smith and make him score at
the free throw line. This is almost hard to believe, but Smith is only 4-of-20
from the free throw line this year. That’s 20%, an unheard of conversion rate
for a guard. He shot just 46.2% from the line last season. If this game is tight
at the end, and the Hokies have to foul, Smith will be their target.

They key to stopping Smith is stopping his dribble penetration. Hank
Thorns needs to have a better performance than he had against Brandon Johnson of
ODU. If he doesn’t, then Malcolm Delaney will draw that assignment.

Wake Forest doesn’t use a true small forward in their rotation, instead
opting to go with three guards. Harvey Hale and L.D. Williams play out on the
wing for the Demon Deacons, and they are both good players. Williams is a former
Virginia Tech recruiting target who started every game as a freshman for Wake
Forest last season.

Williams has a little bit of Jamon Gordon in him. He’s not the greatest
shooter in the world, but he’s a strong player who can get to the glass. He can
hit pull up jumpers, and he is a very strong rebounder for his size, averaging
5.2 boards per game.

Harvey Hale is not a great three-point shooter, but he is very dangerous when
he gets in a groove. He is shooting 36.8% from the outside on the season, but
he’s streaky. Against Georgia Tech in last year’s ACC tournament, he was 5-of-6
from three-point range. The next night against Virginia Tech, he was 0-of-4 from
the outside. He is capable of playing some point guard, but he’s most suited to the
2-guard position.

So far this year, Hale has gone 5-of-6, 2-of-6, 0-of-5, 0-of-3, 2-of-5,
2-of-8, 0-of-3, 2-of-6, and 4-of-9 from three-point range. The Hokies need to
hold him to one of those 0-of-5 or 2-of-8 performances. If he goes 5-of-6 or
4-of-9, that’s a good sign that Tech isn’t fighting through screens and playing
decent perimeter defense.

Tech fans have been talking up the performance of Jeff Allen this year, but
Wake Forest has a freshman big man who has been just as impressive, if not more.
James Johnson is averaging a double-double for the Demon Deacons, and is
probably the best player on the team in his freshman year.

Johnson is a very impressive athlete. He boasts a 41-inch vertical jump. His
father was is Willie Johnson, a former world kickboxing champion. James is a
chip off the old block who is 21-0 in martial arts competition. The Hokies must
get physical with Johnson on the inside. Like Jeff Allen, he is a 20-year old
true freshman.

Wake Forest has solid depth with freshman guard Jeff Teague and sophomore
forward Jamie Skeen. Teague has been very impressive as a true freshman,
averaging 8.7 points per game. He is tops on the team with 22 steals on the
year. Skeen is a power forward with small forward shooting ability. He is 35.3%
from the outside this year.

Freshman guard Gary Clark, a former Tech recruiting target, has seen action
in eight of the 10 games. He has averaged 11.1 minutes in the games he has
played, but his playing time has dropped recently. He didn’t play at all in
Wake’s recent win over South Florida, and saw just three minutes two games ago
against Bucknell.

Only one player is on the court for more than 30 minutes a game for Wake, but
they only play seven or eight guys as part of their regular rotation. No one
carries a big load offensively, but everyone who plays is dangerous.

Let’s take a look at how the teams compare statistically.

Category VT WF Advantage

FG %
45.2% 41.2% VT

FG % Defense
40.4% 38.5% WF

3-Pt. %
38.2% 30.2% VT

3-Pt. % Defense
35.8% 30.7% WF

FT %
66.3% 65% VT

TO Per Game
12.8 16 VT

Ast. Per Game
13.2 12.1 VT

Rebounding Margin
+5.2 +2.3 VT

Scoring Offense
66.8 ppg 69.6 ppg WF

Scoring Defense
59.2 ppg 60.1 ppg VT

Virginia Tech appears to have the advantage in most of those categories.
However, let’s take a look at how the Hokies have performed away from Cassell
Coliseum this season.

VT Away from Cassell
Category Stat

FG %

FG % Defense

3-Pt. %

3-Pt. % Defense

Interestingly enough, the Hokies are shooting the ball better away from
Cassell Coliseum. Their shooting percentages on the road or on neutral courts
are a bit higher than their overall shooting percentage. However, defensively there
is a huge dropoff. Tech’s field goal percentage defense on the road is over 6% higher
than their overall mark, and their three-point defense is almost 8% higher.
That’s a big difference. Also, remember that Wake Forest is undefeated at home
this year.

Virginia Tech has to keep this game in the 60’s to have a good chance to win.
The Hokies have only broken the 70 point barrier once this season. Wake is
playing excellent defense so far this year, so I doubt VT will have a breakout
offensive performance on Sunday. However, the Demon Deacons aren’t exactly an
offensive powerhouse either. If both teams come to play, expect a low-scoring
game. It would be big if Tech could begin ACC play with a road win.

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