2009-2010 Basketball Preview: Philly Hoop Group Classic

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Virginia Tech returns to the hardwood this weekend in the Philly Hoop Group Classic. The Hokies are 3-0, but their wins have come over Brown, UNC Greensboro and Campbell, and Tech has not been impressive in any of their outings. The challenge will be taken up a notch this weekend against Temple and Delaware.

The Hokies have never opened a season 5-0 under Seth Greenberg. To do so this year, they must get past former A-10 nemesis Temple on Friday night, as well as the Delaware Blue Hens on Saturday evening. We should have a better idea about where this Tech team stands following these two games.

Temple (3-1 overall, 8pm on Friday, Comcast SportsNet)

Virginia Tech fans should remember games against Temple from the old Atlantic 10 days all too well. Tech was 0-7 against the Owls during their days in the A-10, and the Hokies never managed to score more than 53 points against Temple’s tough 2-3 zone. In fact, Tech was held to below 50 points in four of those meetings, including two dismal 41-point performances.

The days of the A-10 are gone, as is former Temple head coach John Chaney. However, the Temple defense remains stout. The Owls have defeated Delaware (76-56), Siena (73-69) and Ball State (66-46), and they have one tough loss to Georgetown (46-45). Through four games, Temple’s opponents are averaging just 54.2 points per game, and they are shooting only 39% from the field and 22% from three-point range.

On paper, that’s not good for the Hokies. Tech is averaging just 66.3 points per game against three small-conference that did not feature much height. The Hokies shot only 42.5% in those three games, and were just 31.3% from three-point range. Tech has not been impressive offensively, and they’ll be facing an excellent defensive basketball team on Friday night.

One reason the Owls are good defensively is because of the length in their starting lineup. Temple starts three guards who go 6-3, 6-4 and 6-4, and they feature inside players who are 6-9 and 6-11. It’s tough to get good shots against Temple, and it will be important for the Hokies to get off good shots.

Fortunately for Tech, Temple is not a great offensive team. This should be a low scoring, defensive battle. The Owls average just 65 points per game. They do shoot 45.5% from the field, but they have connected on just 26% of their outside jumpers. If the Hokies can defend the post and prevent dribble penetration, they should be able to effectively defend the Temple offense. However, the Owls have a big height advantage down low in the post, and Tech has been prone to defensive miscues so far this year, so that’s easier said than done.

Three Temple starters average double figures in scoring. Ryan Brooks (6-4, 200, Sr.) is the leading scorer, averaging 15.8 points per game. Brooks is off to a cold start despite his scoring average. He is shooting just 41.1% from the field, and is just 5-of-24 (20.8%) from three-point range. Don’t let those numbers fool you though. Brooks can knock down the open jumper with efficiency.

Brooks was fourth in the A-10 in three-point accuracy last year, going 59-of-144 (41%). He is also Temple’s top perimeter defender. Expect him the draw the assignment of defending Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney.

Juan Fernandez (6-4, 180, So.) is Temple’s top outside threat. The Argentina native is shooting 47.1% from the outside this season, and is averaging 13 points per game. Fernandez is the best overall shooter on the team. The Hokies must keep track of him at all times, and they must fight through screens and not allow him to get open looks.

Lavoy Allen (6-9, 225, Jr.) might be the best overall player on this Temple team. He is averaging a double-double, with 11.3 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Showing his wide array of skills, Allen also averages four assists per game, which is the highest mark on the team.

Allen, who was Third Team All A-10 and Third Team All A-10 defensive team a year ago, also leads the Owls in steals and blocks. He can score, he can rebound, he can pass and he can defend. He is a major threat on the inside for the Owls. Virginia Tech’s Jeff Allen needs to bring his A-game and match Lavoy Allen’s intensity. If he doesn’t, it could be a long night for the Hokies.

Micheal Eric (6-11, 240, So.) will be the biggest player the Hokies have faced all season. Eric averages 6.5 points and 3.8 boards, which are pretty efficient numbers for someone who plays just 17 minutes per game. His wingspan presents difficulties for opposing teams when they are on offense.

Luis Guzman (6-3, 200, Sr.) starts at point guard for Temple. Guzman is not a scoring threat. He averages just 2.5 points per game in his first season as a starter. Like the rest of the Temple starters, he’s a tough player and a good defender.

Only three Temple reserves see significant action, effectively making this an eight-man rotation. Ramone Moore (6-4, 180, So.) is Temple’s top scorer off the bench, averaging seven points per game. Craig Williams (6-9, 240, Jr.) is a post player who can step out and hit the three-pointer. He has hit five three-pointers this year, tied for the second most on the team. Rahlir Jefferson (6-6, 200, Fr.) is the eighth Temple player in the rotation, getting about 10 minutes per game.

Expect nothing less than a typical Virginia Tech-Temple game on Friday night. The Owls play great defense, but are limited offensively. The Hokies face a stiff challenge with Temple’s height, offensively and defensively. Can Tech score over Temple’s tall lineup, after not scoring much on the shorter opponents in their first three games? And can the Hokies defend the post against a tall Owl frontcourt? We’ll find out on Friday night.

Delaware (1-3 overall, 6:15pm on Saturday, No TV)

Unlike Temple, Delaware is not a very good basketball team. The Blue Hens are 1-3 on the season. They have losses to Temple (76-56), Bucknell (82-66) and Siena (90-56). Their lone win came over Penn (97-94 in double overtime), an Ivy League team.

Delaware is especially poor on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve allowed at least 82 points in three of their four games, and Temple managed to score 11 points above their average against the Blue Hens. Opponents are shooting 49.3% against Delaware, including a 34.3% mark from three-point range.

The Blue Hens are not only poor defensively, but they don’t rebound and they don’t take care of the basketball. They are being outrebounded by nearly six boards per game, and they are averaging 15.5 turnovers per game.

Offensively, Delaware had their way with Penn, but they haven’t played well against anyone else. They shoot just 38.5% from the field, 30.8% from three-point range and 65.6% from the charity stripe.

The Blue Hens are led by point guard Jawan Carter (5-11, 185, Jr.). Carter is averaging 20.5 points per game on the season. He is a very good player who transferred to Delaware from St. Joseph’s, where he made the A-10 All Rookie team as a freshman. Carter can drive to the basket and get to the free throw line. He is 29-of-36 (80.6%) on his free throw attempts this season. No one else on Delaware’s team has attempted more than 10 free throws on the season.

Carter is a good three-point shooter, but he does shoot it a lot from the outside and sometimes his shot selection isn’t as good as it needs to be. It will be very important for the Hokies to keep Carter out of the lane. If they allow him to penetrate, he is a very dangerous player.

Alphonso Dawson (6-4, 205, Jr.) is another solid guard who has been starting since his freshman season. He has averaged in double figures each year at Delaware. He is averaging 12.8 points per game so far this year. Dawson is a competent three-point shooter at 33.3%, and he is a very good rebounding guard.

D.J. Boney (6-5, 200, Jr.) is another guard who can score. He averages 10.5 points per game, and is one of the better defenders on an otherwise bad defensive team.

With Carter, Dawson and Boney, it’s easy to see that the Blue Hens rely on their guard play and outside shooting to win basketball games. However, that hasn’t been very successful for them this season. They are a team that is capable of upsetting a team like Virginia Tech, if they got hot from the outside and the Hokies don’t come to play.

Tournament Thoughts

Though this isn’t really a tournament, this will be a tournament-like atmosphere. Tech plays at 8pm on Friday night, and then must play against less than 24 hours later at 6:15 on Friday. They are playing non-conference teams that they aren’t familiar with, though it doesn’t take a basketball genius to see the strengths and weaknesses of both of these teams.

On paper, Virginia Tech should lose to Temple and beat Delaware. I think Friday’s game with Temple will be slow, boring, and painful to watch. Neither team is good offensively, but the Owls are excellent defensively. They are further along than the Hokies as a team right now. The Hokies can win the game, but I’m not expecting them to.

On the other hand, if Tech can upset the Owls (Temple is favored by 4.5, as they should be … this is basically a home game for them, though technically it’s on a neutral court), they have an excellent shot of starting 5-0 for the first time in the Seth Greenberg era. If the Hokies come to play against Delaware, they should win that game, though the Blue Hens can keep it close because of Tech’s poor offense.

My official prediction for this weekend is a 1-1 mark, with a loss to Temple and a win over Delaware. If the Hokies can beat Temple tonight, then that will be a sign that things have improved over the first three games of the season.

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