2009-2010 Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Virginia

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(home games)
  • Date: Thursday, January 28, 2010
  • Time: 7pm
  • TV: CSN

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The first meeting of the season between Virginia and Virginia Tech will take
place on Thursday night, and it’s a big game for both teams. The Hoos haven’t
played well in their last two outings and are looking to get back on track at
home. The Hokies will need to pick up two or three road wins in the ACC at some
point if they hope to make the NCAA tournament, and this is a prime opportunity.

Virginia is an improved team under first year head coach Tony Bennett. The
Hoos are 12-5 overall and 3-1 in the ACC. Things started out tough for UVA, who
split their first eight games to begin the year 4-4. They had losses to South
Florida (66-49), Stanford (57-52), Penn State (69-66) and Auburn (68-67). Three
of those losses could have gone either way.

After that Auburn loss, UVA ran off eight consecutive victories, including
wins over Top 25 teams UAB and Georgia Tech. They also began the season 3-0 in
the ACC, and for a time were the only team in the ACC with an unblemished
conference record.

The last two games have not gone as well. Virginia barely beat a bad UNC-Wilmington
team 69-67 at home, with Sylven Landesberg hitting a jumper in the final seconds
to give his team the win. They followed that up by losing 69-57 at Wake, a game
that the Demon Deacons controlled from start to finish and that was not as close
as the final score indicated.

Which Virginia team will we see on Thursday night? The one that beat UAB and
Georgia Tech, or the one that hasn’t played well in their last two games? Here’s
a look at the players who will do battle with the Hokies.

Starting Lineup
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr. PPG RPG
Sammy Zeglinski
6-0 182 So. 10.1 3.8
Jontel Evans
5-11 185 Fr. 2.9 1.5
Sylven Landesberg
6-6 207 So. 17.5 5.1
Mike Scott
6-8 239 Jr. 12.7 7.2
Jerome Meyinsse
6-9 233 Jr. 4.5 3.8

UVA’s best player, and one of the best players in the ACC, is wing Sylven
Landesberg. He is their leading scorer by a wide margin, second leading
rebounder, and he’s also second on the team in assists. He has a very good
midrange game, and he finishes well around the basket.

Landesberg isn’t the type to take a lot of three-pointers, but you can’t
leave him open from the outside. He is 9-of-23 (39.1%) from the outside this
season. It will be interesting to see if Dorenzo Hudson or Terrell Bell draws
this defensive assignment. Hudson is regarded as Tech’s best overall defender,
but Bell is taller with long arms, and he has a knack for blocking or disrupting
shots. A very good rebounder, Bell also has the potential to keep Landesberg off
the offensive glass.

The Hokies need to limit Landesberg’s penetration, because he’s an 83% free
throw shooter. He gets to the line a lot (100 times on the year), and that’s a
big part of UVA’s offense. No other player on the team has gotten to the line
more than 45 times this year.

Joining Landesberg in the backcourt will be sophomore Sammy Zeglinski.
Zeglinski is a solid, active player who can really shoot the ball from the
outside. He has connected on 46.9% of his three-point shots this season. Because
of his lack of size, Zeglinski doesn’t finish very well inside the arc in
conference play, shooting just 34.6% overall in four conference games. It’s
important to not give him clean looks from the outside, because that’s where he
feels the most comfortable.

Jontel Evans has entered the starting lineup for the last three games, and
though he’s not a scorer, he is playing well for the Hoos. He appears to be a
good fit for Tony Bennett because he doesn’t turn the ball over. Evans did not
commit a turnover in his three starts. In fact, he hasn’t had a turnover since
the January 9 win at NC State, and he hasn’t committed more than one turnover in
a game since before Christmas.

Mustapha Farrakhan (6-4, 175, Jr.) has picked up his game recently, and he’s
been a part-time starter for the Hoos. He is averaging 7.3 points per game, but
in ACC play that average goes up to over 10 points per game. Farrakhan is a
deadly outside shooter, connecting on 40% from behind the arc this year. He is
capable of getting hot in a hurry, as we saw last year in Cassell Coliseum (17
points in 12 minutes).

Last season, Farrakhan hit four three-pointers over a five minute span to
turn the game in Blacksburg from a blowout in Tech’s favor to a very close game.
The Hokies must be wary of him at all times.

Another excellent outside shooter is Jeff Jones (6-4, 190, Jr.), a former
Virginia Tech recruiting target. Jones is also averaging 7.3 points per game
while shooting 45.3% from three-point range. Well over half of his field goals
this year have come from the outside.

Calvin Baker (6-2, 190, Sr.) is a senior who has also started this year and
in the past for the Hoos. He did not travel with the team to the Wake Forest
game for unspecified reasons (the rumor is that he was unhappy with his playing
time, but that’s unconfirmed), but he is back practicing with the team and will
suit up against the Hokies. Baker isn’t a great shooter or a big scorer (only
3.8 points per game), but he’s very good with the basketball. He has 34 assists
and just 10 turnovers on the season.

Those are the players that we’ll see on the perimeter against the Hokies on
Thursday night. As you can see, the Hoos have one big scorer, and a number of
guys who are very efficient from three-point range.

Virginia’s inside game isn’t as imposing, though they do feature the best
overall (or at least most consistent) inside player for either team. Mike Scott
is having a good year for the Hoos, averaging 12.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per
game. Scott is an excellent athlete who can finish with an array of impressive

Jeff Allen struggled last season against Virginia’s imposing inside duo of
Scott and 7-footer Assane Sene (7-0, 234, So.). Allen scored just three-points
and was 0-of-7 from the field against the Cavaliers in Blacksburg, and he didn’t
play in the game in Charlottesville due to a suspension for flipping off
Maryland fans.

Sene doesn’t start, but he does lead the team with 14 blocks. His wingspan
makes it difficult to score in the lane.

The other interior starter is Jerome Meyinsse, a solid junior who finishes
well on the inside. Meyinsse doesn’t wow anyone with his stats, but he’s a
very smart player (double major in economics and math) who has earned the trust
of Tony Bennett.

Will Sherrill (6-9, 217, Jr.) is a walk-on who averages just under 17 minutes
per game. He’s not a great inside player, but he is a guy who can step out and
shoot, with a 36.7% average from three-point range.

That’s UVA’s 10-man rotation, and here’s how they’ve done as a team in ACC
play compared to the Hokies.

Comparison, ACC Games Only

Virginia Virginia
Stat Rank Stat Rank

Scoring Off.
5 66.5

Scoring Def.
2 67.2

42.8% 8 38.8% 12

FG% Def.
43.9% 8 45.2% 10

35% 3 33.3% 5

3Pt.% Def.
28.3% 4 26.5% 3

78.2% 1 68.1% 10

Reb. Margin
-1 8 -2.2 9

TO Margin
+4.5 2 +5 1

Assist/TO Ratio
1.4 2 0.8 9

4.3 7.3

On paper, Virginia looks like the much better basketball team. They score more
points than the Hokies, and they allow less. They shoot better than the Hokies,
and their opponents shoot a worse percentage than Tech’s opponents. They shoot
10% better from the free throw line than VT. The Hoos rank in the top five in
seven of the 10 categories above, and no lower than eighth in the others.

Meanwhile the Hokies are in the bottom three of the ACC in three categories.
They are the only team in the conference that shoots less than 40% from the

A few stats show that Tech’s height, or lack thereof, is a real problem.
Though Tech is fifth in the conference in three-point shooting, they do not
finish well on the inside, thus they are only 12th in the league in overall
field goal percentage. The Hokies are great at defending the three, ranking
third in defensive three-point percentage, but opposing teams can shoot over the
shorter Hokies with relative ease, as Tech is only 10th in overall field goal
percentage defense.

In other words, Tech is much better away from the basket than close to the
basket. They have to work hard to deny UVA’s inside players from getting the
ball, because teams have been able to finish on Tech with relative ease once
they get the ball in the paint. The Hokies don’t have a true post on-ball
defender like they had last year in Cheick Diakite, and that’s hurting them.

Unfortunately, playing a perimeter game with the Hoos probably won’t work, as
UVA has more shooters than the Hokies. VT has been able to post a .500 record in
the ACC thanks to their impressive turnover margin, which ranks #1 in the ACC.
However, Virginia is just behind at #2. Tech needs to force turnovers and score
in transition, but that will be hard against the Hoos, according to the stats.

Fortunately, stats are overrated. Most scouts will tell you that these teams
are very even in terms of talent. This might be the most even matchup since the
two teams faced off in 2006-07, with Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds facing
Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon.

Ultimately, Tech needs Jeff Allen to step up and do, well … anything.

Allen in ACC Play
Game Pts. Rebs. Blks. Stls. TO Fouls Min.

4 7 1 3 1 2 27

14 10 2 0 5 4 26

3 3 0 0 4 4 17

9 4 0 3 4 4 30

7.5 6 0.75 1.5 3.5 3.5 25

Allen has not put up good numbers thus far in conference play, ever since the
second half of the UNC game. In that second half, he had zero points, zero
rebounds, zero steals, zero blocks and two fouls before eventually being
benched. He came back strong against Miami, the last place team in the ACC, but
he disappeared again against FSU. Against the Noles, he combined for more fouls
and turnovers than points and rebounds, and played just 17 minutes. He was
better against BC, but the production just hasn’t been there.

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Tech’s chances of beating anyone on the road go down quite a bit if
Allen does not play well. The Hokies are simply too limited offensively to have
him disappear for long stretches. He’ll be needed on Thursday night, and he’s
due to have a good game.

Overall, this should be a very even matchup in Charlottesville on Thursday
night. If Malcolm Delaney is healthy, and Jeff Allen can play well, the Hokies
will have a chance to steal one on the road. If not, then Tech will have to wait
until February 13 to get their in-state rival in Cassell Coliseum.

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