Basketball Game Preview: #21 Virginia Tech at #3 Kansas State

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#21 Virginia Tech will face a tremendous challenge on Tuesday afternoon,
traveling to Manhattan, Kansas to take on #3 Kansas State. The Wildcats made the
Elite 8 last season, and are hoping for even bigger things this year. The Hokies
will have to defend one of the best guards in the country, and they should know
exactly where they are as a team after this game.

Like Virginia Tech, Kansas State is 1-0 after struggling against an inferior
opponent in their season opener. The Wildcats defeated James Madison 75-61. As
the athletically superior team, Kansas State forced 26 turnovers, but they also
allowed the Dukes to shoot nearly 50% from the field.

Kansas
State Starting Lineup
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr. PPG RPG
G
Jacob Pullen
6-1 200 Sr. 20 3
G
Nick Russell
6-4 200 So. 19 1
F
Rodney McGruder
6-5 205 So. 9 8
F
Wally Judge
6-9 250 So. 2 3
F
Freddy Asprilla
6-10 275 Jr. 0 2

K-State was without r-senior power forward Curtis Kelly, who was benched by head
coach Frank Martin because of lack of effort and focus in the preseason. Kelly
averaged 11.5 points and 6.2 rebounds last season, and was a preseason First
Team conference selection in the Big 12. Kelly is unlikely to play against
Virginia Tech, according to Frank Martin.

“He probably won’t go on Tuesday,” Martin said. “We need
to be at our best in March, so I need him to be consistently good for me
than the last two days. I’m not happy with the way he’s been the last two
weeks.”

Obviously the Wildcats didn’t get good production from his replacements
against James Madison. Wally Judge and Freddy Asprilla combined to score two
points, grab five rebounds and commit six turnovers. Their top post player in
that game was center Jordan Henriquez-Roberts (7-0, 245, So.), who had eight
points and six rebounds.

With Judge, Asprilly and Henriquez-Roberts manning the post position, the
Wildcats have a definite size advantage on Virginia Tech. However, how skilled
that size is remains to be seen.

We do know that Kansas State has a very skilled backcourt, led by senior
guard Jacob Pullen, who is one of the best players in the country. He scored 20
points against James Madison in just 24 minutes, and averaged 19.3 points per
game a year ago. Pullen made 110 three-pointers last year, shooting nearly 40%
from the outside. He’s dangerous from the inside as well, and he led the team
with 67 steals a year ago.

Pullen is joined by Nick Russell, a sophomore wing who made his first
collegiate start against James Madison and scored 19 points. Russell got limited
playing time last season as a freshman, and Kansas State will need him to be
consistently good all season to replace Denis Clemente.

Rodney McGruger is the other starter on the wing, finishing with nine points
and eight rebounds against James Madison. He played more as a freshman last
season than Nick Russell. Still, look for the Hokies to test these two
sophomores who will be playing in their first big game as full-time starters.
That’s a lot of pressure.

Kansas State has their own version of J.T. Thompson in the form of Jamar
Samuels (6-7, 220, Jr.). He was the top sixth man in the Big 12 last season,
averaging 11 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Frank Martin will also play Martavious Irving (6-1, 209, So.) and Will
Spradling (6-3, 170, Fr.) in the backcourt. Irving played in 33 games as a
freshman last season, and Spradling saw his first collegiate action when he
played 20 minutes against James Madison, scoring nine points. He’s a very good
prospect who also received a scholarship offer from Virginia Tech.

Kansas State spread out their playing time a bit in the opening game, but
expect them to tighten things up against Virginia Tech.

Minutes
vs. JMU
Player Minutes

Nick Russell
31

Rodney McGruder
30

Jacob Pullen
24

J. Henriques-Roberts
23

Wally Judge
21

Will Spradling
20

Freddy Asprilla
17

Martavious Irving
16

Jamar Samuels
11

Victor Ojeleye
7

Frank Martin got Nick Russell and Rodney McGruder significant playing time,
which they needed as first-time starters. Expect Jacob Pullen’s minutes to go
way up against the Hokies.

Overall, this should be an interesting matchup. Both teams feature an
All-American candidate at guard, and the Malcolm Delaney vs. Jacob Pullen
matchup should be fun to watch. The Hokies are the more experienced team. Tech
returns all five starters, and assuming Curtis Kelly doesn’t play, Pullen is the
only returning starter for Kansas State. Dominique Sutton, Denis Clemente and
Luis Colon were all seniors a year ago.

Kansas State has an obvious size advantage on the inside with Allan Chaney
and Cadarian Raines out for the Hokies. However, senior wings Terrell Bell and
Dorenzo Hudson should be able to win the battle with sophomores Nick Russell and
Rodney McGruder. Tech shouldn’t be afraid to foul, as Kansas State’s big guys
don’t shoot free throws particularly well. As a team, the Wildcats were only
17-of-32 against James Madison, with even the guards shooting poorly from the
charity stripe.

The beauty of this game is that it can only help Virginia Tech. A road loss
to the #3 team in the country will not hurt their RPI at all, and their
non-conference strength of schedule will go way up. If they end up winning the
game, then it will be a big boost to their computer numbers in March.

Tip-off is scheduled for 4pm Eastern time, and the game will be televised by
ESPN.

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