After dropping their last two games against top 25 teams, Virginia Tech will
look to open their ACC schedule with a win over in-state rival UVA on Sunday
night. The Hoos are a very young basketball team, and they’ve suffered a couple
of early injuries to two of their most experienced players.
Returning starting point guard Sammy Zeglinski underwent knee surgery in
mid-October and hasn’t played yet this year. His goal was to return for the
Virginia Tech game, but that is highly unlikely at this point. In Monday night’s
win over Minnesota, starting forward Will Sherrill fractured a bone in his leg
and will be out at least a month. This will be a battle of two banged up
Virginia Tech’s lack of post depth can’t be used as an excuse in this game.
With Sherrill out, the Hoos don’t have much on the inside, outside of athletic
power forward Mike Scott, who is one of the best inside players in the ACC.
Assane Sene has great size, but he’s never been a major threat on the court, and
the rest of the post depth consists of Akil Mitchell (6-8, 221, Fr.) and Will
Regan (6-8, 222, Fr.). Those guys haven’t seen much playing time as freshmen,
and they will be at a disadvantage when they are up against Jeff Allen and
The Hoos are 4-3 on the season, and they have had some interesting results.
They blew out William & Mary, South Carolina Upstate and Oklahoma. The
Oklahoma game, in the Maui Invitational, seemed like a quality win, until the
Sooners lost the next day to Chaminade. UVA was also blown out by Stanford
(81-60) and Washington (106-63), and they also lost to Wichita State by 12.
Virginia looked like a bad basketball team until this past Monday, when they
went on the road and beat a Top 25 Minnesota team 87-79. After that win, they’ve
had the entire week to prepare for the Hokies.
Here’s a look at Virginia’s starting lineup. We aren’t sure that Sene will
start in place of the injured Sherrill, but he is the most experienced player on
the roster. The Hoos could also go small by bringing in Mustapha Farrakhan (6-4,
181, Sr.), who has turned into one of their top scorers this season.
Virginia Starting Lineup
Mike Scott is Virginia’s best player. Scott is a very athletic player on the
inside, and though he’s not a true back to the basket player, he’s a versatile
scorer who is tough on both ends of the court. He has developed into a very good
free throw shooter this year (87.8%). Overall, Scott will be the most athletic
player for either team and UVA’s most dangerous threat.
Their other major threat comes off the bench. Mustapha Farrakhan lit the
Hokies up two years ago, and he’s playing good basketball this year. He has
started four of seven games for UVA and is averaging 10.3 points per game. UVA
needs his offense if they want to be successful. He dropped 23 points on
Minnesota on Monday night, and he was 4-of-5 from three-point range.
Another player who torched the Golden Gophers was freshman wing Joe Harris.
Harris was Mr. Basketball in the state of Washington, where he averaged 26
points per game as a senior last season. He is averaging 11.7 points per game
after his 24-point performance against Minnesota, and he is an excellent
shooter. Harris is shooting 55.4% from the field and 50% from three-point range.
He is most dangerous right now as a spot up shooter, so the Hokies will have to
fight through screens and close out quickly on Harris.
Jontel Evans is starting at point guard with Zeglinski out. He does a solid
job of running the show for the Hoos, but he won’t be a big scoring threat as
UVA’ s schedule picks up, thanks to his size.
K.T. Harrell is another talented freshman. Like Harris, he was a big-time
scorer in high school, and Harrell was also a Top 100 recruit. He is averaging
7.4 points per game for the Hoos, and he’s a very dangerous threat from the
UVA plays one more freshman, Billy Baron (6-2, 192, Fr.), the son of Rhode
Island head coach Jim Baron. As the son of a coach, Baron is a smart, savvy
player. He’s averaging just under 20 minutes per game for UVA, though his
numbers have gone down recently (7 minutes against Minnesota).
Right now, head coach Tony Bennett only has about seven players that he
trusts, with Sherrill and Zeglinski out. Actually, he might trust fewer than
that, as three of those seven players are freshmen and playing big minutes out
of necessity. With Sherrill out, he’ll have to give more playing to another
freshman — either Akil Mitchell or Will Regan, or both. With an eight or nine
man rotation, playing four or five freshmen and one sophomore, the Hoos will
have perhaps the youngest basketball team in the country in Blacksburg on Sunday
This game will resemble a battle between a stoppable force and a moveable
object. Like most young teams, UVA is really struggling on the defensive side of
the ball. Against the good teams they have faced, the Hoos have allowed 81
points (Stanford), 106 points (Washington) and 79 points (Minnesota). Opponents
are shooting a whopping 48% from the field, and an even more impressive 45.8%
from three-point range. That’s about as bad as it gets. Contrast that to
Virginia Tech’s defense, which is allowing just 40.8% from the field and 31.4%
from three-point range despite playing a tough schedule.
Of course, UVA hasn’t yet run into an offense that struggles like Virginia
Tech’s. The Hokies average only 65.9 points per game, they shoot just 42.9% from
the field and only 29.1% from three-point range. Tech has also struggled from
the free throw line at times, converting just 65.7% of their shots as a team.
The Hokies have failed to reach 60 points in four of their seven games,
including the last three.
Tony Bennett is the type of basketball coach who prizes great defense, but
his team isn’t experienced enough to play his type of defense right now. The
Hokies have played four excellent defensive teams in Kansas State, Oklahoma
State, UNLV and Purdue. To put it in football terms, this is going to be like
going from Alabama’s defense to Marshall’s defense.
Virginia Tech has two big advantages that should be enough for them to win
this game: experience and Cassell Coliseum.