Virginia Tech is 5-1 so far this season, which is as good a start as most
people were hoping for. Tonight they’ll have their first challenge in a true
road game when they travel to Williams Arena – aka The Barn – to take on the
Minnesota Golden Gophers and head coach Tubby Smith. The Hokies have had some
bad luck with injuries in the preseason, but the injury bug also struck
Minnesota on Sunday in their first loss of the season.
Minnesota started off 6-0, with home wins over Bucknell (70-58), South Dakota
State (71-55), Fairfield (67-57) and Mount St. Mary’s (85-56). They traveled to
Orlando for the Old Spice Classic, where they defeated DePaul (86-85) and
Indiana State (76-69). In the finals of that tournament, they were beaten by
During the loss to Dayton, the Golden Gophers lost their leading scorer and
rebounder for the season with a torn ACL. Power forward Trevor Mbakwe is
averaging 14 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, but now he’s done for the year.
He was a major player for Minnesota a year ago when he lead the Big Ten in
rebounds. With Mbakwe out of the lineup, the Golden Gophers don’t have anyone
who averages more than 3.7 rebounds per game.
With the injury to Mbakwe, the Golden Gophers are expected to go with a
three-guard lineup, with an athletic small forward type player (Rodney Williams)
playing power forward. So far Tubby Smith has played six different guards this
year, and not one of them is averaging more than 25 minutes per game. It’s a
young group, with two freshmen, three sophomores and one JUCO.
Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins have started every game this season. Julian
Welch is not normally a starter, but the Minnesota game notes on their official
website list him as a starter for this game, so that’s what we’ll go with.
Before spending last season at Yuba Community College, Welch was the Big West
Conference Freshman of the Year for UC-Davis in 2009-10. He is averaging just
under 20 minutes per game, and his numbers could go up with Mbakwe out for the
Austin Hollins has been Minnesota’s most productive guard thus far. His
father is Lionel Hollins, who won the 1977 NBA Title with the Portland
Trailblazers and who now coaches the Memphis Grizzlies. Hollins is a solid
guard, and with Mbakwe out of the lineup, he will be called upon to shoulder
more of the scoring load. He’s a solid shooter at 47.2% from the field and 33.3%
from three-point range.
Andre Hollins (no relation) is a highly-recruited freshman who has started
every game of his college career so far. He is a dangerous outside shooter (50%,
8-of-16), and a smart player, having chosen Minnesota over Stanford and Harvard.
Chip Armelin and Maverick Ahanmisi combine to play 26 minutes per game, while
Joe Coleman chips in with eight minutes per game.
The Golden Gophers like to extend their defense, so it will be important for
Virginia Tech’s guards and wings to be strong with the ball. There should be
plenty of space to play in, but the Golden Gophers force 16 turnovers per game,
and holding onto the ball hasn’t been Tech’s strong suit this year.
The Hokies will have a size advantage in the backcourt. Dorenzo Hudson (6-5,
220) towers over freshman guard Andre Hollins (6-1), while Dorian Finney-Smith
(6-8, 192) is much taller than Austin Hollins (6-4). Minnesota is at +7.4 on the
boards on average this year, but that won’t stay the same with Mbakwe out of the
Minnesota does feature a name you will recognize in their frontcourt: Ralph
Sampson III. Sampson is part of a very thin frontcourt that just got even
thinner with the loss of Mbakwe. He is going to have to shoulder the scoring and
rebounding load on the inside, but so far this year he hasn’t shown the ability
to bang in the paint.
|F||Ralph Sampson III*||6-11||241||Sr.||5.8||3.7||19.7|
Sampson is a good shooter for a man his size, and he’s long and athletic.
With 172 career blocks, he knows how to protect the front of the rim. He’s not a
polished offensive rebounder, and with Mbakwe out of the lineup, Sampson is
going to have to get tougher in the paint and come up with more rebounds and
more second chance points.
Rodney Williams is a very athletic forward, and according to Minnesota’s game
notes, he is projected to start at power forward against the Hokies. Expect to
see Williams in the paint as well as on the perimeter at various times in this
Andre Ingram is a JUCO who is still adjusting to Division I college
basketball, while Otto Osenieks and Elliott Eliason are r-freshman. Eliason has
great size, but his minutes have been very limited thus far.
Minnesota an Unknown
With Mbakwe out, Minnesota is very much an unknown quantity. Will their
remaining players be able to mesh together without their leader on the court?
Who will do the scoring? Perhaps more importantly, who will do the rebounding?
Tubby Smith may not even know the answer to that question yet.
Virginia Tech has a major size advantage in the backcourt, and the matchups
on the inside seem to be pretty even. Both teams are void of post depth, and
will rely on their starters, as well as a true small forward (Eddie for the
Hokies, Williams for Minnesota) playing the power forward position. I feel that
overall, the Hokies have a bit of a personnel advantage in this game.
On the other hand, it is Virginia Tech’s first true road game, so you never
know exactly how they will perform. If the Hokies can pull off a road win, it
would be huge for their RPI.