Date: February 14
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Virginia Tech (17-7, 6-6) will play its first game without Chris Clarke on Tuesday night on the road against Pitt (14-11, 3-9). The Hokies are reduced to what will likely be a seven man rotation, and tonight’s game starts less than 48 hours after Sunday’s game ended. The only full practice day between games, Monday, was partially spent as a travel day.
In other words, Pitt will be the fresher team and they’ll have the benefit of more prep time than the Hokies. These types of games are the toughest to win in college basketball.
Don’t let Pitt’s record fool you. The Panthers are still in the running for the NCAA Tournament despite that record. They are 54th in the RPI and 12th in strength of schedule. If they can get on a bit of a roll to end the season, they can make the Big Dance. They know that, and they see Virginia Tech as a wounded team without Chris Clarke, so they’ll bring all their guns to bear on Tuesday night, so to speak.
Pitt’s record also doesn’t show what the Panthers have been able to accomplish against the best teams on their schedule. They knocked off a ranked Maryland team, who is in contention for the Big Ten title, by 14 on the road. They defeated a decent Marquette team as well. In conference play they knocked off Virginia, while playing North Carolina (80-78) and Duke (72-64) right down to the wire. This is a very capable team that is led by Head Coach Kevin Stallings, who took Vanderbilt to the postseason in 12 of his 17 years as a head coach, including six NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Panthers are coming off back to back wins over Boston College and Syracuse and they’ll be looking to keep the late season momentum going against the Hokies. While it’s true that Tech will have a seven man rotation tonight, the same can be said for Pitt. Here’s how their minutes broke down in Saturday’s win against Syracuse…
F Michael Young (6-9, 235, Sr.): 39 minutes
F Sheldon Jeter (6-8, 230, Sr.): 37 minutes
G Jamel Artis (6-7, 215, Sr.): 37 minutes
G Cameron Johnson (6-8, 210, r-So.): 35 minutes
G Chris Jones 6-6, 215, r-Sr.): 34 minutes
G Justice Kithcart (6-1, 185, Fr.): 13 minutes
C Rozelle Nix (6-11, 300, r-Jr.): 5 minutes
In fact, with Nix playing just five minutes, that could almost be considered a six-man rotation. Villanova, the defending National Champions, also plays a seven man rotation. SMU played just six players when they beat Cincinnati over the weekend (with former VT guard Ben Emelogu their lone reserve). Tech isn’t the only team in the country with a short bench right now and they’ll play another such team tonight.
The bad news is that Pitt is a big team, particularly at guard and on the wing. Therefore, Tech’s guards and wings, without Chris Clarke, are going to have to toughen up and keep the Panthers off the offensive glass. However, despite their length, Pitt isn’t the best rebounding team…
Off. Reb. %: No. 154
Def. Reb. %: No. 185
Total Reb. %: No. 117
As you can see, the Panthers are a middling offensive rebounding team, so that bodes well for the Hokies tonight.
What Tech must do is contain Pitt’s two-headed monster of Michael Young and Jamel Artis. Young averages 20.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while Artis averages 19.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and leads the team with 86 assists. Pitt’s season rides on the shoulders of those two excellent seniors.
One other thing that I want to point out is that Virginia Tech’s defense has gotten a lot better over the last two games. In the previous four games, opponents put up the following offensive numbers…
Points per game: 80.5
Field goals: 119-of-252 (47.2 percent)
3-Pt. Field goals: 44-of-102 (43.1 percent)
That’s not good at all. However, the Hokies have been much-improved defensively over their last two games, a close loss at Miami and a home win over UVA.
Points per game: 76
Field goals: 57-of-130 (43.8 percent)
3-Pt. Field goals: 15-of-54 (27.8 percent)
Those shooting percentages are noticeably lower and remember, Tech’s game with Virginia went to double overtime, which affects points per game. They actually allowed just 63 points to Virginia in regulation, which would take that scoring average down to 68.5. That’s a noticeable improvement.
The Hokies have also improved on the boards the last two games. After finishing even with Miami at 32, Tech outrebounded Virginia 41-38. That’s also a good sign as we move forward.
So despite the loss of Clarke, there are some positives that are developing. The Hokies are getting better defensively and on the boards. That said, losing Clarke is a big loss from a rebounding standpoint. The rest of the group, collectively, has to step up their rebounding game.