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The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team will play two games in Madison Square Garden over the next two days that will tell us a lot more about the Hokies’ potential. The Hokies will play Saint Louis tonight at 7pm on ESPN, and they’ll face off against either Providence or Washington on Friday.
Saint Louis – Thursday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. on ESPN2
Last season: 12-21 overall, 6-12 Atlantic 10
Saint Louis is 2-0 on the young season, with a 62-46 win over Seattle on Friday, and a 74-50 victory over Rockhurst (Division II) on Monday. The Billikens have had a lot of roster turnover since last year, as is usually the case when you have a new head coach.
Virginia Tech fans should be familiar with this new head coach. Travis Ford is the former man in charge at Oklahoma State, and he is in his second season at Saint Louis. The Hokies have faced Ford four times, and they’ve beaten him all four times, including twice in one season:
Nov. 26, 2010: 56-51 in Anaheim, Ca.
Nov. 25, 2011: 59-57 in Madison Square Garden
Dec. 31, 2011: 67-61 in Stillwater, Okla.
Dec. 1, 2012: 81-71 in Blacksburg
With the exception of the last meeting, when Oklahoma State had Marcus Smart, all of those games were somewhat ugly. Through the first games of the 2017-18 season, Ford’s Saint Louis team hasn’t exactly played pretty basketball either. They’ll want to slow things down and try to get a faster and more athletic Virginia Tech team to play at their pace. Though their methods are different, in one way these two teams are pretty similar — they are both pretty small.
Ford has tried to rebuild the roster since his arrival, similar to what Buzz Williams was forced to do when he first arrived at Virginia Tech. Here is his current projected starting lineup…
G Jordan Goodwin (6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Fr.): Goodwin is averaging seven points per game (ppg), eight rebounds per game (rpg) and six assists per game (apg). Goodwin is a big guard who is running the point for the Billikens, despite not having much point guard experience. His size at the college level is similar to the aforementioned Marcus Smart, who was coached by Travis Ford.
G Davell Roby (6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Sr.): Roby is averaging 9.5 ppg, 4 rpg and 3 apg. Roby is the leading returning scorer for Saint Louis. He averaged 11.7 points per game a year ago, and led the team with 56 three-pointers.
G/F Javon Bess (6-foot-6, 220 pounds, r-Jr.): Bess is averaging 13.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg and 3 apg. Bess could prove to be the Billikens’ best player this season. He is a transfer from Michigan State.
F Jalen Johnson (6-foot-7, 220 pounds, So.): Johnson is averaging 9.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg and 1 apg. Johnson started 18 games a year ago as a freshman.
F Hasahn French (6-foot-7, 235 pounds, Fr.): French 9.5 ppg, 7 rpg and 0.5 apg. French is putting up good numbers as a freshman. However, he’ll draw Kerry Blackshear on Thursday night, which will be his toughest matchup of the season.
Depth is an issue for Saint Louis. Goodwin, Roby and Bess all average at least 33.5 minutes per game, while French is getting 28.5 minutes. Only seven players are averaging more than 7.5 minutes per game. This is a seven or eight man rotation, depending on whether you consider Rashed Anthony (7.5 minutes) to be part of the rotation.
Ford will try to make this a slow, halfcourt game. He’ll try to make it frustrating for the Hokies, and he doesn’t want to run the court for 40 minutes with a team that is more talented, has more depth, and can play the full court game as well as anybody.
Saint Louis is in better hands with Ford than they were previously, but this is still a game Virginia Tech should win comfortably. On average, Virginia Tech is a 13.5 point favorite, and that’s with good reason.
Providence or Washington – Friday, Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. on ESPN2 (if Tech loses to Saint Louis) or 7 p.m. on ESPN2 (if Tech beats Saint Louis)
Washington last season: 9-22 overall, 2-16 Pac-12
Providence last season: 20-13 overall, 10-8 Big East, Lost in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament
It’s very likely that Virginia Tech will face Providence on Friday night, so this portion of the article is going to focus more on the Friars than the Washington Huskies.
Ed Cooley is in his seventh season as the head coach at Providence, and he’s done a great job. Here are his results on a year-by-year basis.
2011-12: 15-17, no postseason
2012-13: 19-15, NIT Quarterfinals
2013-14: 23-12, NCAA Round of 64
2014-15: 22-12, NCAA Round of 64
2015-16: 24-11, NCAA Round of 32
2016-17: 20-13, NCAA First Four
Cooley is a former assistant at Rhode Island and Boston College under the legendary Al Skinner (Trivia: Skinner is the current head coach at Kennesaw State).
In the latest AP Poll, Providence received 36 votes, which would rank them No. 30, if the rankings went that far. As a comparison, Virginia Tech received 17 votes and would rank No. 32.
Providence is 1-1 this season, with an 84-55 home win against Houston Baptist and an 86-74 home loss to No. 14 Minnesota. There is no shame in losing to the Golden Gophers this year, though it would be fair for Friar fans to have expected a bit better than a 15-point loss at home.
Here’s a look at the projected starting lineup for Providence:
G Kyron Cartwright (5-foot-11, 185 pounds, Sr.): Cartwright is averaging 11 ppg and 9.5 apg. Cartwright is small, but he’s an excellent distributor of the basketball.
G Alpha Diallo (6-foot-7, 211 pounds, So.): Diallo is averaging 6 ppg, 3.5 rpg. Diallo is a former 4-star recruit and Top 100 player.
G Isaiah Jackson (6-foot-6, 225 pounds, Jr.): Jackson is averaging 10.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg. Jackson is a transfer from George Mason who was a 40.7 percent three-point shooter last season.
F Rodney Bullock (6-foot-8, 225 pounds, Sr.): Bullock is averaging 7.5 ppg, 6 rpg. The Hampton, Va. (Kecoughtan High School) native led Providence in scoring last season, averaging 15.7 points per game.
F Kalif Young (6-foot-9, 255 pounds, So.): Young is averaging 10.5 ppg, 3 rpg. Young is potentially one of the biggest players the Hokies will face in the early portion of their schedule.
This Providence team has a lot of players from the state of Virginia. Not counting Bullock, three other Friars hail from the Commonwealth…
G Maliek White (6-foot-3, 190 pounds, So.): White is averaging 7.5 ppg and 1.5 rpg and is from Richmond.
C Nate Watson (6-foot-10, 260 pounds, Fr.): Watson is averaging 10.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg, and is from Arlington.
C Dajour Dickens (7-feet, 220, Fr.): Dickens is averaging 1 ppg and 1.5 rpg, and is from Hampton.
Virginia Tech is hoping for a matchup with Providence on Friday. That would do more for Tech’s RPI, SOS and NCAA Tournament resume than a meeting with Washington. Likewise, Providence fans are hoping to face the Hokies on Friday, rather than Saint Louis.
Speaking of Washington, long-time head coach Lorenzo Romar was fired after last season’s 9-22 season. Mike Hopkins has taken over the program after serving as a Jim Boeheim assistant at Syracuse since 1995.
The Huskies began their season with an 86-82 victory over a good Belmont program, and then they knocked off Eastern Washington 79-69. They are already on pace to win more games than they did a year ago, though obviously there is still much work to be done.
Here is their projected starting lineup…
G David Crisp (6-feet, 195 pounds, Jr.): Crisp is averaging 13.5 ppg and 2.5 rpg. Crisp is one of four Washington players who are averaging double figures, though he’s shooting just 29.4 percent.
G Jaylen Nowell (6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Fr.): Nowell is averaging 21 ppg and 4 rpg. Nowell is Washington’s top scorer in the young season.
G Matisse Thybulle (6-foot-5, 195 pounds, Jr.): Thybulle is averaging 14 ppg and 1.5 rpg. Thybulle started all 31 games as a sophomore a season ago.
F Noah Dickerson (6-foot-8, 245 pounds, Jr.): Dickerson is averaging 18 ppg and 13 rpg. Dickerson attended Montverde Academy in Florida with Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs. The two players won back-to-back National Championships together.
F Sam Timmins (6-foot-11, 265 pounds, So.): Timmins is averaging 1.5 ppg and 3.5 rpg. Apparently Mike Hopkins does what a lot of coaches do. He starts his biggest player at center, but the player is so unskilled that he actually plays less than 15 minutes per game despite his status as a starter.
The Huskies don’t have a lot of depth this year, with Crisp, Nowell and Thybulle all playing at least 32.5 minutes per game. Thybulle was on the court for 38 minutes per game in the first two contests.
Washington seems like an improved team under Mike Hopkins, but they are still 8.5 point underdogs to Providence for Thursday night. Considering what both teams accomplished last season, that seems like a reasonable line.
Virginia Tech needs to beat Saint Louis tonight, and it would be very beneficial to their RPI and SOS if they could draw Providence on Friday night. A victory over the Friars would give the Hokies a potential neutral site victory over a top-50 team, which would be a resume booster come March. Depending on action elsewhere in the country, two wins in New York could potentially put the Hokies in the top 25 next week.
I believe Virginia Tech is the most physically gifted team in the 2k Classic this season. If they play to their full potential, they shouldn’t have much trouble with Saint Louis tonight. Providence would present a very good early season test, but again, if the Hokies play their A game against the Friars (or Huskies), I feel like Tech should win. I think it would be a great start to the season if the Hokies could come back from New York City as the 2k Classic Champions.