Virginia Tech will face two big tests this weekend in the Emerald Coast Classic in Destin, FL. The Hokies will take on #4 Iowa State tonight, and will then play either UAB or Illinois on Saturday.
Tech will play the Cyclones tonight at 7pm on CBS Sports Network. They’ll take on either the Blazers of the Illini on Saturday at either 3:30 or 6pm, depending on the results of their game with Iowa State. Their Saturday game will also be televised by CBS Sports Network.
Iowa State (3-0)
The Cyclones are ranked #4 in the country and are considered one of the favorites to win the Big 12 this season. Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg built this team, but he took the head coaching job of the Chicago Bulls in the offseason.
To replace Hoiberg, Iowa State turned to former Murray State head coach Steve Prohm. Prohm is a native of Vienna, Virginia, and he led Murray State to a 104-29 record over four seasons. That included a trip to the NCAA Tournament, as well as an appearance in the NIT. His team won the CIT Championship in 2013-14.
So far this season, the Cyclones are 3-0…
W vs. Colorado, 68-62
W vs. Chicago State, 106-64
W vs. Chattanooga, 83-63
Prohm inherited a stacked roster, and he has five players averaging double figures so far.
G Monte Morris (6-3, 175, Jr.): 13.3 ppg, 7.3 apg
G Nazareth Mitrou-Long (6-4, 208, Sr.): 17 ppg
F Abdel Nader (6-6, 225, Sr.): 12.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg
F Jameel McKay (6-9, 225, Sr.): 13.7 ppg, 12.7 rpg
F Georges Niang (6-8, 230, Sr.): 15.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Only two backups average more than six minutes per game, so this is not a particularly deep team. Nevertheless, those starters are very good. They are talented and experienced.
Jameel McKay originally signed with Buzz Williams at Marquette out of the junior college ranks. In fact, he left Marquette in mid-October of 2013, just a few months after arriving on campus. He never played a game for the Golden Eagles, and the circumstances around his departure are unclear.
The Cyclones are big and tough, and the Hokies will have to play very well to have a chance to pull off the upset.
The Hokies could find themselves facing UAB on Saturday. The Blazers are coached by Jerod Haase, a former North Carolina assistant. He is 57-47 at UAB, and he’s just beginning his fourth season. He took the Blazers to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament last season.
So far in 2015, UAB is 3-1…
L vs. Auburn, 75-74
W vs. Alabama State, 72-70
W vs. Troy, 79-63
W vs. Jacksonville State, 61-55
The Blazers lost a tough one to Auburn, and struggled to beat the same Alabama State team that knocked off the Hokies in the first game of the season.
Here’s UAB’s projected starting lineup…
G Nick Norton (5-10, 171, So.): 6.8 ppg, 4.8 apg
G Hakeem Baxter (6-2, 192, Jr.): 6.5 ppg
G Robert Brown (6-5, 195, Sr.): 8.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg
F William Lee (6-9, 210, So.): 4.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg
F Tosin Mehinti (6-9, 238, Jr.): 4.5 ppg, 4.3 rpg
Yes, that’s the same Robert Brown who used to play basketball for Virginia Tech. He’s shooting 40% from the field and 28.6% from three-point range, so he’s still struggling with hhis shot despite finding a change of scenery.
UAB’s most productive player so far has been Chris Cokley (6-8, 241, So.). Cokley is averaging 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in just 22.3 minutes per game off the bench. He will be a major challenge for Tech’s post players. However, he’s the only Blazer who averages in double figures.
John Groce is in his fourth season at Illinois. His team will take on UAB on Friday, and either Virginia Tech or Iowa State on Saturday. While at Ohio, Groce went 85-56. He took the Bobcats to two NCAA Tournaments in four years, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2011-12.
Illinois reached the NCAA Tournament in his first season, but only made the NIT the last two years. This year they are off to a tough start at 2-3…
L vs. North Florida, 93-81
W vs. North Dakota State, 80-74
L vs. Providence, 60-59
L vs. Chattanooga, 81-77
W vs. Chicago State, 82-79
The Illini lost a pair of games to North Florida and Chattanooga that you wouldn’t think they would drop. They also barely knocked off North Dakota State and Chicago State for their two wins. So far this is not a vintage John Groce team.
Here’s their projected starting lineup…
G Khalid Lewis (6-3, 185, r-Sr.):L 4.4 ppg, 2.6 apg
G Jalen Coleman-Lands (6-3, 180, Fr.): 8.8 ppg, 50% 3-pointers
G Alex Austin (6-4, 185, r-Jr.): 3.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg
G Malcolm Hill (6-6, 220, Jr.): 17 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 4.6 apg
C Mike Thorne, Jr. (6-11, 270, r-Sr.): 15.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg
Clearly the strength of this Illinois team is in the frontcourt. Malcolm Hill leads the team in points and assists, while Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne, Jr. leads the team in rebounding. The Hokies flirted with Thorne a bit when he decided to leave Charlotte after last season.
If the Hokies face Illinois, they’ll face a stern test on the inside. Newcomers like Zach LeDay, Kerry Blackshear and Johnny Hamilton will get a chance to prove their worth.