What to expect: VT vs. VCU…it’s about time

For the first time since 1995, VCU and VT can forget about conference affiliations and NCAA Tournament success when comparing the programs. On Saturday, bragging rights will be decided on the hardwood.

  • What: VCU (9-3, 0-0) vs. Virginia Tech (7-3, 1-0)
  • Where: Richmond Coliseum
  • When: Saturday, December 21st at 5:30 PM
  • Watch: NBC Sports Network (Comcast 226, 848 HD; Verizon 90, 590HD)
  • Listen: Rams Radio

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For the first time since both teams left the Metro Conference in 1995, Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University will battle on the hardwood Saturday evening in the Richmond Coliseum.

The Rundown

“It’s a game that normally wouldn’t be scheduled. We can’t pick up the phone and call those guys and schedule that game.Coach Smart

It was VCU’s Final Four run combined with the success of Old Dominion and George Mason that inspired the Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic. Two and a half years later, VCU finally gets a chance to play one of the other marquee programs in the Commonwealth.

Virginia Tech may feel a superiority over VCU because of the ACC, but not long ago these two teams faced each other biannually as conference foes. A lot has changed since then. VT joined the ACC, and while their basketball improved so did their competition. VCU on the other took a step back in the eyes of many when they joined the CAA, but a Final Four and three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances give VCU plenty of reasons to be proud. On Saturday, conference affiliations and past success become irrelevant as the Rams and Hokies finally settle things on the hardwood with bragging rights on the line.

The Team

Virginia Tech is outpacing expectations using a more balanced approach than last season. The departure of the nation’s leading scorer Erick Green has transformed the offense, and the Hokies are significantly improved defensively in year two of James Johnson’s tenure as head coach in Blacksburg.

Last season the Hokies ranked 276th in 3-point percentage. This year, the Hokies boast five players that have attempted 20+ 3-pointers and are shooting above .429. JeQuan Lewis is the only Ram to meet those criteria.

Jarrell Eddie, Ben Emelogu, Adam Smith, Marshall Wood, and Will Johnston are an incredible 90-of-195 (.462) from 3-point range. Overall the Hokies rank sixth in 3-point percentage nationally and they lead the ACC in made 3-pointers. VCU is going to have to fight through every screen and contest every shot if they hope to beat the Hokies.

There is a reason the Hokies score on the perimeter: they lack inside scorers. Without CJ Barksdale who is still questionable for Saturday, the Hokies lack an interior offensive threat who can create his own shot.

This year the Hokies have climbed 174 spots in defensive efficiency. They are terrible at forcing turnovers, but they excel in every other area thanks to solid man-to-man defense and the occasional press. They have elite size on the perimeter that could cause the Rams trouble on both ends of the court. Most of their best lineups feature 6-foot-5 Ben Emelogu at the SG position, 6-foot-7 Jarrell Eddie at the SF spot, and 6-foot-8 Marshall Wood as a stretch-four. All three are strong, long, and can shoot the 3-pointer.

1,000 Point Scorers

Senior Rob Brandenberg (996 points) and junior Treveon Graham (992 points) should both join VCU’s 1,000 point club on Saturday. Thirty-two Rams have already joined the club including senior Juvonte Reddic and recent greats Larry Sanders, Eric Maynor, and Bradford Burgess.

The Star: Jarrell Eddie*

19.3 PPG, 7 RPG, .486 3-point shooting

Eddie is a 6-foot-7, 220 pound G/F who has guard skills, can rebound at an elite-level, and can hit shots from almost anywhere on the court. Expect Jordan Burgess to start and play plenty of minutes defending him. When Burgess heads to the bench, VCU will probably use a more traditional lineup with Graham guarding him. Both will need to fight through screens all night and contest his shots all the way out to five feet beyond the 3-point line.

Supporting Cast

#11 Devin Wilson* (PG, Freshman) • Freshman point guard. Wilson, a pass first PG, represents a huge change from the Erick Green era. Everyone around him has benefitted, and VT is much more balanced than in the past. Fortunately for VCU, he has an abysmal 33.3 turnover percentage.

#25 Will Johnston* (SG, Junior) • A product of Midlothian High School, Johnston has been starting recently in place of Adam Smith. At 6-foot-4, he is another lengthy guard who is an incredible 3-point shooter.

#33 Marshall Wood* (F, Sophomore) • 6-foot-8 forwards who shoot .458 from 3-point range are are always a challenge. He is a great rebounder, and Treveon Graham and Juvonte Reddic will spend most of Saturday chasing him around the court.

#2 Joey Van Zegeren* (C, Sophomore) • A product of Netherlands, Van Zegeren has few offensive skills, but he is a rebounding monster and he can score on the offensive glass. He’s extremely long and his defense/shot-blocking are what earn him minutes.

#3 Adam Smith (G, Sophomore) • Smith averaged 13.7 PPG during his freshman campaign at UNCW but he only averaged 3.5 PPG while shooting 3-16 from the field in his two games against VCU. He is having a terrific sophomore campaign and he can score in bunches.

#15 Ben Emelogu (G, Freshman) • Freshman team captain? Freshman team captain. Even though he doesn’t start, Emelogu is an extremely vocal leader and James Johnson told Jay Williams he is “our best player and bona fide leader.” He’s extremely strong and he’s one of the Hokies’ better inside scorers.

#42 CJ Barksdale (F, Junior) Barksdale is questionable for Saturday with a sprained knee. His return could be a huge boost for the Hokies because of his 6-foot-8, 235 pound frame. VT is solid on the perimeter but they need all of the inside help that can get. He is averaging 11.5 PPG and 6.7 RPG.

The Prediction

KenPom.com picks VCU to win 78-70 with a 77% chance of victory. I’m not quite as optimistic. The Hokies have the potential to drain some 3-pointers when they break the press, and they are playing more energized basketball than VCU right now. Juvonte Reddic needs to show up and keep this game from turning into a 3-point shoot-out if VCU wants to win.

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Virginia Tech Profile

  • Location: Blacksburg, VA
  • Enrollment: 31,087
  • Conference: ACC
  • All time series: Tied 10-10.
  • Last meeting: 2/23/1995. VCU won 69-57.

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Aaron Williams

Aaron Williams loves music, basketball (follow @rvaramnews!), family, learning, and barbecue sauce.

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