I know the Maryland Terrapins basketball team is three games away from playing Virginia Tech, and the game is almost a month away, but preparation is still important. I’ve spent the past three days breaking down the a few of Virginia Tech’s games (courtesy of ESPN3), and I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of how this team likes to play basketball. I’ll break down the main points for you in the first of many ACC scouting reports this season, so that our fans can be some of the more knowledgeable fans in the nation.
The Good: Speed, Length, and Size
Virginia Tech has two things going for them overall: they run like the wind and they have adequate length and size down low to properly cover opposing big men. When you watch Virginia Tech play, you get the idea that they don’t really have too many set plays (and that’s being generous). The Hokies run the length of the court quickly and rarely use the entire shot clock to get a shot off, for better or worse. Erik Green, their resident ball handler/combo guard, won’t hesitate to push it the length of the court using his speed and trying to convert anything he can against anyone (1-on-5, 1-on-3, doesn’t matter). Transition baskets are plentiful for the Hokies, as are isolation plays where Green takes his defenders one-on-one and tries to convert on a layup.
Virginia Tech’s M.O. is beating the opposing team down the floor, and they do it to the tune of an 81.3 PPG average as a team. They are the ninth best scoring team in the nation as a result, ahead of Duke, Ohio State, and even Oregon State in that statistical category. When they aren’t slashing to the basket, the Hokies are dishing the ball out to their shooters (Jerrell Eddie and Robert Brown) as they draw people into the lane to prevent another drive.
Another facet of the Hokies game that is an advantage for them is their size. The Hokies are far from a huge team, but they’re also far from a small team. Of their starting five, only one of them is below 6’5 (Green). None of their players top 7 feet, but all of their players are lengthy guys who don’t hesitate to play hard-nosed defense against any team. Down low, their rotation of Raines, Barksdale, Van Zegeren, and Eddie gives them players ranging between 6’8 to 6’10 1/2. All of these guys are relatively long individuals who defend the paint well (defend is in italics, because it’s completely different from something else that involves the paint that Virginia Tech does horibbly).
Down low they do their best to defend the paint well and force teams to shoot over them, rather than attack the lane at will. They rarely give opposing teams an easy bucket, and almost every shot a team takes will be a contested shot with a hand or a body in their face. Believe it or not, one of the players that impressed me the most on their team was Van Zegeren, the 6’10 big man from Netherlands. With freshman Marshall Wood likely being out for the game against Maryland, Van Zegeren will get more minutes for the Hokies. He is very long and very raw, meaning he plays like a Jack Russell Terrier on Adderall. The times when he is under control, however, he can guard most players because of his length and his tenacity on the defensive end. He has solid footwork and can stay in front of big and small men, and seems to have a solid grasp of help defense.
The Bad: Rebounding and a one dimensional offense
The two things that Virginia Tech doesn’t do that well (rebound and moving the ball particularly well), they do so badly that it can be deemed an Achilles heel for their team. In every game I watched of theirs, their failure to clean up the defensive glass essentially threw a wrench into their game plan. Against a bad team like Mississippi Valley State, that features one guy who is 6’11 and zero guys averaging more than five rebound a game, the Hokies still managed to give up 16 offensive rebounds (in a game which they were almost outrebonded overall). Against Georgia Southern (a game which they lost), they gave up 12 offensive rebounds. The coup de gras performance came against West Virginia, where they gave up a staggering 20 offensive rebounds in total. Get the picture?
Against a team like Maryland, Virginia Tech is going to get absolutely demolished on the offensive boards unless they can come up with a better game plan, and I’m not entirely certain that they can. Yes, they are still very much in games despite this lack of rebounding prowess because their pace is so fast, but that will change against ACC teams. Why are they so bad at rebounding on the offensive glass? It’s hard to say. None of their players outside of Eddie are particularly good at rebounding, and their positioning down low is absolutely horrible. They are more focused on defending the man even after the shot than they are at grabbing rebounds. Players slip through their defensive front like a sieve and grab boards whenever they want. When they do manage to get their hands on a ball (which is when they don’t over commit to a person), it often just gets taken away from them because their hands aren’t in the right position. It’s a travesty, through and through.
The other thing they don’t do well is score outside of two plays: The Erik Green drive in the lane and the Jerrell Eddie/Robert Brown long two/corner three off a Green kick out. That is really all that this offense runs, and when the shots aren’t going in for this team they revert to Green “Hero Ball” from that point on. When Eddie and Brown are hitting their shots, it’s a very effective game plan and one that gives defenses fits because Green can cut defenders and get wide open looks down low. He scores points because of how good he is at finishing at the rim and the amount of shots he takes, but don’t sleep on his ability to find open gunners. Eddie is the kind of guy that strikes you as a feast or famine type player, meaning that when his shots are going in things are great, but when they aren’t he is a virtual non-factor in the offense.
Brown is the X-factor for their offense, and in fact he largely mirrors Nick Faust of Maryland. Both players are about 6’5-6’6, around 200 lbs, lanky and athletic. Both players are decent at passing and rebounding, and shoot so-so from the floor thanks to their insistence on shooting three pointers. However, when the shots are falling for either player, their teams are virtually unstoppable. That happened against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, where Brown dropped 18 and 21 points respectively in those games, hitting 7 and 9 shots in each game. When Brown gets hot, he can score from anywhere, really, just like Faust.
If he is on, then the entire offense flows and the Hokies end up scoring 90 points in a game. Unfortunately, he is just as streaky as Nick Faust is, and it’s hard to say which Brown the Hokies will get night in and night out.
Outlook for Maryland: Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.
The Terrapins match up well, and excel at what the Hokies do worst, which is protect the defensive glass. I like our chances, but the Hokies move very quickly and cannot be slept on.