VT 66, UNC-Greensboro 50

Hokie Central's Analysis

I'm not going to pull any punches, but by the same token, I'm also not going to say anything that Coach Bill Foster hasn't been saying all along. This team is fighting to find its identity.

Graduating four players who all started and all knew their roles will do that to you. Smitty, Good, Watlington and Travis Jackson were four guys with completely different capabilities, and they all filled different roles on the team. Now you've got guys like Alvaro Tor and Andre Ray getting significant playing time for the first time, and they're not sure what to do yet.

For this game, Foster started Ace Custis and Shawn Browne at the forward spots, with Tor at center and Troy Manns and Andre Ray at guard. Browne, Tor, and Ray, however, would each only play about 10 minutes, as Foster eventually would give significant PT to Jim Jackson (33 minutes), Myron Guillory (30 minutes), and freshman Russ Wheeler (21 solid minutes).

There are four guys on this team who do know their roles: Ace Custis, Troy Manns, Jim Jackson, and Myron Guillory. Ace is The Man, while Manns runs the show from the point. Jackson provides floor burns off the bench, and Guillory has settled nicely into the role of spark plug off the bench. Against Coastal Carolina, Guillory came off the bench and pumped in 18, while in this game, he shot a solid 4-8 from three point range, including some very timely bombs, and scored 12 points.

Tech only shot 43% from the field, and they were pounded 33-24 on the boards, while UNC-G shot nearly 50% (19-40).

So how did the Hokies win the game? With defense and foul shooting. UNC-G had a whopping 23 turnovers, compared to just 5 for Tech, while the Spartans only took 6 free throws to Tech's 21. The turnover stat is the one that jumps out at you, and it is probably the single stat that won the ball game.

The Flow of the Game

UNC-G came out and hit three quick threes to go up 9-5, but Tech went on a 13-2 run to go up 18-11. UNC-G closed the gap to 29-24 at half time. With Tech hanging precariously to a 48-43 lead at the 10:40 mark of the second half, the Hokies went on a 17-3 run to put the game away. Tech couldn't put together enough offense before that to ice the game, and that's why UNC-G, a team that Tech had crushed the last two years, was able to hang around that long.

In particular, UNC-G had a 6-9 junior forward named Larry Gilbert who did it all there for a while. Gilbert was only 4-7 from the field with 9 points and 6 rebounds, but it seemed like more. He scored inside, he scored outside, he dished off, and he blocked 3 shots. Along with a 3-3 effort from forward Tony Daughtry from behind the 3-point line, it was enough to keep it close. But after a while, UNC-G had one too many turnovers, and at the 14:00 point in the second half, Ace threw down a dunk on a nice feed from Manns that finally got the crowd into it.

The Players

Hear me now and believe me later: Russ Wheeler can play. He's just a freshman, so he's not a chiseled physical speciman, but he's a big boy with soft hands and a nose for the game. He takes good care of the ball and makes good decisions, without being too hesitant. I did see Ace get on his case once, though, when Wheeler took it to the basket against two guys while Ace was standing alone underneath the rim. Just for the record, Wheeler got the bucket and the foul on the play.

Russ will not impress you with his athleticism, but he is solid. Count it. He was 4-6 from the field while only one other Tech player shot fifty percent (Ace was 6-12). Russ has to work on the free throws, though: he was 0-3.

Alvaro Tor and Keefe Matthews are sliding down the depth chart behind Wheeler. Tor isn't a banger inside, while Matthews's inconsistency (along with a tendency to get beat on defense) is starting to drive Foster a little crazy. So crazy that I think you'll see Wheeler starting the next game, with Tor backing him up. The bottom line is that unless Wheeler is in the game, Ace isn't getting consistent help on the boards.

It's my opinion that Andre Ray is wasted on this team. He's a phenomenal athlete who could be soaring and scoring for a team that was willing to run with the ball, but with Tech's slow, walk-it-up style, Ray looks as if he doesn't know what to do when the Hokies settle into the half court offense. Andre is a thoroughbred, looking for a place to run where there's no room. I think it's a shame that he isn't cut loose, because I would pay good money to see Troy Manns feed Ray for an alley oop on the fast break.

Other Miscellaneous Items

While they were redoing the Cassell Coliseum roof this summer (a $3.2 million project), they took the opportunity to install new lighting inside. Hallelujah!! Those nasty banks of lights that used to reflect off the floor and look so awful on TV (and in person) are gone!! Now there are just tiny individual lights in those positions, and although they reflect off the floor, you don't really notice them.

Only 4,286 people were in attendance, but the good news is that the students had a fairly strong turnout, and the Cassell is loud, even when so few people are in it.

One of the reasons that only 4200 people were there is that, well, teams that emphasize defense and a deliberate pace on offense can get, uh ... dull. The crowd last night didn't get riled up until 6 minutes into the second half, when Ace took a beautiful half-court feed from Manns and slammed it down. That got the crowd into it, and later on, when Jimmy Jackson threw down a rim-rocker off a fast break (white boys can jump), the house almost came down. Other than that, though, it was more like trench warfare.

Next up: Georgia, Saturday the 14th. If there's one early-season game you want to see, this is it. Georgia was a final 8 team last year, and they feature coach Tubby Smith, who used to take Tulsa to the NCAA Sweet 16 almost every year. I encourage you to show up and support the Hokies in what should be a game that I'll optimistically call "challenging."

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