NC State vs. Virginia Tech preview: Back into the danger zone

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Virginia Tech @ StatSheet
2014 Stats
2014 Roster
2014 Schedule

Virginia Tech Offense 13-14
Four Factors Percent National Rank
eFG% 47.7 254
Turnover Rate 19.4 241
Off Reb Rate 32.6 137
FT Rate
38.1 238

The ACC is the slowest conference in I-A college basketball--32nd out of 32 leagues with an average tempo of 61.9. What's not helping here? Guys like James Johnson opting to completely abandon any up-tempo inclinations to take a deliberate approach because circumstances demand it. It's the right move for a team that's not as talented as most of the opposition. It ain't fun, but it's the correct call.

The crux of that article is that the Hokies have been more competitive since making tweaks, which is true--they won their first league game since the calendar flipped to 2014 and suffered close losses in the other two games. Thing is, though, opponents had already hit the brakes for Johnson; in this bogged-down conference, Virginia Tech had already been playing in a lot of slow games. The Hokies haven't played in a contest with more than 65 possessions since December. Whatever they might have wanted to do, their molasses-covered opponents weren't allowing it. These days they've simply thrown in the towel and said, "FINE, we'll go slow!"

They also haven't cracked a point per possession in an ACC game since late January, so whatever changes have come offensively, they haven't made the Hokies more efficient. The overall progress probably has more to do with that other tweak they've made--running a 2-3 zone defense.

Starters

Devin Wilson (6-4, 185) -- Wilson's assist rate is excellent, though it comes with a cost--whole lotta turnovers. Maybe the most encouraging thing about his game is his free throw rate, which stands out immediately. He's attempted more free throws than field goal attempts this season, and assuming he can improve on his 65.3% free throw shooting as his career develops, he will become more lethal. Right now his overall shooting numbers are modest, and he isn't much for three-pointers, having attempted just 28 all year.

Ben Emelogu (6-5, 205) -- The departure Erick Green left a lot of vacant possessions to be filled--NC State will enjoy a similar task next year--and Emelogu is one of the guys who are taking on on a big role, even though he's just a freshman. His shot attempts are split almost 50-50 between twos and threes; judging by his low FT rate, he's not much of a threat off the dribble. He is a 36.7% shooter from three, though.

Jarell Eddie (6-7, 220) -- With the way his season's gone, it's pretty clear what you'd like Eddie to do if you're guarding him--make him score inside the arc. He is The Guy for the Hokies this year, easily leading the team in workload. The results ... mixed. He's hitting 38.2% of his threes ... and 32.9% of his twos. The latter is a career-low by a wide margin. But if State can't defend him properly, his shortcomings inside the arc may not matter at all.

Joey van Zegeren (6-10, 225) -- Excellent offensive rebounder and shot blocker, decent interior scorer. Dude's shooting 34.4% at the free throw line this year.

Trevor Thompson (6-11, 210) -- Virginia Tech's best overall rebounder and an above-average shot blocker. He is turnover-prone, though, and he's shooting just 38.2%.

Bench

Cadarian Raines (6-9, 238), Marshall Wood (6-8, 230), C.J. Barksdale (6-8, 235), Will Johnston (6-5, 205), Christian Beyer (6-7, 200). Wood was one of those outta-nowhere guys who killed NC State last season, setting career highs in points (14) and rebounds (16). He hasn't played in Virginia Tech's last five games, but never rule out another weirdly great performance.

Johnston has proven to be a competent three-point shooter; his value is pretty much limited to that aspect of the game, since he's attempted all of six two-pointers this season. Raines and Barksdale both bring good offensive rebounding to the table, while the latter is shooting better than he ever has.

Virginia Tech Defense 13-14
Four Factors Percent National Rank
eFG% 46.8 72
Turnover Rate 13.2 348
Off Reb Rate 29.5 84
FT Rate
35.0 68

Virginia Tech has held two of its last three opponents well under a point per trip, and its defense wasn't bad in the third game, either. That's a welcome development considering that the Hokies had surrendered at least 1.1 points per trip in each of the preceding five games. I think they're doing a better job leveraging their size with more zone defense, but whether or not it stands as a legitimate trend or mere fluke remains to be seen.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes State by two.

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