Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
-- It seems like every week there’s a tournament being held at Madison Square Garden, and this week is no different, as two old Big East opponents will clash when #84 Virginia Tech (7-4) meets #45 St. John’s (9-1) in the final of the Aeropostale Holiday Festival.
Virginia Tech has mastered the heartbreaking loss early in the season, as its four losses have been by a combined eight points, to Xavier, Seton Hall, Wisconsin and Georgia. Unfortunately for the Hokies, these four losses account for all of their tough games, as their best win has come over Navy, which, as was talked about last week at CHN, places them in dire straights for an NCAA bid. St. John’s has a record that looks good, but is quite shallow, as it’s lost its only challenging game at Boston College. However, if the Red Storm are going to make a splash before the gruelling Big East season starts, they’ll have their chances in this game and in a game against Miami next week.
Virginia Tech are a nicely balanced offensive team, if not all that effective. They split the ball between the inside and outside well, and have shown good ball movement, with one of the better assist/field goal ratios in the country. The Hokies are average shooters, but have a good ability to get to the line and a nice touch when there, as well as doing well on the offensive glass. St. John’s have defended well against their weak competition, especially inside, where they tend to block a lot of shots, which is helped out by some of the impressive size they have on the bench. Otherwise, the Red Storm defense hasn’t done much well, and they will likely be vulnerable to good perimeter from the Hokies.
St. John’s is facing some injuries on the inside, and it will really have to hope that it can maintain its offensive performance, which has quite heavily depended on strong shooting from two. Offensive rebounding is another Red Storm strength, but they are really hampered by poor shooting from both behind the arc and at the free throw line. Given that Virginia Tech’s best defensive areas are on the inside, both defending two-point shots and pulling down rebounds, St. John’s will need to improve its weaknesses to have a chance.
A.D. Vassallo is the Hokies’ leading scorer and primary option on offense, and shows a lot of the balance that characterizes Virginia Tech’s offense. Vassallo shoots decently inside and averages 7 rebounds a game, but also has a solid shooting touch from outside, and has picks up a fair number of assists. The other main inside player is Jeff Allen, an over 50% shooter who has a rare-but-effective long-distance shot, and leads the team in both rebounds and blocks. Malcolm Delaney is the team’s main guard, and while his shooting has been disappointing, he makes up for it at the free throw line, and leads the team with 4 assists a game. Senior forward Chieck Diakite starts, but plays a much smaller role than the main three, as does the other strong inside scorer, freshman Victor Davila. Three other guards have seen significant time in Dorenzo Hudson, Hank Thorns and Terrell Bell, but given that Thorns’ 31% shooting is the best of the trio, depth in the backcourt is an area VT must improve.
Saint John’s has a very young team, and it got even younger when the only upperclassman to get significant playing time, Anthony Mason Jr., suffered a season-ending foot injury. Sophomore forward Justin Burrell, who was off to a very strong start, scoring over 10 points per game, will also miss today’s game, as he recovers from a facial fracture. Considering that Mason and Burrell were the only two players to earn some All-Big East honor last season, these are two major blows. Without Mason and Burrell, the onus of creating offense will fall on three sophomores, Paris Horne, D.J. Kennedy and Malik Boothe. Horne has scored in double digits in all but one game this season, and has shown a good touch from three, though the Storm would like to see him get to the line more. Kennedy’s shooting hasn’t been quite as good, but at 6-6 he is a solid force inside, and leads the team in rebounds. Boothe is just 5-9, and has shown some good distribution skills, leading the team in assists while posting a nearly 2:1 A/TO ratio. The other starters are Sean Evans, a purely inside player who provides some good rebounding but is frightening at the free throw line, and Rob Thomas, who made his first start of his career yesterday, and was St. John’s most effective shooter on the way to 11 points. The Storm also boast some impressive, though little-used, size off the bench, as any of 6-10 Dele Coker, 6-11 Tomas Jasiulionis or 7-1 Phil Wait can be called upon as potential shot-blocking forces.
St. John’s record is nice, but their statistical profile isn’t strong when you account for the strength of their schedule. Without Burrell and Mason, the Red Storm are in some serious inside trouble, and given their struggles outside, I think Virginia Tech will be able to hold them off.
Winner: Virginia Tech Margin: 6-10