Virginia Tech had a great experience in Madison Square Garden last season, and they hope their trip this year nets the same results. Last year the Hokies blew out Seton Hall in the famous arena, and this year they are one of four teams taking part in the Aeropostale Holiday Festival.
Tech is guaranteed two games. The first game will take place on Friday at 6:30. The Hokies will play again on Saturday, against either St. John's or Marist. Saturday's consolation game is at 1:30, while the championship game is at 3:30. Obviously VT hopes to be playing at 3:30 come Saturday.
This tournament presents another set of unique challenges. They'll face a team in Hofstra that features one of the best mid-major players in the nation, and on Saturday they'll get either a very experienced Marist team, or a St. John's team with a young, talented frontcourt.
Hofstra Pride (2-6)
The only thing you need to know about Hofstra is that senior guard Andre Agudio is one of the most prolific players in the country. He carries his team. They depend on him night in and night out. If he has an off night, the Pride will lose. No question about it.
|Hoftstra Starting Lineup|
Don't let that 2-6 record fool you. The Pride have been very close in several of their losses. They have lost four games by four points or less, including one in overtime to UNC-Wilmington. They also have a very quality win over Charlotte thus far. Their record may not show it, but they can beat Virginia Tech if the Hokies don't play well.
Obviously the key to this game is shutting down Antoine Agudio. Hofstra is averaging 68 points per game, and Agudio is responsible for 26.8 of them. He ranks second in the nation in points per game, and he leads the nation in minutes played (39.8 minutes). Agudio is capable of doing a lot of his damage from the outside. He is one of the top three-point shooters in the history of the CAA with 305 career outside shots.
For the season, Agudio has hit 32 three-pointers. He's shooting at a 47.8% clip from the outside. He has hit 32 of his team's 50 three-pointers this season. As another example of how good a scorer he is, Agudio is averaging 17.2 points in the second half of games this year. VCU's Eric Maynor is the second leading scorer in the CAA this year, and he's averaging 18.3 points per game, barely a point more than Agudio averages in the second half.
Unfortunately for Hofstra, Agudio was injuried at practice on Wednesday. He suffered a confirmed high-ankle sprain, and there is a possibility of torn ligaments as well. His status for this weekend is uncertain, but even if he does play, he won't be anywhere near 100%. Without Agudio, Hofstra stands almost no chance of beating the Hokies unless Tech doesn't show up.
Agudio and freshman guard Charles Jenkins are the only players that have started every game for Hofstra this season. They are still finding themselves as a team. Eight other players have started at the other three spots over the course of the season, so projecting a starting lineup at this point is nothing more than a guess.
Hofstra has been solid rebounding the basketball, with a +0.5 margin so far. However, nobody stands out on the boards. Their top rebounder is Darren Townes, who averages 5.8 boards per game. Over 40% of his rebounds come on the offensive glass, so the Hokies have to get a body on him.
Hofstra plays pretty good defense. Opponents are shooting just 40.5% from the floor and 32.2% from the outside. However, they aren't a very good shooting team in their own right, hitting just 41.8% from the field. From the outside they are solid as a team at 37.9%, but that's mostly Agudio. Only four other players have attempted a three-pointer, and those four guys are a combined 18-of-65, not a very good mark.
Assist-to-turnover ratio is absolutely killing the Pride. They have just 74 assists in eight games, compared to 146 turnovers. That's a terrible ratio. If the Hokies come to play, Tech should be able to win this game simply because Hofstra can't hang on to the ball.
Marist Red Foxes (6-5)
Marist is a very experienced basketball team that starts four seniors, two of which are fifth-year seniors. They've had a tough schedule early, playing eight of their 11 games away from home. They are 3-1 in true road games, but 0-4 on neutral sites.
|Marist Starting Lineup|
Senior swingman Louie McCroskey is the top player on the team. He's the top scorer, and a very good rebounder for his size and position. He can light it up from the outside, as he's shooting 48.1% from three-point range on the season.
As a team, Marist is very good from behind the arc. They are shooting 39.2% from three-point range. They don't live and die by the outside shot, but they are very effective from long range.
It's a different story from the free throw line. As a team, the Red Foxes are shooting just 61.2% from the charity stripe. Three of their starters are shooting less than 50%, including both post players. All three of those starters have at least 21 attempts on the season. The Hokies can't be afraid to foul.
Only McCroskey scores in double figures for Marist. They aren't exactly an offensive powerhouse, scoring just 66.7 points per game. Freshman guard Jay Gavin comes off the bench to average 9.3 points per game, but he's the only other player that is approaching double figures.
Like Hofstra, Marist struggles with their assist-to-turnover ratio. Point guard David Devezin is very good, with 49 assists and 25 turnovers, but he is the only player on the team with a positive ratio. As a team, Marist has 129 assists and 164 turnovers. Tight, pressuring defense will likely result in some steals for the Hokies.
Marist doesn't have the star power of Hofstra, but they are a more well-rounded team. They have more experience and have better offensive threats on the inside.
The Red Foxes have played a fairly tough schedule. Four of their five losses have come to teams ranked in the top 100 of the RPI (according to RealTimeRPI.com). Their five losses have come against teams with a combined record of 42-11 against Division I competition. They have a win over #46 Wright State. Marist is a good basketball team, and arguably the favorite to win this tournament.
St. John's Red Storm (5-4)
It's possible that the Hokies could face former Big East rival St. John's on Saturday. The Red Storm aren't what they used to be. In fact, they are the Big East's version of Virginia Tech this year. Their roster is loaded with freshmen. If Tech faces the Red Storm on Saturday, youth won't be an excuse for either team, because both teams are equally young.
|St. John's Starting Lineup|
Besides the freshmen forwards, other freshmen who see plenty of playing time include guard Paris Horne, forward Rob Thomas, guard Malik Boothe, forward Sean Evans and center Dele Coker. This is a very young basketball team that will be better in the future than it is right now.
So far, St. John's has defeated the teams they should have beaten. They've knocked off St. Francis (NY), Sacred Heart, Farleigh Dickinson, Long Island, and Hawaii. Their four losses have come to Miami, Niagara, Ohio and Tulane, all Top 80 RPI teams. They nearly beat Ohio and Niagara, but of course, they only beat Hawaii and St. Francis (NY) by single digits. Like the Hokies, they are talented, but very young.
St. John's top two scorers and rebounders are freshmen. D.J. Kennedy has been especially impressive for a freshman small forward. He's playing over 30 minutes per game, shooting 50% from the field and 43.5% from three-point range. Kennedy is the team's leading scorer and rebounder.
Justin Burrell leads the team in minutes per game, and he's second in scoring and rebounding. Besides Burrell and Kennedy, St. John's doesn't have anyone averaging over three rebounds per game.
St. John's has a couple of traditional centers in Tomas Jasiulionis and Dele Coker, but they combine to play just over 20 minutes per game. The rest of the time, the Red Storm goes small. They'll bring in Anthony Mason, Jr. as an extra wing. This very similar to what Virginia Tech has been doing lately. The Hokies start Cheick Diakite, but for most of the game, the lineup consists of a point guard, three wings and a post player.
Anthony Mason, Jr. only recently returned from an ankle injury. He's only played in four games this year, but he's as good as a starter. He's spent most of his career in the starting lineup. He is averaging 10.8 points per game so far off the bench. Although St. John's only averages 70.3 points per game, they have some solid scoring across the board. They have five players averaging double-figures, including Mason off the bench.
St. John's has been playing outstanding defense for such a freshman-laden team. They are allowing just 65.7 points per game. Opponents are shooting 40% from the field and 29.7% from three-point range. Opponents have a terrible 86-to-136 assist-to-turnover ratio against the Red Storm.
Like every other team in this tournament, St. John's has a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. They have 115 assists and 135 turnovers as a team.
Overall View of the Tournament
All four teams in this tournament will bring a negative assist-to-turnover ratio into this game.
|Bad Assist-to-Turnover Ratios|
Virginia Tech is the closest of all those teams to having a good assist-to-turnover ratio. If any of those teams can come through with a positive ratio over the weekend, they could end up winning the tournament.
You've got to like Virginia Tech's first round draw. If Agudio can't play for Hofstra, or he isn't 100%, I don't think the Pride has much of a chance against the Hokies. That would set up a championship game matchup for the Hokies against either Marist or St. John's.
This tournament represents a chance for the Hokies to get two neutral court wins and a tournament victory before New Years. However, don't expect a very neutral crowd. St. John's, Hofstra and Marist are located very close to Madison Square Garden, 13 miles, 27 miles and 32 miles respectively. Virginia Tech will be the only non-local school in this event. Madison Square Garden serves as a second home court for the Red Storm.
That said, I think the Hokies have a shot to go up north and get a couple of solid neutral site wins. They are the most talented team in the field. We'll see if they can get it done.