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Virginia Tech (16-11, 7-6 ACC) vs. Boston College (13-12, 4-8 ACC)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008, 7:00


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Game Preview:  The Hokies will look to continue their winning ways when they host Boston College in Cassell Coliseum on Tuesday night. If you're debating on whether or not to come to this game, consider that this is the biggest basketball game of the season for Tech. If they don't beat Boston College, their NCAA tournament hopes will basically be gone. This will be ACC basketball with a March intensity level.

The Hokies defeated Boston College 81-73 in overtime back on January 26 in the Conte Forum. The most impressive part about that victory was the fact that Tech played the game without Jeff Allen, and J.T. Thompson recorded a double-double (14 points, 12 rebounds) in just his second career start.

That was the second game of what has turned into a long slump for the Eagles. BC has lost eight of their last nine games, with their lone win coming over NC State, a team that seems to play poorly against everyone except Virginia Tech.

Boston College has played better recently, playing teams much closer than they did early in their losing streak. However, will they able to completely break out of their funk in a tough road environment like Cassell Coliseum? Here's a look at the starting lineup that will try to get the Eagles back on track.

Boston College Starting Lineup
Pos Player Ht Wt Year PPG RPG Assists
G Tyrese Rice 6-1 190 Jr. 20.6 3.5 123
G Rakim Sanders 6-5 225 Fr. 11.6 4.7 46
F Tyler Roche 6-7 220 So. 4.4 2.2 45
F Shamari Spears 6-6 238 So. 10.4 6.4 25
C Tyrelle Blair 6-11 242 C 5.8 5.1 14

The heart and soul of Boston College is point guard Tyrese Rice. He is arguably the best lead guard in the ACC. Rice is a complete basketball player. He can beat you off the dribble and get to the glass, and he has an NBA range 3-pointer. He is also an outstanding free throw shooter.

Rice's percentages are down this year (34.5% 3-pt. range, 84.5% free throws), partly because he is the primary focus of opposing defenses. However he's still an outstanding player, averaging 20.6 points per game and dishing out 123 assists. He is the Boston College basketball team.

The Eagles have some other weapons, including freshman wing guard Rakim Sanders.  He is a big-bodied, physical guard and a dangerous player. Sanders is averaging 11.6 points per game, and like Rice, he can go inside or outside. He scored 17 points against Tech in the first meeting and hit a three-pointer that sent the game into overtime, although he was just 5-of-17 from the field.

Sanders' percentages have dropped considerably in ACC play. In conference play, he shoots just 38.5% from the field and 34.7% from three-point range. That's down from 44.4% overall and 39.4% from the outside for the entire season.

BC's backups in the backcourt are both freshmen. Corey Raji and Biko Paris have good potential, and they both shoot the ball decently, though they haven't developed into consistent threats from the outside as of yet. When you watch this game, keep in mind that three of BC's four guards are freshmen. With the exception of Rice, the Eagles won't have an experience edge on the Hokies in the backcourt.

Shamari Spears is BC's best scorer and rebounder in the frontcourt. Spears is averaging 10.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, though that drops to 9.5 points and 5.1 boards in ACC play. He has a pretty decent shot for a big man (50.6%), though he doesn't match Tech's forwards in athleticism.

Tyrelle Blair doesn't pose a huge threat offensively (5.8 ppg), but he is a solid rebounder (5.1 rpg) and a great shot blocker. Blair has 89 blocked shots on the year. He leads the ACC in that category, averaging 3.56 blocks per game. Tech's inside players need to take it right at Blair's chest instead of trying to get cute with their shots.

Boston College is shooting 40.5% from three-point range in ACC play, and that's mostly due to the outside shooting of backup center John Oates, believe it or not. Despite his size (6-10, 255), Oates is an excellent sniper from the outside. He is 20-of-31 from three-point range in ACC play, good for 64.5%. That will bump up a team's stats in a hurry. Oates doesn't produce much on the inside. 24 of his 39 field goals this year have come from the outside, and he averages just 3.4 rebounds per game.

One player to keep your eye on is Josh Southern, a freshman center. He is big (6-10, 255) and has a bright future at BC. He has come on in ACC play, averaging 6.3 points and 3.8 boards in the eight conference games he has played.

Perhaps the weak link of the BC starting lineup is Tyler Roche. Roche, a wing forward, is a three-point specialist who ... doesn't hit a lot of three-pointers. He has started all but one game for BC. He's a good three-point shooter, but he's not shooting a lot, averaging slightly less than one three-pointer per game. He also lacks athleticism and doesn't offer much besides three-point shooting at this point in his career. He is a pretty good passer, but on many occasions Al Skinner will take him out and use a three-guard lineup.

VT vs. BC (ACC Games Only)

Stat ACC Rank Stat ACC Rank
FG% 41.60% 11 46.60% 4 BC
FG% Defense 44.40% 6 44.50% 7 VT
3-Pt. % 28.70% 12 40.50% 1 BC
3-Pt. % Defense 37.60% 9 32.80% 5 BC
FT % 69.30% 8 71.10% 5 BC
Rebounding Margin +1.5 3 -1.8 9 VT
Turnover Margin 0.00 8 -3.92 11 VT
Assist/TO Ratio 0.70 11 1.05 4 BC
Scoring Offense 72 9 74.8 7 BC
Scoring Defense 75.4 5 76.8 10 VT
Average -- 8.2 -- 6.3 BC

So how is Boston College in danger of finishing last in the ACC, when their average statistical ranking is pretty solid? Simple. They have three inexperienced freshman guards and a frontcourt that lacks athleticism.

The Eagles are one of the worst teams in the conference in rebounding and turnover margin. Their opponents get a lot of extra possessions. In the first meeting with BC, the Hokies grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and scored 24 second chance points, to just seven for the Eagles. Remember, that was without Jeff Allen, who was serving a suspension, but J.T. Thompson, who is more athletic than BC's frontcourt, had a big game.

A frontcourt that lacks athletes and an inexperienced backcourt also leads to a bad turnover margin. When Tech played BC the first time, the Hokies were among the worst in the conference in turnover margin, yet they played the Eagles even (8 turnovers for VT, 8 for BC). Tech has made a lot of progress in turnover margin since that game, winning the turnover battle in six of their last seven games.

BC doesn't have the athletes to force a lot of turnovers (only 12.2 forced per game in ACC play, next-to-last in the conference), so expect the Hokies to win that battle tonight. If that holds up, and Tech's athletic frontcourt can outmatch the Eagles' not-so-athletic frontcourt yet again, the Hokies should be able to extend their winning streak to three games.