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Virginia Tech (19-13, 9-7 ACC) vs. Morgan State (22-10, 14-2 MEAC)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008, 7:00

TV: ESPN Classic

Roster Card: Click here

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Game Preview:  Virginia Tech will be looking to pick up win #20 in their first NIT game, Wednesday night against Morgan State in Cassell Coliseum. A win would set up another game in Blacksburg against either UAB or VCU, but first the Hokies must get by Morgan State, who was just a game away from going to the NCAA tournament.

Morgan State finished first in their conference during the regular season, but got upset by Coppin State during their conference tournament on March 15. They were a game away from going to the NCAA tournament. They dominated their conference during the regular season, going 14-2, and they also played UConn and Miami to 4-point games on the road.

Morgan State is coached by Todd Bozeman. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he is the former head coach at Cal, where he did very well. From 1993-1996, he went 63-35, guiding the Bears to the Sweet 16 at the age of 29. Bozeman took Cal to the NCAA tournament three times overall. He recruited Jason Kidd and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and he is a very good basketball coach who has done wonders for Morgan State in two short years.

So why is he coaching at Morgan State? Because he got busted for rules violations at Cal. Bozeman paid the parents of Jelani Gardner $30,000 over two years so they could travel to see their son play. After Gardner's playing time decreased, his parents turned Bozeman in to the NCAA. Around the same time, he was also the subject of a sexual harassment complaint.

The NCAA stepped in and imposed an 8-year "show cause" on Bozeman. That was his penalty for paying the parents of Gardner, and lying about it during the investigation. That effectively banned him from college coaching for eight years. However, he's back on the job now, and if he keeps up this success at Morgan State he might find himself a better job soon.

Here is a look at the Morgan State starting lineup.

Probable Morgan State Starting Lineup
Pos Player Ht Wt Year PPG RPG Assists
G Jerrell Green 5-10 170 Sr. 5.4 2 109
G Reggie Holmes 6-4 180 So. 13.0 3.3 16
G Jamar Smith 6-2 210 Sr. 17.0 5.6 36
F Marquise Kately 6-5 220 Jr. 12.8 6 52
F Boubacar Coly 6-9 220 Sr. 9.6 11.1 22

Morgan State has a very balanced scoring lineup, with three players who average in double figures, and a fourth who scores nearly 10 points per game. Reggie Holmes might not start for Morgan State, but he'll play 25 minutes per game. The lineup listed above is the Bears' main lineup, not necessarily their starting lineup.

They don't matchup particularly well with Virginia Tech from a size standpoint, with the exception of senior forward Boubacar Coly. Coly is an excellent rebounder and a competent scorer. He has a great basketball background from the Laurinburg Institute and Oak Hill Academy.

Morgan State has two other very good rebounders in Jamar Smith and Marquise Kately. However, they are undersized, and they got their rebounding stats playing other undersized teams in their small conference this year. Coly is the exception, however. He has proven that he has the ability to compete with the big boys. He posted a double-double in the season opener against UConn, a narrow 69-65 loss.

Morgan State has a trio of good scorers in Holmes, Smith and Kately. Holmes in particular isn't shy about shooting the three-pointer. He is 60-of-164 this year, good for 36.6%. Overall this isn't a great outside shooting team, but they can knock down the open jumper.

Smith is hobbled with a high ankle sprain and is questionable for the game. His injury, whether it results in absence or compromises his performance, could have a big impact on the game.

One thing the Bears do lack is depth. Three players get over 30 minutes of playing time per game, and only two backups get more than eight minutes. They will win or lose with their top seven players.

As a result, they play the game at a fairly slow pace. They won't charge into Cassell Coliseum and try to run the Hokies up and down the court. Take a look at the statistical comparison below, and you'll see that they aren't going to set the arena on fire with offense.

VT vs. Morgan State
Category VT Stat MORG Stat Advantage
FG% 43.3% 43.3% Even
FG% Defense 40.5% 40.8% VT
3-Pt.% 32.7% 33.0% MORG
3-Pt.% Defense 34.8% 32.3% MORG
FT% 68.3% 66.4% VT
Rebounding Margin +4.7 +5 MORG
Turnover Margin +0.2 +1.8 MORG
Assist/TO Ratio 0.87 0.8 VT
Scoring Offense 69.2 67.7 VT
Scoring Defense 64.8 61.4 MORG

Morgan State doesn't score a lot of points, and they don't shoot it particularly well. They compensate for that by slowing the game down and playing tight defense. They held UConn to 69 points. They held Miami to 55, though the 'Canes were without First Team All-ACC guard Jack McClinton. Only one team has scored more than 68 points on them since January.

The most extreme example of their slow down, defensive basketball style is their game at Delaware State on March 1. The Bears won the game 39-36. If you get them running up and down the court, they won't be able to match you athletically. They lost to Maryland 89-65 back in early December.

There are a few things in this game that will be very important for Tech. First off, they must focus defensively. The Bears aren't going to earn a lot of points against the Hokies' stifling defense, so don't give them anything they don't deserve. Second, defensive rebounds. Don't give them extra possessions. And last, when the Hokies rebound defensively, they need to push it up the court and get some baskets in transition. It will be important to play with a lead, because Morgan State doesn't have the offensive firepower to come back.

For teams who almost made the NCAA tournament but instead have to play in the NIT, sometimes that first NIT game is the most difficult. They aren't quite over getting left out of the Big Dance. They feel like they are better than the NIT. If the Hokies are feeling that way on Wednesday night, then look out, the Bears can get them. However, if Tech shows up and plays like they are capable of playing, they should be able to win this one without much of a problem.