After suffering through three straight losses away from Blacksburg, Virginia Tech returns home to Cassell Coliseum to take on UNC-Asheville on Saturday night. The Bulldogs are off to a hot 6-1 start to begin the season, riding the play of two senior guards and one of the biggest humans you will ever see.
The Bulldogs own wins over Furman, Lees McRae, Brevard, Campbell, Western Carolina and Tusculum. Only Furman, Campbell and Western Carolina are Division I teams. Asheville's only loss came at the hands of East Tennessee State 89-87 in overtime. They could easily be 7-0 right now.
There are a couple of reasons why the Bulldogs are off to their best start in 23 years. First, they are getting excellent play from two experienced, senior guards. K.J. Garland and Bryan Smithson are their leading scorers. Both players are averaging 17.8 points per game. They are lighting opponents up from the outside.
Garland has hit 15-of-35 shots from behind the arc, good for 42.9%. Smithson is even better, having drained 10-of-16 (62.5%) three-pointers in just four games played.
Asheville loves the three ball. G/F Sean Smith, from Sweeden, is also shooting 50% from the outside on the season. As a team, Asheville is shooting 43.7% from three-point range, and 52.9% overall. If the Hokies want to fight off the Bulldogs' upset attempt, they'll have improve their perimeter defense, which has been lacking in the first five games of the season.
Asheville has an inside threat as well, in the form of 7-7, 360 leviathan Kenny George. George battled through two knee surgeries in the early part of his career, but he appears to be as healthy as he'll ever be at this point. He isn't particularly athletic, which fits the mold of all 7-footers that play in small conferences. However, George has been putting up good numbers this year.
George is averaging 12.3 points, eight rebounds and 6.5 blocks per game. He plays an average of 22.3 minutes per game. Obviously his greatest contribution comes on the defensive end. Not only has he blocked 39 shots this year, which is more than Virginia Tech has blocked as a team, he is a guy you have to game plan around. He alters a lot of shots on the inside.
It will be important for the Hokies to attack the paint when George is not in the game. The Bulldogs don't have any other player on their roster bigger than 6-8, 210 freshman Eric Stubbs, and he generally has only played in blowout wins over Division II schools. Jeff Allen could have a field day against the rest of the Asheville team.
Perhaps the most entertaining part of this game will be seeing Kenny George and Hank Thorns on the court at the same time. That's the biggest player you'll ever see, and one of the smallest.
Tech has to be ready to play in this game. UNC-Asheville is a very confident basketball team right now. With four seniors and two juniors in their playing rotation, they are experienced. Most importantly, they are winning games. They know they can beat Virginia Tech on Saturday. They are a confident group.
The Hokies have to play good defense on the perimeter. That's the key to the game. Limit the open looks of those senior guards, and the Hokies will stand a good chance to win.
Note: The game time has been switched from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, to accommodate Hokie fans who want to watch the ACC Championship Game.