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Virginia Tech (17-11, 8-6 ACC) vs. Wake Forest (16-11, 6-8 ACC)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008, 7:00

TV: RSN (check local listings)

Roster Card: Click here

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Game Preview:  Tonight's battle between Virginia Tech and Wake Forest will feature two of the youngest and most surprising basketball teams in the country. The Hokies are battling for an NCAA tournament berth, while Wake still has an extreme outside shot at making the Big Dance, if they can win both remaining regular season games and get a win in the ACC tournament. We should see maximum effort from both teams, which means great ACC basketball is in store.

These teams met back on December 23. The Hokies controlled the second half, but squandered a late lead, and Wake Forest point guard Ishmael Smith nailed a jumper from the elbow to give the Demon Deacons a 77-75 victory. Both teams have changed quite a bit since that game. They aren't the "two sorriest teams in the ACC," as one Wake fan I overheard pointed out at the first game.

At one point, Wake had some serious NCAA tournament hopes with a 6-5 ACC record, and with a win over Duke under their belt. That has changed, as they've lost three in a row to UNC, Maryland and Georgia Tech. Their chances are remote, but the chance is still there, and that makes them a very dangerous basketball team.

Wake Forest Starting Lineup
Pos Player Ht Wt Year PPG RPG Assists
G Ishmael Smith 6-0 165 So. 8.4 3.6 132
G Jeff Teague 6-2 175 Fr. 13.0 2.6 70
G L.D. Williams 6-4 205 So. 9.4 4 25
F James Johnson 6-8 235 Fr. 15.0 8.4 34
C Chas McFarland 7-0 225 So. 8.7 5.8 12

Wake Forest starts two freshmen and three sophomores, which gives them the youngest starting lineup in the ACC. The two freshmen are their leading scorers.

James Johnson is the top player on the team. Johnson is 21 years old. You won't find an older freshman anywhere in the nation. His maturity is partly what makes him so successful in his first season. At 21, he is older than Virginia Tech's Coleman Collins was when Collins played his final collegiate game last March.

Johnson is a great athlete with a 41 inch vertical jump. A student of the martial arts, he is 21-0 in competition. His father was a world kickboxing champion. He has the pedigree of a great athlete.

He's also a good basketball player. He is a versatile offensive threat. He can jump over you for the dunk, he can make post moves, and he can even shoot the three-pointer. His three-point percentage (28.4%) is solid, but he's a better shooter than that. Shot selection has been his Achilles heel at times this year, holding his percentage down a bit.

The other freshman is guard Jeff Teague. Teague is a good three-point shooter (37.1%), and like Johnson, one of the top overall freshmen in the ACC. He is also third in the ACC in steals, averaging two per game, although he doesn't rank in the top ten in the conference in league games.

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Like Malcolm Delaney of Virginia Tech, Teague has a somewhat slight frame right now, and at times can have trouble finishing around the basket.

Sophomore point guard Ishmael Smith makes the offense go. A cat-quick point guard, Smith loves to get to the glass. He can get from one end of the court to the other in a blur. He's good at finishing inside, he can dish it off to a teammate, or he can pull up for a jumper from around the free throw line, as the Hokies painfully found out back on December 23.

Stopping Smith's penetration will be a key for Tech. He has hit just 22 three-pointers this year. That's not his shot. When he does get to the glass, foul him hard and don't let him finish. His free throw percentage is amazing, in a bad way: Smith is just 15-of-51 from the charity stripe on the year for a very bad 29.4%.

Sophomores L.D. Williams and Chas McFarland round out the starting lineup. Williams is a physically strong guard who can take it to the glass, or shoot from the outside. Virginia Tech recruited him heavily. He's not great at anything, but he's a solid all-around basketball player who gets the job done.

McFarland has been hot lately, and he's one of the most improved basketball players in the ACC. A true center, McFarland has size combined with good athletic ability. He plays with his back to the basket most of the time, but he can hit an open jumper from close range. He has a good array of post moves.

Harvey Hale is Wake's sixth man. The only question is which Harvey Hale will show up. He is Wake's most dangerous outside shooter, but he is perhaps the streakiest shooter in the ACC. His season percentage is just 30.4%, but he's much better than that when he's on. He's either on, or he's off. There generally is no in between.

In three meetings with Virginia Tech, Hale has been completely off. He is just 8-of-30 from the field (26.7%) and 3-of-20 from three-point range (15%). He is the X-factor in tonight's game.

Jamie Skeen is another fairly athletic post player for Wake, but his minutes have been dropping recently in favor of McFarland. Skeen isn't particularly effective on the inside, but he has hit 23 three-pointers this year while shooting at a 35.4% clip from the outside. When he's in the game, Tech needs to pay attention to him out on the perimeter.

Other players off the bench include freshman guard Gary Clark (a VT recruiting target), sophomore forward/center David Weaver and forward Cameron Stanley. They provide solid depth to a balanced Wake Forest rotation.

VT vs. Wake Forest (ACC Games Only)

VT Wake  

Stat ACC Rank Stat ACC Rank
FG% 41.70% 11 44.30% 8 Wake
FG% Defense 43.50% 3 45.70% 9 VT
3-Pt.% 28% 12 33% 11 Wake
3-Pt.% Defense 36.50% 7 36.60% 8 VT
FT Shooting 69.10% 10 62.60% 11 VT
Rebounding Margin +2.6 2 -2.1 8 VT
Turnover Margin 0 6 +2.21 3 Wake
Assist/TO Ratio 0.73 11 0.83 9 Wake
Scoring Offense 71.6 10 74.8 7 Wake
Scoring Defense 73.4 3 76.9 7 VT
Average -- 7.5 -- 8.1 VT

One thing Virginia Tech must do this time that they did not do in December is limit their turnovers. The Hokies turned the ball over 22 times to Wake's 11. However, Wake isn't quite where they need to be defensively. Despite being -11 in turnover margin, the Hokies were still able to score 75 points. It helped that they went 29-of-32 from the free throw line in that first meeting, and no, that's not a typo.

Thanks to the improvement of Hank Thorns and Malcolm Delaney, Tech has been very good recently in turnover margin. Since the first Boston College game on January 26, the Hokies are averaging a +2.67 turnover margin. They have had a negative turnover margin just once in that nine game stretch.

I'm expecting a fairly fast, up tempo game in Cassell Coliseum tonight. Both teams have a lot of athletes, and they both like to run the court. It should be a fun, exciting ACC basketball game, and it will go a long way in determining the NCAA tournament fate of both teams.