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   Welcome to TSLMail #206 - Friday, December 23, 2005    
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Hokie Women Off to Strong Start, But Will it Last?
by Will Stewart,

Ten games into the season, the Virginia Tech women's basketball team is off to their third best start ever, with a perfect 10-0 mark. That's encouraging, but a few games from now, the ladies will head into conference play, and it's hard to figure out what's going to happen then.

The Hokies beat Texas Tech 69-62 in the Caribbean Classic Tuesday to hit double-digit wins without a loss. Texas Tech was a pedestrian 4-5 coming into the game, but it's a big win, nonetheless. TT was ranked #12 when the Hokies beat them in overtime last year, and it was the second-seeded Lady Raiders who spanked VT 73-52 in the second round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament.

The 10-0 start is impressive and is bested only by two other teams in Tech history. Bonnie Henrickson's last club, the 2003-2004 squad, started out 12-0. That team dropped six of the next 11 to fall to 17-6, then finished strong and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they fell to #1 seed Penn State in Blacksburg, 61-48. The '03-04 Hokies finished 23-8, the second-most wins posted by a Tech team under Henrickson.

The only team to win more games under Henrickson was, of course, the legendary 1998-99 team that started out 18-0, advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16, and finished 28-3. That team got as high as #11 in the rankings and lost to #2 Tennessee in Greensboro in the Sweet 16.

The '98-99 team was unquestionably Henrickson's best, with a mix of veterans, good young players, outside shooters, and tough competitors like Lisa Witherspoon, Amy Wetzel, and Michelle Houseright. They also benefited from playing in a weak conference, the Atlantic 10, which offered up very little competition. The exception to that rule was Xavier, which was Kryptonite to Henrickson's SuperHokies. It was Xavier that tagged those Hokies with two of their three losses.

This year's Hokies will face a much tougher conference when they kick off ACC play against NC State on January 2nd. Before then, the Hokies have two more out of conference games that they should win, against Longwood and Marshall or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the Lady Luck Classic in Blacksburg on December 28th and 29th.

Expect the Hokies to run their record to 12-0, matching the 2003-04 team, before they tip off against NC State. Ironically, the Wolfpack and Hokies are tied at #26 in this week's AP Poll, just outside the rankings.

With their early-season run, the Hokies have positioned themselves well for their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance in head coach Beth Dunkenberger's second year. VT stands at #9 in the RPI ratings as we write this, and while we're not big fans of the RPI around the TSL office, particularly in the early part of the season, it's to Tech's advantage to have that high of an RPI. When you consider that the Hokies are in the RPI top ten and will soon enter conference play in the RPI's top-rated conference, it's clear that all Tech has to do is win some games and the RPI will take care of itself, and the Hokies will be in good shape for a tourney bid.

Tech's early season strength of schedule is the weakest by far of the top ten teams in the RPI. With an SOS of 174, the Hokies are far behind the second worst SOS in the top ten, which is posted by Duke with an SOS of 77. VT has beaten the highest-rated teams they have played handily, beating JMU (#34 in the RPI) by the score of 86-71, and Liberty (#64) by the score of 70-60.

Lastly, the Hokies start a good group of four seniors (Carrie Mason, Dawn Chriss, Kerri Gardin, and Megan Finnerty) and one junior (Kirby Copeland). Mason, Chriss, and Gardin were all major players on Henrickson's '03-'04 team.

The unblemished record, RPI rating, conference strength, and on-court experience are all things to like. What's not to like?

For starters, a look at the ACC statistics shows that the Hokies as a team are in the middle of the pack in nearly every statistical category, including the big four: scoring offense (8th at 70.4 ppg), scoring defense (6th at 58.6), rebounding margin (7th at +6.8 rpg), and turnover margin (8th at +1.3 tpg). Tech is the worst free throw shooting team in the conference at 58.4%, the worst in 3-point field goals per game (2.7), and next to last in three-point shooting percentage (30.7%).

The highest ranking the Hokies have in any statistical category is 4th in the obscure category of three-point field goal percentage defense, where opponents are shooting 26.2%.

In terms of individual statistics, only two Hokies register in the ACC. Senior forward Kerri Gardin, a highly-recruited player in high school, is a scoring and rebounding force inside, currently 11th in the ACC in scoring at 13.4 ppg and first in the ACC in rebounding at 10.6 rpg (a full 1.3 rebounds ahead of BC's Brooke Queenan and almost two rebounds ahead of #3 Crystal Langhorne of Maryland). Gardin is 15th in the league in field goal percentage at 54.8%.

Carrie Mason is 16th in scoring at 11.9 ppg, 13th in free throw percentage (79.5%), 9th in steals (2.4 spg), and 6th in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.00).

Copeland is the only other Hokie to show up in the ACC stats, coming in 13th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.50).

The Hokies only have two legitimate three point shooting threats: Mason, who shoots 35.9% (14 of 39), and sixth "man" Brittany Cook, who hits at 35.7% (10 of 28). Only one other Hokie has taken more than five three pointers, and the one who has, Kirby Copeland, has only hit one of nine from beyond the arc. Much like in Henrickson's later Tech coaching days, the Hokies don’t have many options from outside, which explains how they're so far down the league standings in perimeter shooting.

After Gardin, the rebounding dropoff is severe. Guard Dawn Chriss is second on the team in rebounding at 5.8, and center Megan Finnerty rebounds at a 4.0 clip.

Gardin is well-rounded and Mason is a capable, experienced point guard, but the rest of the team gets things done by committee. The good news is that the committee is large, with nine players currently averaging over 12 minutes a game. Only one Hokie averages more than 30 minutes a game (Carrie Mason, 32.2 mpg – contrast that with the men's team, where four players average over 30 minutes a game). So they should be fresh once conference play starts.

With a record that will likely be 12-0 after the Lady Luck Classic, and with another OOC game against High Point on January 4th, the Hokies should be a perfect 13-0 outside of the ACC. Unlike the men, the women only play 14 conference games, and a 7-7 record in conference will get the Hokies to 20-7 on the year heading into the ACC Tournament, with an RPI that should be healthy. Last year, Tech only went 6-8 in the ACC, so 7-7 would be an improvement.

Things look encouraging from a record and RPI standpoint, and there's no question that the Hokies will be leaning on Gardin and Mason to be their workhorses in ACC play. It's going to take some step-up efforts from the rest of the team to have success in the ACC. More performances like the ones put in by Chriss (20 points) and Copeland (19) against Texas Tech would be welcome. Contributions like that will get the Hokies back to the 20-win level they enjoyed for seven straight seasons (from 1997-98 to 2003-04), and back to the NCAA Tournament. Pass - Your Ultimate Ticket to Hokie Sports!

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-- Will Stewart Updates From the Past Week
Virginia Tech Special Teams: Are They Truly Special?
December 22, 2005
You can’t watch a Virginia Tech football game on television without hearing the announcers mention Frank Beamer and his special teams. The Hokies have blocked a lot of kicks over the years, and with the exposure they get from ESPN, many have come on national television. One day we’ll all look back on Beamer and say that when it came to blocking kicks, he was ahead of the curve. But the special teams game is more than how many kicks you block. They can turn the tide of the game and mean the difference between victory and defeat. With that in mind, are Beamer’s special teams truly special?

TSL Recruiting Report from "Tech Beat With Mike Harris", for 12/21/05
December 22, 2005
TSL's Chris Coleman filled in for Chris Horne this week, and he and Mike Harris discussed the mindset of the Tech football team, the VT/UVa recruiting wars, and top running back LeSean McCoy out of Pennsylvania. Chris and Mike also talked some hoops and the possibility that three players on this year's time might redshirt.(WMA format, compatible with Windows Media Player and MP3 players, 3.4 MB, 22:58)

Hokies Fare Well in New GSR Grad Rate Calculation
December 22, 2005
The NCAA recently released their Graduation Success Rate (GSR) data for every university, and Virginia Tech matches up very well when compared to other ACC schools. While the common perception might be that the Hokies don’t do well in the classroom when compared to their ACC brethren, this latest NCAA study shows that 72% of football players and 88% of men’s basketball players go on to receive their degrees from Virginia Tech.

A Look at Virginia Tech's Men's Basketball Signees
December 22, 2005
Three players, including 6-0, 165-pound DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, MD) PG Nigel Munson, 6-7, 230-pound Oak Hill SF Jeff Allen, and 6-8, 215-pound Franklin County (Rocky Mount, VA) F Lewis Witcher, signed letters of intent for head coach Seth Greenberg last month. caught up with three top recruiting analysts – Talent Evaluator Brick Oettinger, National Recruiting Analyst Dave Telep and TSL’s own guru, Rev. Zeke – for analysis on Coach Greenberg’s 2006 class.

Godfrey a Hot Commodity
December 21, 2005
Dennis Godfrey’s stock rose significantly during the Shrine Bowl week. The Lee County High School standout, who committed to Wake Forest in June of this year, picked up a handful of scholarship offers due to his performance. According to Lee County head coach Jody Stouffer, East Carolina, North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Virginia Tech coaches have offered or have said they plan to offer his talented prospect.

Bowl Projections, Part One
December 20, 2005
The holiday season is upon us and that means many different things for different people – shopping, family, presents, etc. – but for me it means lots of football. Yes, I am a football addict and I will watch every single bowl game. I love the match-ups between teams that do not normally play each other. We finally get to see which conferences are really the strongest and which team is truly the best in the country…well, at least some of the time. Picking bowl games are never easy because teams may not have an equal motivation and some teams are more easily distracted by the festivities of the week prior to the game, but I’ll give it a try and point out some aspects of the games to watch.

Q&A with Zach Luckett
December 20, 2005
Last Thursday, Virginia Tech picked up a commitment from 6-3, 205-pound wide receiver recruit Zach Luckett. A standout for Holy Spirit High School in Absecon, N.J., the 3-star prospect chose the Hokies over Boston College as well as many more scholarship offers from Division 1A programs. As a senior this year, he rushed for over 1,000 yards (from the tailback spot) in leading Holy Spirit to an 8-2 overall record. We caught up with Zach to discuss his verbal commitment to the Hokies as well as how he plans to prepare for his freshman year at Virginia Tech. He believes he will arrive in Blacksburg around July of next year.

Advance Auto Parts Hokie Hotline Notes for 12/19/05
December 20, 2005
Monday night's show featured athletic director Jim Weaver, assistant men's basketball coach Brad Greenberg, and head football coach Frank Beamer. Weaver gave some info on planned facilities improvements, Greenberg was candid and entertaining, and Beamer talked about his offensive line recruiting strategy, what Marcus Vick can do to improve, and more.

Wright Enjoys First Official Visit
December 20, 2005
Phoebus (Hampton, VA) linebacker Matt Wright made an official visit to the University of Maryland last weekend. The trip was the first of five scheduled officials for one of the top linebackers in the state of Virginia.

Hokies Gut Out Big Win
December 19, 2005
At the conclusion of Saturday night's (Sunday morning's?) win over Stanford, Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg smiled and pumped his fist. You're probably thinking, "So what? His team just won a game." But Greenberg doesn't do that after every win, so the fact that he did it after Tech's 59-52 win over the Cardinal tells you that this was one he treasured. He should, because winning out west, over a west coast team, late at night, is a victory to build on.

Eliades Names a Favorite
December 19, 2005
Ocean Township (Oakhurst, N.J.) offensive line prospect Lou Eliades has three schools currently at the top of his list, with these three programs likely being the finalists. A 4-star prospect and one of the best offensive linemen in the East, Eliades is an important target for all three remaining programs.

Miller Visits VT, Decision Comes Next
December 19, 2005
Highland Springs (VA) linebacker Jarrell Miller made his fifth and final official visit this past weekend, as he traveled to Virginia Tech. The 6-3, 235-pound prospect, rated a 4-star recruit and the best defensive prospect in the state, is a big time target who will announce his final decision at the Army All-American Bowl game on January 7th.

Hokies Rally to Beat Stanford in Las Vegas 59-52
December 18, 2005
Trailing by as many as 12 points in the first half, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team rallied to beat Stanford 59-52 late Saturday night in Las Vegas. The Cardinal led the Hokies 30-21 at halftime, but Tech used a great defensive performance and an improved offensive game in the second half to get the come-from-behind victory. The win takes Virginia Tech to 8-3 overall, while Stanford drops to 2-4.

Basketball Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Stanford
December 16, 2005
The Virginia Tech men's basketball team will get a chance to see how they stack up against a Pac-10 team on Saturday when they take on the Stanford Cardinal in the Las Vegas Shootout. The Hokies (7-3, 0-1) have been playing good basketball of late, losing to Duke on a halfcourt shot, blowing out North Carolina A&T, and defeating former Big East foe St. John's. Stanford (2-3) has not enjoyed the same type of success.

2006 VT Recruiting War Room #2
December 16, 2005
There are less than two months remaining until signing day, and Division 1A coaches from schools all across the country are busy hitting the road on in-home visits. Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer is no different, as he made a round of in-homes this week…and he was pretty successful, landing two commitments - Meadowbrook defensive end John Graves and Holy Spirit (Absecon, N.J.) wide receiver Zach Luckett. The dead period begins on December 19th and lasts through January 1st, so recruiting will have a bit of down time coming up. But, right now, Virginia Tech is gaining momentum.
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