Virginia Tech is off to hot start with a sparkling 4-0 record and its brand new head coach, James Johnson who replaced the fired Seth Greenberg. No matter how hard he tried, Greenberg could not get his teams to the NCAA tournament often enough. Johnson is somewhat of an unknown to the common basketball fan. He spent the past five seasons at VT as an assistant and was hired to be Clemson’s coach in April before the Hokies lured him back. Johnson spent three years of his career in the Southern conference, one year as an assistant at College of Charleston and two years at Elon.
The Hokies have been impressive on both ends of the court this season. In their four wins over East Tennessee State, Rhode Island, VMI & UNCG, the Hokies have averaged 85 points per game, good enough for second in the ACC. Although Tech has given up close to 70 points on the defensive end, their statistics are impressive. Tech’s opponents are shooting under 40% from the floor, and 21% from three point range.
The Hokies are led by senior guard Erick Green who is lighting it up in his final season. Green is averaging nearly 24 points per game while also dishing out 5.5 assists a game, both numbers which lead the team. Green has contributed eight made three pointers this season, for a team that has already made 42 trifectas on the season.
Appalachian’s defense has been atrocious this season, but it seems they might have found a partial solution against East Carolina. The real question is if Appalachian can put together an entire game of offensive and defensive production. The Mountaineers are playing only seven players in their normal rotation, with only seven players seeing action in every game this season. Nathan Healy has been solid after a rough game against High Point. Healy is shooting 60% from the field, and 46% from three point land. Jay Canty leads the Mountaineers in several categories, including points per game, rebounds and free throws made and attempted. Canty could warm up from three point range, as he has only hit one of his twelve attempts.
The Mountaineers are massive 20.5 point underdogs on the road. We were way off with our guess of what the line would be. We were expecting a double digit line, but nothing as high as twenty points. Virginia Tech has covered in both of their games that were lined this season, as have the Mountaineers. Something will have to give. Appalachian could hang tight in a game that is likely to be lightly attended by fans on Black Friday. As we have mentioned in the past, Appalachian has been good against major conference opponents on the road in the double digit spreads the last two years, covering three of four such games. Virginia Tech is bound to have a rough shooting game sometime in their future, and it could be today. I’ll take the Mountaineers to cover this big spread, as I should have done earlier this week.
UPDATE: In the time it took me to write this article, the line dropped from 20.5 to 19.
Appalachian kept the margin close with Virginia Tech for most of the game before fouls caught up with them in the second half. Virginia Tech led for almost the entire second half, outside of Appalachian tying the score at 50 with 14:57 remaining. It was the game’s ninth and final tie of the game. From that point, Tech went on a 23-10 run over the course of the next ten minutes of game action and never looked back.
The game was decided completely on the free throw line. Virginia Tech was awarded thirty-nine free throw attempts on the afternoon and hit thirty of them, a 77% clip for the day. Appalachian countered with only 21 attempts, knocking down only twelve. The Mountaineers have been solid for a good part of this short season at the free throw line, but when they shoot a lower percentage, they do it in the worst way. Tevin Baskin and Michael Obacha were both 1/4 from the line. Even Nathan Healy missed a rare free throw. The bigger story outside of the poor shooting were the opportunities at the foul line. Even though the Mountaineers were only whistled for seven more fouls than Virginia Tech, the Hokies were able to shoot 18 more free throws. The officials even tried to nail Nathan Healy with two flagrant fouls. The first offense, the officials went to the video monitor to review if the flagrant was warranted, but it was not. On the second offense, Healy chased down a wide open layup and blocked the shot, but came down on the opponents arm on the follow through, which caused the shooter to land awkwardly, but on his feet. That foul was called a flagrant in live action, and the officials went to review the play again, and confirmed call. It was obvious at that point in the game, that the officials did not want Appalachian to win. It was one of the worst calls I have seen in college basketball, especially considering the officials could have changed the call by reviewing the play.
When all was said and done, the Mountaineers held on to cover the spread, and we made the right call. It was fourth cover in five games against opponents from the ACC/Big Ten/C-USA that the Mountaineers covered as double digit road dogs. We have evened up our record at 1-1 on the season and will look to go over .500 on the season next week as the Mountaineers return home against Duquesne. The Dukes have covered twice as underdogs this season while they have been favored twice and won, but did not cover.