Three games into his collegiate career, heralded Virginia Tech freshman Dorian Finney-Smith was asked what had taken him by surprise now that he was playing college basketball. He mentioned the effort one must put in on every play, alluding to a film session he had with Coach Seth Greenberg earlier when he remarked, “The camera don’t lie.”
On Sunday after the Hokies disposed of St. Bonaventure to improve to 5-1 this season, Finney-Smith was asked the same question and his new response shed some light on how this young team is developing.
“Probably that Syracuse 2-3 [zone]. They played it the whole game, it was long,” said Finney-Smith, alluding to Virginia Tech’s 69-58 loss to the Orange last Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. “It was just hard, hard to penetrate. I think we got something from that game, though.”
• For a full account of last night’s Big 10/ACC Challenge action, click here.
Greenberg said this week “we learn about this team every day,” and that “we’re taking baby steps,” but on Wednesday night as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge these Hokies will face their first true road game when they visit Minnesota.
And though the coach was “disappointed” Virginia Tech couldn’t close out a huge upset over Syracuse, there isn’t much time to worry about it. The Hokies also face Kansas State at Cassell Coliseum on Sunday afternoon and then get another road game at Rhode Island on Dec. 7.
“I’m not sure since I’ve been here, and I doubt even prior to that, Virginia Tech has ever had this ambitious a schedule this early in the season,” Greenberg said.
As we know from the past few years, if the Hokies harbor thoughts of making the NCAA tournament, this is an important week for RPI purposes. After this three-game stretch, Virginia Tech’s toughest remaining non-conference game comes at Oklahoma State on New Year’s Eve, a team the Hokies defeated in a consolation matchup in New York last week.
In the early going at least, predictions that this year’s Hokies would have more weapons to rely on has proven true. In five of its six games thus far, Virginia Tech has had a new player lead the team in scoring. Seven Hokies have reached double figures in scoring at least once this year and all seven are averaging at least six points per game.
Minnesota may have had a more diverse rotation, with nine players averaging double-digit minutes, but the Gophers suffered a devastating setback Sunday. Not only did they lose their first game of the season to Dayton, 86-70, in the finals of the Old Spice Classic, Minnesota also lost leading scorer and rebounder Trevor Mbakwe to a season-ending knee injury.
That means for a change the Hokies have the players to match up with someone size-wise. The Gophers will likely go with a three-guard lineup to compensate for their thin front court, but the two players to watch from Minnesota both have NBA bloodlines.
The first is sophomore shooting guard Austin Hollins, the son of Memphis Grizzlies Coach and former NBA player Lionel Hollins. He’s Minnesota’s second-leading scorer right now and will need to shoulder more of that load with Mbakwe’s 14 points per game gone from the lineup.
There’s also Ralph Sampson III, a 6-11 forward with range – just like his father – who seems to have regressed after an encouraging junior season a year ago. Sampson is averaging just 5.8 points and 3.7 rebounds, but he’s now one of Minnesota’s few healthy big men with Mbakwe sidelined and Coach Tubby Smith will surely be looking for more production. (Update: The Pioneer Press is reporting that Sampson will not play tonight due to an ankle injury, so the Gophers will be even more short-handed down low.)
This, though, will be a tricky game for the Hokies, if only because even Minnesota isn’t sure what it will look like without Mbakwe on the floor. Virginia Tech will also have to adjust to the elevated floor at Minnesota’s Williams Arena, a venue Greenberg said this week he has never coached.
But as Virginia Tech fans know well by now, late November road wins are a precious commodity come Selection Sunday, and it seems the Hokies are catching these Gophers at just the right time.