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Virginia vs. Grambling State: The Big Preview

Hoos have a chance to improve to 4-0 to start the season.

NCAA Basketball: Grambling State at Virginia Tech
Hoos welcome Grambling State to C’ville tonight to try and extend their home winning streak to 23 games.
Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoos had a weird week. They played two games, giving up just 70 points combined. In between those two games, their most talented player (arguably) was dismissed from the team. Yale was their toughest test yet, and though the game was closer than it needed to be for a while, the end result was another big win. In truth, the team’s offense hasn’t really come around. There have been glimpses, but overall the offense has been disappointing.

As a team, the Hoos are shooting just 30% from behind the 3 point line, a year after they shot 40% as a team. As the competition gets better, those shots need to start dropping. Much of the difference is that London Perrantes, who shot nearly 50% last year, is shooting just 25% and leads the team in treys attempted by a wide margin.

The Hoos next matchup is a second round matchup of the Emerald Coast Classic against Grambling State. After this game, the Hoos will head down to the Gulf Coast of Florida to faceoff against Iowa on Friday.

The Hoos schedule thus far has been unchallenging, but Grambling might be the worst of the bunch. The Tigers are 1-2, and are coming off a 17 point loss to Providence. Their lone win came in a 59-54 victory over North Carolina A&T.

Last year, they finished 7-24 with their best win coming against Alabama State (ranked 286th on KenPom). They also lost, at home, to 344th ranked Arkansas Pine-Bluff. They were one of the worst shooting teams in the country, one of the worst rebounding teams in the country, and one of the most turnover prone teams in the country. That’s a bad combination.

Defensively, they weren’t quite as bad. They play a high-pressure brand of defense on the perimeter. They contest outside shots and they try to generate steals. They end up with good turnover numbers, good three-point defense, and very poor interior defense.

The best team Grambling played last year was Virginia Tech, and the Hokies won by 25. The Hokies grabbed over 40% of their own misses, shot 50% in the interior and forced 24 turnovers. This is the recipe for the Hoos as well. The Hoos should dominate the glass and the interior scoring and generate some easy buckets off turnovers.

Grambling is a small team, with 6’7” 225 pound Avery Ugba starting at center, and 6'9" freshman Noah Cummings their only real bigs. On the wings, though, they aren’t all that small. Deontae Hearns is 6’7”, while Ervin Mitchell and Remond Brown are each 6’4”. Mitchell leads the team in scoring at about 13 points per game. Ugba averages seven rebounds per game, but more than half of his rebounds this year are offensive. That’s not likely to continue against the Hoos, who are one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the nation.

Freshman Marcel Thompson is the only guy on the team with more than two made threes. He is 5-for-10 on the year, but was 5-for-9 against East Carolina and has played just 11 minutes combined in the other games. The rest of the team is 6-for-26 from three on the season.

PG Nigel Ribiero was the SWAC rookie of the year last year, averaging 10 points per game and leading the team in steals. This year he’s averaging just three points per game and did not play at all against Providence (there may be an injury or suspension which caused the DNP, but I can’t find it).

Like many of these early-season contests, this game is not about the opposition. It is about the Hoos. It is about Tony figuring out his rotation, especially in light of the loss of Austin Nichols. It is about getting the entire team on same page and continuing to work the kinks out on both sides of the court. Grambling State is not going to offer much resistance, and it would be surprising if this wasn’t the fourth consecutive Pack Line Pledge game.

Friday’s matchup against Iowa will be the first true test for the Hoos. You can find tonight’s game on Regional Sports Networks, and tip off is at 7pm. Go Hoos!