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Hokies bracing for havoc, VCU
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Hokies coach says speed is answer to Rams’ defense


BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech freshman guard Ben Emelogu has been studying intently this week, bracing for his upcoming test.

No, not the pressure defense of VCU that Emelogu and his Hokies teammates will face on Saturday at the Richmond Coliseum. Emelogu has been stressing over the biology exam he’s taking today.

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“Biology got me worried a little bit,” the team captain said Monday.

But once that test is behind him, Emelogu will turn his full attention to the Rams and their notorious havoc defense.

“Organized chaos,” Emelogu called it. “They get after it. They’re very aggressive on defense, trying to force you to turn the ball over.”

The Hokies (7-3) rank last in the 15-team Atlantic Coast Conference in turnover margin, at minus-4.5. VCU (8-3) leads the 13-team Atlantic 10 in that category at plus-6.

“Everybody’s going to have to be able to handle the ball,” second-year Tech coach James Johnson said. “Everybody’s got to be able to make plays. We talk about: You have to make plays and you have to make decisions at a high speed. They get you to play fast. They get you to play faster than you practice, because it’s hard to practice that way.”

The Hokies are trying. After spending last week’s three practices adding some new wrinkles to their own offense and tightening up some defensive issues, Tech began working on attacking VCU’s press in Saturday’s workout.

The key, senior wing Jarell Eddie said, is to understand where the holes in the press defense are and to hit those spots with passes, not attempt to dribble through the Rams’ defenders.

“Just move the ball quickly, through the air,” said Eddie, Tech’s leading scorer at 19.3 points per game. “You don’t try to dribble through the press. You try to beat it with the pass. If you get the ball to the right people, to the right areas, you’re able to create advantage situations.”

And if his players can get through VCU’s press, Johnson doesn’t want them settling into a half-court set. He wants them to attack the rim while the Rams are still running the floor.

“We’re going to try to attack their press,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to break the press and then pull it out and have to go against their pressure defense in the half court. If we can beat their press, we want to beat it and try to attack it. And that means attack for layups and dunks.”

What Tech can’t afford, the players and Johnson agree, are the brief stretches of sloppy, turnover-filled basketball that have been a bugaboo so far this season. Against VCU, those short-but-not-so-sweet minutes can balloon into a big run for the Rams.

“They’re definitely good at capitalizing on other teams’ mistakes,” Eddie said. “We’re going to try to limit our mistakes as much as we can because we know that’s what fuels them and their offense.”

Tech could be without two key players Saturday against VCU. Johnson said both junior forward C.J. Barksdale (knee) and sophomore guard Adam Smith (calf) are questionable.

Smith, the team’s second-leading scorer, totaled eight points in 21 minutes in the Hokies’ 61-60 overtime win at Miami on Sunday.

Barksdale sat out the Miami game, but Johnson said he saw his health improve last week.

“More range of motion. He’s actually stretching it and bending it, biking a little bit now,” Johnson said. “He’s still not ready to go at game speed yet.”