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Hokies aim to end slide vs. nonconference ranked foes

BLACKSBURG

Syracuse. Purdue. Kansas State. Gonzaga.

Those are just some of the foes that have beaten the Virginia Tech men's basketball team during the Hokies' 14-game losing streak to ranked nonconference opponents.

Tech will get a chance to end that skid today when it hosts No. 15 Oklahoma State (5-0).

The Hokies are 6-0, but this will be their first ranked opponent of the season.

"It would mean a lot to our team and the program under the new direction of me to... win this," Tech rookie coach James Johnson said.

The last time the Hokies beat a ranked nonleague foe was in December 1995, when they defeated No. 22 Virginia at the Roanoke Civic Center. That was four coaches and two conferences ago, back when the Hokies belonged to the Atlantic 10 and were coached by Bill Foster.

Johnson's former boss, Seth Greenberg, beat 12 ranked foes in his nine seasons with the Hokies including three wins over No. 1 teams. But 11 of those wins came in ACC games, with the other in Big East play.

Against ranked nonconference teams, Greenberg was 0-7. One of those losses came to Southern Illinois in the 2007 NCAA tournament. Some of the others, though, hurt the Hokies' chances of making the NCAAs.

"When you're league opponents, you play them every year. You're very, very familiar with them, so you know them basically inside and out," Johnson said. "When you play a nonconference opponent, especially this early in the year... you don't know them as well as you know your conference opponents."

Big 12 member Oklahoma State cracked the AP poll last week for the first time since 2007 after squashing then-No. 6 North Carolina State 76-56 in the final of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off tournament.

"We have an extremely young basketball team," Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. "With the early success, it's been obviously a very pleasant surprise."

The Cowboys lost to Tech twice last season, first in the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York and again at Oklahoma State.

But this year's Oklahoma State team features freshman point guard Marcus Smart, a 2012 McDonald's All-American averaging 13.4 points, 7 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He is rated the No. 13 prospect for the 2013 NBA draft by ESPN.

"Smart makes a huge difference," Johnson said. "He scores a lot of different ways."

The Cowboys also boast Le'Bryan Nash (19.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg), a 2011 McDonald's All-American who was last season's Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

He is the No. 23 prospect on ESPN's draft board.

"He's playing a lot better now at this time this year than he was last year," Ford said.

The Cowboys allow an average of just 57.8 points, but the Hokies rank sixth nationally in scoring offense (87 ppg).

"We've got to try to slow them down somehow," Ford said. "These guys score a lot of points in transition."

The Hokies' previous opponents didn't manage to slow the tempo, and the results speak for themselves.

"The way we play speeds teams up," Johnson said. "Some teams coming in, they play a little faster against us than they usually play.... They feel like they've got to try to maybe keep up or they've got to try to get the possession game up to stay with us."

Posted to: College Basketball Sports

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