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’ current 14-game losing streak to ranked nonconference opponents.
Tech will get a chance to end that skid Saturday when it hosts No. 15 Oklahoma State (5-0).
The Hokies are off to a 6-0 start, but this will be the first time they have faced a ranked opponent this 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 coming 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 — we’re going on five tapes that we’ve seen on them, and they’ve got some relatively new pieces — 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,” said OSU coach Travis Ford, whose squad is having an injury-plagued season. “We thought we had a team that could eventually be pretty good by the time we got to conference play. … With all the injuries we’ve had, … 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, en route to a 15-18 mark.
But this year’s OSU 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 — he posts up, he drives it, he shoots it. He’s a tremendous passer. … He’s a great rebounder.”
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 rated the No. 23 prospect for the 2013 draft by ESPN.
“He’s playing a lot better now at this time this year than he was last year,” Ford said.
When Ford watched game film of the Hokies, he saw similarities and differences in comparison to the Tech team he played last season.
“They are playing faster,” Ford said. “But the plays that they run and things like that are very similar to what they did last year.”
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 Cowboys average 72.2 points.
“We want to get up and down the court as well,” Ford said. “We’re at our best when we’re in transition, so it should be a fun, exciting game.”
“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.”
Tech’s 14-game losing streak to ranked nonleague foes began when Foster’s squad lost to second-ranked and eventual national champ Kentucky in the 1996 NCAA tournament. The next two losses in the streak came when Bobby Hussey was the coach.
Hussey’s successor, Ricky Stokes, beat a ranked Big East foe but was 0-4 against ranked nonconference foes.
A look at Virginia Tech’s 14-game losing streak to ranked nonleague foes.
March 16, 1996 No. 2 Kentucky 84, VT 60 (NCAAs in Dallas)
Dec. 5, 1997 No. 5 South Carolina 74, VT 73 (in Charlotte)
Dec. 6, 1997 No. 3 UNC 78, VT 57 (in Charlotte)
Dec. 21, 1999 No. 21 Auburn 73, VT 63 (in San Juan)
Nov. 24, 2000 No. 25 UVa 64, VT 48 (at VT)
Dec. 2, 2000 No. 20 Syracuse 88, VT 68* (at Syracuse)
Dec. 1, 2001 No. 9 UVa 69, VT 61 (at UVa)
Dec. 30, 2004 No. 21 Miss. St. 71, VT 65 (in New Orleans)
March 18, 2007 No. 14 So. Illinois 63, VT 48 (NCAAs in Ohio)
Nov. 23, 2007 No. 22 Butler 84, VT 78, OT (in Alaska)
Nov. 24, 2007 No. 14 Gonzaga 82, VT 64 (in Alaska)
Nov. 16, 2010 No. 3 Kansas State 73, VT 57 (at Kansas St.)
Dec. 1, 2010 No. 22 Purdue 58, VT 55, OT (at VT)
Nov. 23, 2011 No. 5 Syracuse 69, VT 58 (in New York City)
* in Carrier Classic; not part of Big East schedule.
No. 15 Oklahoma State at Virginia Tech
2 p.m. Sat. at Cassell Coliseum
Records: OSU 5-0; Virginia Tech 6-0.
Last meeting: Tech won 67-61 at Oklahoma St. on Dec. 31, 2011
Va. Tech probable starters: F Jarell Eddie (17.5 ppg), F C.J. Barksdale (6.5 ppg), C Cadarian Raines (9 ppg), G Erick Green (24.3 ppg), G Robert Brown (12.7 ppg).
OSU probable starters: F Le’Bryan Nash (19.2 ppg), F Kamari Murphy (5 ppg), 6-foot-11 C Philip Jurick (3 ppg), G Markel Brown (14.6 ppg), G Marcus Smart (13.4 ppg),
Notes: The Cowboys have just a seven-man rotation because of injuries. Returning starter Brian Williams suffered a season-ending wrist injury in October, while starter Jean-Paul Olukemi suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game. Returning starter Michael Cobbins has yet to play this season because of a toe injury and is doubtful for today. Backup Marek Soucek is expected to miss his fourth straight game with a knee injury. … Phil Forte averages 11.2 points off the bench for OSU. … This will be OSU’s first game at a foe’s arena this season. … Green ranks third nationally in scoring. … Tech ranks 20th nationally in free-throw percentage (77.2 percent).