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Posted at 11:56 AM ET, 12/ 1/2010

Virginia Tech basketball takes on Purdue in another nonconference test

By Mark Giannotto

The Virginia Tech men's basketball team is just six games into this season, and without an unexpected loss on its resume yet, but the Hokies may now be facing the most important five days of their season beginning Wednesday night when No. 22 Purdue comes to Cassell Coliseum for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Virginia Tech opens its ACC schedule Sunday night with a home game against Virginia, which upset No. 15 Minnesota on the road on Monday.

Though Virginia Tech is in the midst of a much-improved nonconference schedule, it has yet to score the sort of marquee win that has eluded them the past three years. And now, Purdue is just one of just two opponents remaining on the Hokies' schedule that is currently ranked in the AP top 25 -- No. 1 Duke is the other.

Virginia Tech has won its games against inferior competition, but both times the Hokies faced an NCAA tournament team from a year ago -- at Kansas State and against UNLV in last week's 76 Classic final -- they've wilted in the second half. Sure, there was an ugly 56-51 victory over Oklahoma State last week, but the Cowboys were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 this year.

So while Virginia Tech has won when it's needed to thus far, nabbing a win over the Boilermakers could be one of its last opportunities to make a blip on the college basketball radar screen before ACC play begins in full next month. Suddenly that NCAA tournament berth that seemed inevitable is on much shakier ground.

But expect Wednesday night's game to come down to the wire. Both Purdue and Virginia Tech are struggling offensively thus far. The Hokies rank 217th in the country, averaging 67.7 points per game, while Purdue scored just 54 points when it was upset by Richmond last Saturday.

Even without Robbie Hummel, who tore his ACL on the first day of preseason practice, the Boilermakers have a inside-outside combination that can match up with just about anyone in the country. Senior JaJuan Johnson, a 6-foot-10 forward who's a menace on both sides of the floor, is currently averaging 16.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Virginia Tech's limited front court will have its hands full, to say the least.

Senior guard E'twaun Moore, meanwhile, leads the team at 20.8 points per game and is shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range. I'm sure some NBA scouts will be paying close attention to Moore's matchup with Virginia Tech guard Malcolm Delaney.

Speaking of Delaney, he's been the only consistent part of the Hokies' offense this season. He's currently averaging 21.3 points per game, making 45 percent of his three-pointers and even put up 30 in Virginia Tech's loss to UNLV. The only problem is that he single-handedly outscored the eight other Hokies who saw action in that game. One issue is that Delaney has had more assists than turnovers in just one game so far.

To get past all these offensive difficulties, Coach Seth Greenberg said Tuesday he wants Virginia Tech to get out on the fast break more to create some easy baskets. But one of the main problems for the Hokies has been all the foul trouble and depth concerns they've encountered early.

"We don’t have a real flow to what we’re doing yet," Greenberg said. "We’ve had to change some things because of personnel, we’ve had to limit some things because of personnel, because of depth and the people that are coming in. Going back and forth in how we play has really hurt our continuity offensively."

Here's a few other things to keep your eye on tonight:

1) Dorenzo Hudson: The senior shooting guard has been consistently inconsistent this year, and was held without a point in the Hokies' loss to UNLV. Greenberg intimated this week that Hudson may be putting too much pressure on himself to score points and, as a result, is ignoring the other aspects of the game at times. Greenberg said the first question on his assistant coaches' minds this week was "What should we do with Dorenzo?"

“I want him to get out in transition, I want him to get to the foul line, and more importantly, don’t worry about those things, the points. That’ll come, he's gonna score," Greenberg said. "I basically told him: 'When we land and you get back to campus, you have a clean slate. Clear your head.' It’s kind of like the Joe Torre philosophy. Guys get in slumps. Why does he stick with them? Because they get out of slumps and they go back to the player they are."

2) Jeff Allen's fouls: From my vantage point, Allen has been the Hokies best all-around player this year -- when he's been able to stay on the floor. After a preseason spent talking about how he would avoid foul trouble, Allen has fouled out of three games already. Whether it's his own fault or some iffy calls by officials doesn't matter. What's important to note is that in both of the Hokies losses this year, they've trailed by less than four points until Allen fouled out of the game and the wheels fell off.

He's currently averaging 11 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in just 28.5 minutes per game. At his current rate, if he were able to play 35 minutes per game, those averages would jump to 13.5 points, 10 rebounds and 3.4 assists. That right there is the difference between winning and losing in most close games.

3) Injuries: Sophomore guard Erick Green pulled a calf muscle in the Hokies' win over Cal St.-Northridge last week and did not play in their games against Oklahoma State and UNLV. Greenberg said Tuesday that Green participated in practice and he "thinks" he'll be able to play against Purdue. Freshman Tyrone Garland filled in nicely, especially against Oklahoma State, if Green can't go.

Forward Cadarian Raines saw his first action of the season against Oklahoma State and played limited minutes against UNLV, but Greenberg said he tweaked his foot injury during practice Tuesday. His availability for Wednesday is up in the air, and it likely will be a game time decision.

No matter what, though, this game against Purdue should be a close one. Under Coach Matt Painter, the Boilermakers play a standard motion offense that uses a lot of shot clock, while trying to suffocate opponents on defense. Possessions will be at a premium, making a blowout unlikely to me.

Tipoff is set for 7:30, and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Hopefully a little home cooking will do the Hokies some good. Remember this is just Virginia Tech's second game inside the friendly confines of Cassell Coliseum this season.

By Mark Giannotto  | December 1, 2010; 11:56 AM ET
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Next: Tyrod Taylor named ACC player of the year


This team sure doesn't sound like it's the second best team in the ACC.....

Posted by: charley42 | December 1, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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