With about 30 minutes to go before the start of this year's Big Ten/ACC Challenge, I wanted to get a quick preview post up. In the only Monday game of the Challenge, Wisconsin (#34 in Pomeroy's rankings) goes on the road to face Virginia Tech (#97). The Hokies are 4-2, with their best win being a home game against Mount St. Mary's (#130). They've lost to two good teams, #33 Xavier in overtime and #67 Seton Hall by 4. Thus far, they seem to be playing to the level of their competition, as only one game has been decided by double digits.
Virginia Tech has played slow enough this season (240th in the nation) to be considered for Big Ten membership, which is a bit of a departure from last year's medium-tempo team. Expect this game to be played at a snail's pace, as Wisconsin has been one of the slowest teams in the country thus far.
The Hokies have been led by a talented trio - guards A.D. Vassallo and Malcolm Delaney, and forward Jeff Allen. Each averages over 33 minutes per game, and each uses at least 24% of the team's possessions while on the floor with a high efficiency. Everyone else on Tech has been basically been a role player thus far - these are the three guys that matter.
Despite standing only 6'7'', Allen plays large, with nice rebounding rates (12/22 OR%/DR%) and a 6.4 block rate. Most of his scoring is done inside the arc, although he's actually hit 7 for 12 from downtown after going just 4 for 19 as a freshman.
The 6'6'' Vassalo does a little bit of everything - he helps out on the defensive glass (16 DR%) and is also the team leader in assists. He's been a deep threat throughout his career, but has struggled a bit from downtown thus far (15 for 46, 32.6%). The senior leads the team in minutes and is a steady ballhandler.
Delaney has built on a solid freshman campaign with an increased workload and improved efficiency. His points come almost exclusively from downtown and the foul line, as he is 10th nationally in free throw rate and has shot 83.3% from the charity stripe. Turnovers are still a bit of an issue for the 6'3'' guard.
Virginia Tech's offense doesn't have any glaring strengths or weaknesses, although free throws have been more important to their offense than most teams. Considering that limiting free throw attempts is one of Wisconsin's defensive strengths, the free throw battle might be something to watch closely.
I expect Wisconsin to win a close, low-scoring game tonight in Blacksburg, giving the Big Ten an early 1-0 lead.