There will be another first for the Virginia Tech men’s basketball program tonight. The Hokies will travel to Columbus, Ohio where they will take on the Ohio State Buckeyes as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the first time in school history that Virginia Tech has participated in the event. The OSU-VT game is the kickoff game in this year’s challenge and the only game being played in the event tonight.
This will be a nationally televised game, and everyone in ACC and Big Ten country will be watching. And most importantly, we’re going to find out exactly where the Hokies stand as a team after going 5-1 against weak competition to start the season.
Ohio State isn’t known as a top-tier basketball program, but it’s tough to ignore the job that head coach Thad Matta has done in just one season on the job. He led Ohio State to a 20-12 record last season, including a victory over top-ranked Illinois. The only thing that kept the Buckeyes out of the NCAA Tournament was the postseason ban that the NCAA handed them due to violations committed before Matta arrived in Columbus.
The Buckeyes are expected to be a good team this season as well. Redshirts are rare in college basketball, but Ohio State has the luxury of having three fifth year seniors on their roster. They could start as many as four seniors against the Hokies tonight, which makes them one of the most experienced teams Tech will face all season.
The leader of the Ohio State team is their big center, Terence Dials. Dials is a wide body down low, measuring 6-9, 260. A second team All-Big Ten player last season, he is averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds per game this season. Dials has played in 100 games during his career, making him the most experienced player on an already very experienced OSU team.
The Dials-Coleman Collins matchup could be the most interesting of the game. Collins sometimes struggles with his intensity on the court, but he has always shown up when he knows he is going to be challenged. His 14 point, 18 rebound performance against Duke’s Shelden Williams last year is a testament to his talent and potential. Collins recorded 14 points and 14 rebounds in the victory against Morgan State, which is a good sign going into the game with the Buckeyes.
Senior guard Je’Kel Foster has been an outscoring scorer through Ohio State’s first two games. Foster is averaging 17 points per game and has hit an amazing 14 of his 17 attempts from the field (82.4%). He is also shooting 75% from three-point range.
Another player to watch is junior guard/forward Ron Lewis. Lewis is a transfer from Bowling Green, where he averaged 17 points per game in 2003-04. He sat out last season as a transfer, and has started both games for the Buckeyes this season. He is fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game. He gets to the free throw line a lot, hitting 10-of-15 shots in two games.
A fun player to watch is senior guard/forward J.J. Sullinger. Sullinger is a transfer from Arkansas and is a very consistent player for the Buckeyes. He is a consistent scorer, averaging 9.4, 10.1 and 9.7 points per game during his three seasons of college basketball. He is also an outstanding rebounder for his size, leading Ohio State in rebounding this season at 12.5 per game. He hurt the Hokies badly in their trip to Columbus in 2003 when he scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the 62-57 Buckeye victory.
The Buckeyes are 2-0 on the season, with victories over Chicago State and Butler. Ohio State has shot the ball very well this year, going 55.3% from the field, 41.4% from three-point range and 72.3% from the free throw line. They have outrebounded opponents by an average of 36.5 to 29, which says a lot about Sullinger and Dials.
Ohio State did struggle greatly in their last game, needing an overtime period to knock off Butler 79-69. The Buckeyes did not protect the basketball well, turning the ball over 19 times and dishing out just 11 assists. Ron Lewis had six of Ohio State’s 19 turnovers. These statistics bode well for the Hokies, who have forced 106 turnovers on the season, while allowing just 49 assists.
Against a team that shoots the ball as well as Ohio State, Tech needs to block some shots. The Hokies are averaging an outstanding seven blocks per game this year and are led by Deron Washington, who has ten blocks. Virginia Tech will be the most talented team Ohio State has faced this season and the Hokies know that, so look for them to go after the Buckeyes.
The biggest advantage Virginia Tech has is the number of games they have played. The Hokies have played six games on the season, while Ohio State has only played two. Tech has had more of a chance to gel as a team and get used to young players like Cheick Diakite and A.D. Vassallo joining the lineup.
The Hokies can also get a boost tonight if Wynton Witherspoon returns to the active lineup. Seth Greenberg said on last week’s Hokie Hotline that they are expecting to get him back for a few minutes of playing time against the Buckeyes. Witherspoon was expected to start at small forward for Virginia Tech this season before his injury.
Ohio State is favored to win the game, but the Hokies do have a chance. First of all, they have to play smart and play well. They have to focus on the things they are good at, such as forcing turnovers. Another thing the Hokies have to overcome is their history of poor play on the road. There were times last season when Tech went on the road and left their defensive intensity back in Blacksburg. They can’t do that against Ohio State tonight.