No. 13 Virginia Tech will look to begin the season 6-0 for the first time since the 2012-13 season when they travel to State College to take on Penn State on Tuesday night as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
A 6-0 start didn’t mean much back in 2012-13, as James Johnson’s Hokies went on to finish 13-19. However, it would mean a lot more in 2018-19, and with Central Connecticut State, VMI and South Carolina State coming up, it would all but guarantee a 9-0 start and a possible a top 10 ranking at some point before Christmas.
Penn State is 3-2 on the season, with a pair of very close losses to DePaul (72-70 in OT) and Bradley (59-56). That might not sound great, but Bradley is 5-1 with a blowout win over SMU. However, DePaul is arguably the weakest team in the Big East, and seeing how Penn State is the defending NIT Champion, that loss probably should not have happened.
Still, the Nittany Lions, who went 26-13 last season en route to their NIT title, are not expected to roll over for the Hokies, who are 1.5 point favorites. They’ll be especially difficult if they return the services of Mike Watkins (6-9, 254, r-Jr.), who has missed every game this season due to “personal reasons while also trying to meet the standards set forth by Penn State and the basketball coaching staff.”
Watkins averaged 12.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last year, and he’s the type of player who could give the undersized Hokies plenty of trouble on the inside. He will be a game-time decision for tonight’s game.
“Mike has done everything he needs to do,” Penn state coach Pat Chambers said. “He’s gonna be a game-time decision. … He’s doing everything that Mike needs to do — for himself, academically — he’s doing everything he needs to do. He’s available for the game tomorrow.”
More quotes from Chambers imply that Watkins will play against the Hokies, but will perhaps not see as many minutes as would a regular starter.
“But is his conditioning the same as games? Is his conditioning (the same) as being in (a game) for 30 minutes? His conditioning is probably not where it needs to be. So we’ve got to be very smart with that.”
Still, his presence would be a major boost to the Nittany Lions, especially when paired with fellow forward Lamar Stevens (6-8, 230, Jr.). Stevens averages 24.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game this year. He and Watkins on the court at the same time could cause plenty of issues for the Hokies on the defensive end.
Here’s how Penn State has looked statistically this season…
Offensive Efficiency: No. 168
Effective FG%: No. 221
3-Pt.%: No. 212
Rebound Rate: No. 137
Assist/TO Ratio: No. 202
Defensive Efficiency: No. 42
Opponent Effective FG%: No. 59
Possessions per Game: No. 185
The Nittany Lions have been a good defensive team, but they’ve struggled to be efficient on the offensive end of the court.
Here’s how the Hokies stack up in the same categories…
Offensive Efficiency: No. 9
Effective FG%: No. 5
3-Pt.%: No. 26
Rebound Rate: No. 141
Assist/TO Ratio: No. 23
Defensive Efficiency: No. 27
Opponent Effective FG%: No. 179
Possessions per Game: No. 287
The Hokies are better in most categories, and believe it or not, Virginia Tech hasn’t exactly had a lot of possessions this season. However, they’ve been very efficient when they have had possession, ranking in the top 10 in offensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage. They also only rank four spots behind Penn State in rebound rate, which is somewhat surprising.
Tech’s defensive efficiency rank of No. 27 doesn’t match up with their opponent effective field goal percentage rank of No. 179. That’s because the Hokies are No. 2 in the country in defensive turnovers per possession. Opponents are turning the ball over a whopping 27.6% of their possessions. Penn State is No. 139 in turnovers per possession. If Tech can force a high number of turnovers again on Tuesday, then they’ll have the advantage.
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is tied up at one game apiece after one night of competition. On Monday night, Clemson was upset at home by Nebraska, while Boston College took care of business at home against Minnesota. Here is the remaining schedule for the event…
Tuesday: No. 13 Virginia Tech (5-0) at Penn State, 7pm, ESPN2
Tuesday: Illinois (2-4) at Notre Dame (5-1), 7pm, ESPNU
Tuesday: No. 9 Michigan State (5-1) at Louisville (3-2), 7:30pm, ESPN
Tuesday: Pitt (6-0) at No. 14 Iowa (5-0), 9pm, ESPNU
Tuesday: NC State (6-0) at No. 22 Wisconsin (5-1), 9pm, ESPN2
Tuesday: Indiana (5-1) at No. 3 Duke (5-1), 9:30pm, ESPN
Wednesday: Syracuse (3-2) at No. 16 Ohio State (6-0), 7:15pm, ESPN2
Wednesday: Rutgers (4-1) at Miami (5-1), 7:15pm, ESPNU
Wednesday: No. 4 Virginia (6-0) at No. 24 Maryland (6-0), 7:30pm, ESPN
Wednesday: No. 19 Purdue (5-1) at No. 15 Florida State (5-1), 9:15pm, ESPN2
Wednesday: Georgia Tech (4-1) at Northwestern (5-1), 9:15pm, ESPNU
Wednesday: No. 11 UNC (6-1) at No. 7 Michigan (6-0), 9:30pm, ESPN
Virginia Tech-Penn State Notes
Former Hokie center Satchel Pierce is on the Penn State roster, but he is academically ineligible this semester. He averaged 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in 24 games off the bench last season.
Virginia Tech is 6-2 all-time against Penn State. However, they are 0-2 against the Nittany Lions in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Virginia Tech is 5-7 all-time in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, including a 3-4 record on the road.
Virginia Tech’s No. 13 ranking in the AP Poll is its highest ranking in that poll since they were No. 8 at one point in February of 1996.