The Virginia Tech basketball team will travel north to take on Penn State and Geary Claxton in the 2007 ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night. Last year the Hokies beat Iowa in this event, and the year before lost to Ohio State. They'll be looking to improve to 2-1 in ACC/Big Ten Challenge games when they play the Nittany Lions.
Penn State enters this game at 2-3, while the Hokies are 2-2. The Nittany Lions went 0-3 over the weekend at the Old Spice Classic, but are undefeated at home. Virginia Tech went 1-2 in the Great Alaska Shootout, including a narrow overtime loss to #22 Butler.
Virginia Tech and Penn State were comparable programs in basketball, until recently. Until Tech's success since joining the ACC, both programs were penciled it at the bottom of their conference standings each year, while their football programs carried the athletic department. Penn State has remained that way, but Virginia Tech has reached the NIT and the NCAA tournament since Seth Greenberg arrived.
Penn State is coached by Ed DeChellis, who was a strong candidate for the Virginia Tech job after Ricky Stokes was fired. The job eventually went to Seth Greenberg, who has gone 69-58 in his 4+ seasons in Blacksburg. DeChellis is 44-79 in the same time frame at Penn State
The Nittany Lions just haven't been able to get over the hump in basketball. They finished just 2-14 in the Big Ten last season, and with another subpar season, DeChellis could be on his way out. Although Penn State has plenty of resources, including playing in the beautiful Bryce Jordan Center, DeChellis has been unable to lure much top talent to Happy Valley.
Penn State has improved their overall athleticism and depth this year. Here is a look at their starting lineup, and their top player off the bench.
|Penn State Starting Lineup|
|6th Man||Jamelle Cornley||6-5||240||Jr.||12||6||8|
Penn State isn't a huge, overpowering team on the inside like you might expect from a Big Ten team. Their starting lineup doesn't feature two traditional big men, although they do have a few more that will come off the bench and play solid minutes. Ed DeChellis is not afraid to use his bench. Only three players average more than 20 minutes per game, and 10 players average more than 15 minutes per game. A total of 11 players have seen action in all five games for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions are led by G/F Geary Claxton, their leading scorer and rebounder. Claxton does it all for Penn State. He scores on the inside and outside. He takes more shots than any other Penn State player. He has attempted 89 field goals on the season, with no one else shooting more than 52 times. Claxton is not a great outside shooter, but he is very solid at 36% from three-point range on the year.
Tech should not be afraid to foul Claxton. He has gone to the line 31 times this year, which is 19 times more than anyone else on the team. However, he's shooting just 54.8% from the charity stripe.
If the Hokies can limit Claxton, they have a chance to shut down the entire Penn State offense. He is without a doubt the best player on their team. Because Claxton is a versatile inside/outside player, I would expect Deron Washington to draw the defensive duties against him.
Penn State is high on freshman point guard Talor Battle, but he isn't having the season that many expected. He was a very prolific scorer in high school, but that has not translated to the college level as of yet. In last week's Old Spice Classic, Battle put up the following shooting numbers.
|Talor Battle at the Old Spice Classic|
|Opponent||FGM||FGA||FG%||3-Pt. Made||3-Pt. Att.||3-Pt. %|
Ouch. Battle can't be a very confident player right now. How can anyone shooting 18.7%, including 5% from three-point range, in a three-day event and still be confident. Tech point guard Hank Thorns, who stands just 5-9, has struggled defensively at times, but he should be able to physically match up with Battle, who is only 5-11 himself.
Penn State doesn't get much scoring from their starting frontcourt, but their second leading scorer comes off the bench to play inside. Jamelle Cornley is a physically tough player who averages 12 points and six rebounds per game. Cornley doesn't have ideal height on the inside, but he makes up for it by being tough.
DeChellis needed more athletes on his team, so he went out and signed three guys last year that added quite a bit athletically. We already mentioned Battle, who is a quick point guard who is expected to develop into a good player. Jeff Brooks is a rangy forward with good athletic ability. Junior college transfer guard Stanley Pringle is averaging 20.8 minutes per game. He is originally from Landstown High School in Virginia Beach. He is perhaps Penn State's fastest player from one end of the court to the other.
The addition of those three players, as well as r-freshmen Andrew Jones and David Jackson, give Penn State more depth and athleticism to work with.
Penn State holds the advantage in most of the statistical categories. However, the Hokies have been a much, much better shooting team than the Nittany Lions.
|3-Pt. % Defense||40.20%||34%||PSU|
Penn State's two victories on the season came against St. Francis (PA) and Canisius, both of which are winless so far this season. The Nittany Lions lost three straight games in the Old Spice Classic. They dropped a 74-67 decision to 3-3 South Carolina, then lost 82-73 to 3-3 Rider, and later dropped a 70-59 game to UCF in the battle-to-not-come-in-last in the three-day event.
The RPI is basically worthless, especially this early in the season, but according to RealTimeRPI.com, Virginia Tech has played the #44 toughest schedule in the nation. Penn State's schedule ranks #324. The Nittany Lions have not won an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game since 1999, the first year of the event.
Virginia Tech assistant coach James Johnson is a former assistant at Penn State. He served as recruiting coordinator for PSU, and was the lead recruiter for star Nittany Lion Geary Claxton.
Ed DeChellis likes to run a 2-3 zone defense, although Penn State is expected to mix up more man-to-man this year with more athletes and more depth. It will be important for Tech's young guards to know where to go with the basketball when facing this zone. It would also be helpful if guys like A.D. Vassallo and Malcolm Delaney made PSU pay from the outside against the zone.
Virginia Tech has a more talented basketball team than Penn State, but the Hokies have five freshmen and one sophomore in their playing rotation. Penn State has some inexperience too, but not quite as much as the Hokies. This has the potential to be a very good game, but it is one that Tech's young team has a good chance to win.
The game tips off at 9:30 pm Wednesday and will be televised on ESPN2.