Maryland travels to Blacksburg on Saturday to play a struggling Virginia Tech team, who has lost both of their past two games (once to Boston College, of all teams) and find themselves placed squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. Nothing like a road game against a desperate squad right before the biggest game of the season to give a fan blogger worries.
To make matters worse, Maryland has historically struggled with Seth Greenberg's teams, for whatever reason. Maryland is 3-4 against VT since they joined the ACC back in 2005, despite the Hokies usually having an inferior team. And if you want it to be even worse, none of those three wins came at Cassel Coliseum - Maryland is yet to grab a W in that facility in ACC play.
So there are a few things working against Maryland here, namely pure desperation for VT to save their season and get to the magical 10 win number in the ACC. The history factor doesn't help. Neither does the fact that the Hokies are led by Malcolm Delaney, a sensational guard that excels at getting to the free throw line and hitting them when he's there - he's first in the league at both FTA and FTM by a significant margin.
I guess I should be glad, actually, that it adds some intrigue to this game, which was mostly just notable for its status as Duke precursor and potential trap game. But if Maryland can withstand a likely VT regroup in Cassel, that Duke game becomes absurdly important for the Terps, if only for pride reasons. If not, it's nothing more than a fight to get Greivis Vasquez a win on señor night. Time for the breakdown:
Last year, VT was made up of pretty much just Delaney, Jeff Allen, an inconsistent and temperamental yet highly skilled big man, and AD Vassallo, a sharpshooter. Both Delaney and Allen have returned, but Vassallo graduated. He was replaced by Dorenzo Hudson, a 6-5 junior shooting guard. He jumped Allen to become the second leading scorer on the team, and has seen a massive stat increase from last year. In 2009, he averaged less than 5 points a game; now he puts up nearly 14. He's not a particularly great shooter (less than 30% from deep) but he can put up points in bunches, or at least enough to the point where any team doubling Delaney might at least have to pay a little for it.
Tech is yet another great defensive team in the ACC - they check in at 5th in defensive efficiency, joined by Duke, Georgia Tech, and Clemson. They're an athletic team that will man up and play solid perimeter defense, and Allen's athletic ability and size gives versatility inside. Greenberg's had a knack for developing solid defensive contributors, and they're still present here; they might not seem as imposing as Clemson's press or Georgia Tech's size, but they're far more solid and have no real defensive weakness. They've shut down most of their opponents on the scoreboard - only two of their past seven opponents had more than 70 points against them - and that's when they do their best.
Luckily, plenty of things work in Maryland's favor, too. The Terps will have a major advantage at the other end of the floor; Virginia Tech is pretty average offensively. They really have nothing in the way of perimeter shooting - of players that average at least 15 minutes per game, the best 3pt shooter - Terrell Bell - hits just 31% of the time. Like Clemson, they'll hit the open shots if they're given them, but as long as they're not wide open, Tech probably won't light up the scoreboard from deep. They also have one of the lowest eFG% in the ACC to boot.
Much of VT's offense comes from Delaney, particularly from the line. He accounts for 27% of their points, which is 4% more than Vasquez gives to Maryland. Surprisingly, though, their losses haven't been a result of quiet games by Delaney - he actually gets to the line more and scores more in losses than wins. Shutting down Delaney is not the key to beating VT, though it may have to be a key to keep VT from beating Maryland. If that was contradictory, let me explain: you won't beat VT simply by shutting down Delaney, but if you don't shut him down, he might end up carrying VT to a victory.
The disconcerting thing about Delaney is his quickness and deceptive strength. He thrives on getting into the lane. I, personally, would have a fellow Baltimorean, Sean Mosley, match up with him for an epic Charm City battle. Still, though, that's not the only key.
Rather, bigger problems come about when Jeff Allen doesn't get his. They've only won twice against quality competition when he was in single digits, and he averages just 8 ppg in losses. As long as he can get up to about 15 points, Tech seems to be fine. When he can't find his rhythm and is mired in the mid-to-low single digits, Delaney is asked to take on too much and the Hokies struggle.
It's also worth noting that Tech is a solid but unspectacular rebounding team. Like most teams, they struggle when they're outrebounded - in all of their six losses, they were outrebounded or tied in rebounding. Not a ground-breaker, but they got blown out in that margin against Duke and BC, so it's worth keeping in mind.
These are some late-night thoughts on the upcoming opponent, so they are a tad scatter-brained. A more concrete preview will come on gameday, per usual.