Tomorrow's showdown between Virginia Tech and Maryland in the Comcast Center is huge for both teams. Their resumes are surprisingly similar, with mediocre overall records (Maryland 10-6, VT 11-5) and each lacking a really impressive win despite a few close calls. In fact, a win here would go a long ways for the tournament hopes for either side.
For Maryland, how they perform will likely be a big indicator as to where they stand right now and where they're headed in the future. Maryland's played a lot of games this year where a loss is "acceptable," and a lot of games where a loss is unthinkable. Rarely have they played a team that is supposedly on the same footing as they are. Virginia Tech is on that same footing, so how the Terrapins play tomorrow should show us - finally - where they stand.
You probably already know VT in a nutshell: slightly overhyped heading into the year, they lost big early to a Kansas State team that has since imploded. After a few easy wins, they proceeded to lose to UNLV and Purdue - both acceptable - before falling to Virginia, of all teams, in their third straight loss. At that point, it seemed pretty easy to write them off.
But since that loss to UVA, they've run off a 7-1 record, with the sole loss coming at UNC by three. While many of those teams were of the cupcake variety, they did rack up wins against Penn State, Mississippi State, and, most impressively, Florida State by double-digits. That FSU win was big; unlike Maryland, they've now proven (at least a little) that they can play and beat teams around their own level.
If you're wondering, yes, Seth Greenberg is still running VT at a pretty slow pace with an offense revolving almost entirely around Malcolm Delaney, their star 6-3 senior combo guard. Delaney is probably the only player in the ACC who could rival Jordan Williams in importance to his team. He isn't as consistently excellent as Jordan has been this year, but his totals are pretty staggering in their own right: he's putting up 18.6 points per game, while shooting 44% from the field and 43% from deep. Even more impressive is how much he's played: he's averaging nearly 38 minutes per game, good enough for 6th in the country.
The only problem I've ever seen with Delaney is that he's kind of playing out of position. He's not a true point guard, even if he does function better with the ball in his hands, and that's one of my pet peeves with this VT team. Still, Delaney's ability to make plays off the dribble and penetrate into the lane is pretty impressive.
The goal is obvious: much like Williams, if you can shut down Delaney, his team will struggle. That's a task easier said than done; he's had a few rough games this year (9 vs. Purdue, 9 vs. Wake, 12 vs. Mt. St. Mary's), but he has more offensive talent than almost anyone Maryland's had to play against this year. He's dropped 25+ three times this season, and not against cupcakes; he put up 30 on a very good UNLV squad, for instance. I'm assuming Sean Mosley will be guarding him in the Battle of Baltimore (guards), and he'll need to be better than he has been recently.
Here's the thing: if Delaney goes crazy in the points column, things may not be that bad. In games where he's scored upwards of 20 points, VT is 1-4; the sole win came against UNC-Greensboro. And when he scores less than 10, VT is 0-2. When he scores between 10 and 20, usually around 17 or so, VT is 9-0. It's not a ton of data, but it's interesting nonetheless: if you can limit Delaney or take away his other options, you'll be in good shape. No matter how crazy he goes, someone else will still need to contribute.
About those aforementioned other options: the primary secondary option is noted goon and quasi-post player Jeff Allen. Allen, now a 6-8 senior, is undeniably talented and has gobs of potential. Inconsistency, occasional foul trouble, and some questionable character have kept him short of his ceiling in Blacksburg, but he's still a matchup problem for most teams that play him. He's averaging a very respectable 12 and 9 a game; he's a little too small and quick for Jordan Williams, but he'll be an interesting matchup with Dino Gregory.
Victor Davila, a 6-8 junior, is next to Allen in the frontcourt. He's averaging 7 and 5 a game, but more notable is his minutes. Like Delaney, he's playing a lot: at 32 minutes a game, he's getting more time than anyone else on the team (other than Delaney, of course). That includes, for the record, Allen. Davila's not dangerous, but he's consistent and one of VT's rocks. In fact, he might be the one guarding Jordan Williams, which is good news; he gave up 29 points to Purdue's JaJuan Johnson earlier in the year.
Virginia Tech's guard play outside of Delaney can best be classified as "inconsistent." Dorenzo Hudson was the third of VT's Big 3, but he's gone for the season. Terrell Bell is a 6-6 wing with some forward tendencies; he's getting over 30 minutes a game, which is pretty impressive, but is only averaging 6 points a game in that time.
Hudson's absence has pushed Erick Green, a 6-4 sophomore, into the starting lineup, and I have to say he's done better than I thought he would. He's a poor outside shooter, but he's put up double-figures in the past eight games, usually against pretty solid competition. The thing is, he's not the type of player that will take over an offense if Delaney can't find his stroke or is bothered by Maryland's defense.
Past that, Virginia Tech is a very thin team. Lack of depth has always been one of their weaknesses, but with Hudson out, it's especially bad now. Past Green, who is getting 24 minutes per game, no one is averaging more than 12 mpg. Jarrell Eddie, a 6-7 freshman wing, and Manny Atkins, a 6-7 sophomore, have both seen increases in playing time since Hudson's injury, but they aren't yet reliable options.
The lack of depth at point guard is particularly striking. Even their starter, Delaney, isn't a true point guard, and the backups aren't much better. The #2 guy at point is 6-1 freshman Tyrone Garland, whom you may remember as that guy from Philly who Maryland slow-played. He's only averaging 7 minutes per game and has stayed quiet in close contests, but if, for instance, Delaney gets in foul trouble, PG would be a big weakness for the Hokies.
Virginia Tech's biggest weakness, aside from the fact that they have no one to stick next to Malcolm Delaney in terms of scoring, is their lack of interior presence. The tallest player on the team is 6-8, and he's not particularly wide, ala Jordan Williams. I doubt they'll be able to counter Williams without double-teaming (and may struggle even then). Rebounding is another problem stemming from the lack of height; they're mediocre at best on the boards, and that's big for an inconsistent rebounding team such as Maryland.
Here's the scary thing about the lack of post presence: they're still one of the best defenses in the country, at #16 in defensive efficiency. That likely means they'll be able to limit Maryland's perimeter scoring and probably be able to stifle the Terrapins in the halfcourt (we all know how that goes). Combined with VT's slow tempo, this game may be the first to 70.
Gameday guide is on the way in a few hours for a more cogent preview. But until then, I'm utterly torn on this game. I want to be confident about Maryland's chances, but I felt very similarly to the way I felt before the Boston College loss. Hopefully they've figured out their mistakes since then.