Memories of Virginia Tech's last game against Maryland - yeah, the 17-point blowout that was, at the time, the worst Maryland had ever experienced - still hurt. A lot. But there's no time for that this time around: when the Terrapins visit Blacksburg tomorrow afternoon at 8:00, Maryland will be facing an essentially crucial, virtual must-win. Unless Maryland figures out a way to win the ACC tournament, they'll probably need to win at both VT and UNC.
In other words: if they're going to make a run at the the tourney, it starts now.
Not much has changed since the Hokies beat down Maryland in the Comcast Center about a month ago. Since beating Maryland, the Hokies are 4-2, with the only two losses coming on the road to Boston College and Georgia Tech. The GT loss is an interesting blemish on the resume - the Terps dealt with the Jackets on the road pretty easily - but they dropped a hammer on them the last time out on their own floor, nearly making up for the earlier loss. They still look like one of the ACC's stronger teams.
Malcolm Delaney is still Malcolm Delaney: he was shut down by Iman Shumpert in a once-in-a-lifetime type of performance, but has dropped less than 19 just one time since scoring 19 on Maryland. Much the same goes for Victor Davila, one of the Hokies' post men, and Terrell Bell and Manny Atkins, two of VT's wings. They are who they were the last time these two teams met, and I'd expect them to stay the same.
There have, however, been two pretty sizable changes. The first is Jeff Allen. Normally an inconsistent, troublesome post player, he's been putting up insane stats over the past few weeks. In the past five games, he hasn't scored less than 15 points or grabbed less than 11 rebounds a single time. Over that span, he's averaging 20.2 ppg and 13.2 rpg. Those are Jordan Williams type numbers (better, really), and he's doing it against quality, ACC-level competition.
The past two games are indicative of how he's been performing lately. At BC, he had a legendary 25-point, 19-rebound effort. Old Jeff Allen probably follows that game up with a clunker. New Jeff Allen follows it up with another 25-point, 14-rebound game. Now, spurts like this aren't entirely new to Allen, but they're certainly new to him against this level of competition and at this level of play. He might suddenly turn around and lay an egg against Maryland - nothing would surprise me with him anymore - but I wouldn't count on it.
You're probably familiar with the other change: Erick Green. Green dropped 24 on the Terps in a breakout game that no one saw coming back in January. He's pretty much kept it up, albeit it at a much slower pace. He had a 1-point game against BC, but excluding that game he's averaging 13 ppg. That's not a lot, but between Allen and Delaney, the Hokies don't need a lot. They just needed someone to take over for injured Dorenzo Hudson's twelve or so points a game, and they got it out of Green.
He's done it while playing at the point, which is an added bonus for VT. Delaney isn't a true point, and while neither is Green, he's done a great job of it. Since the Maryland game, his A/TO ratio is sitting at 2.44, and I'd kill for one of Maryland's guards to have that number. Between Delaney, Allen, and now Green, VT truly does have a Big Three. With some solid support from guys like Bell and Davila, they're a dangerous team.
Offensively, they're still inconsistent from three, and they'll still struggle on days when one of their three core players doesn't show up - like when Delaney had only 8 at Georgia Tech, or when Green was held to just 1 at BC. They're not great shooting and they don't have traditional post-up players, but they can definitely score. Need proof? They just put triple-digits on GT.
It'll be interesting to see how Maryland counters. On paper, it's an increasingly prolific offense matching up with the conference's best defense, though that's extremely debatable and I wouldn't even think of saying it if the numbers didn't back it up. VT offensively actually isn't a bad matchup for Maryland - they're one of the conference's worst shooting teams, and have no great shooters outside of Green. After seeing BC pick the Terrapins apart, I'm a little skeptical, but a lot of that had to do with BC's early success from the 3 - VT shouldn't have the same.
My bigger worry is on the other end of the floor, where VT is pretty stingy and still willing to go zone. You might remember the VT game as the one that so utterly exposed Maryland's offense when the Hokies switched to a simple zone: Maryland couldn't get the ball to Jordan Williams, and no ball to Jordan means no points. It was brutal to watch. I expect VT to follow through with it, and Gary simply has to have the team prepared this time. It's tough to beat a zone with no shooters, but he'll need to cook something up.
Maryland lost last time for a lot of reasons, but more than anything else, it was because they couldn't score in the halfcourt. If you can't score in the halfcourt, you can't stop runs, you can't set up a press, you can't get easy turnovers off the press, and you can't get easy buckets off the turnovers. Everything snowballed when Maryland saw the zone. Again, I'm not sure how Maryland's going to attack it, but if they can't crack it this time, they'll need an otherworldly defensive performance to stay in it.
I'm not expecting a win here. The Hokies won handily last time, and the game is on their court now. As much as I like to make fun of Cassel, it's a tough place to play. Maryland's not a markedly better team than they were a few weeks ago except maybe for Pe'Shon Howard, but it's too early to go writing that in stone. Meanwhile, it looks like VT's made pretty sizable strides. If Gary can pull some magic out of his hat on how to topple the zone, I'll be a believer. Otherwise, VT looks like they've finally attained some offensive balance, which will make them tough to beat.
It's not like Maryland has much of a choice, though. We're dangerously approaching do-or-die time here.