It didn’t look like a marquee matchup when the ACC-Big Ten Challenge schedule was announced in October, but Penn State’s visit to No. 16 Virginia Tech on Tuesday brings together two teams off to intriguing starts.
The Hokies (4-0) made their name with an overtime win over No. 3 Villanova, while the Nittany Lions (2-1) led Seton Hall for 39 minutes and 32 seconds Sunday night before suffering a 98-92 overtime loss.
While this game pits two disparate styles — Penn State loves to run while Virginia Tech prefers to operate at one of the nation’s slowest tempos — there’s at least one common measuring stick to guess how this one might play out.
It’s hard to believe this early in the season, but the Hokies and Nittany Lions boast a common opponent. VMI lost 86-65 on Nov. 28 at State College, then traveled to Blacksburg five days later and led by four points with eight minutes to go before falling 64-57.
Virginia Tech likes its balanced offense to work through power forward Keve Aluma (17.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg), who followed head coach Mike Young from Wofford to Virginia Tech. The 6-foot-9 redshirt junior shoots 61 percent from the field, which includes 6 of 13 marksmanship from 3-point range.
Young never dreamed Aluma would be so good offensively — partly because he grew up playing soccer and didn’t give basketball a shot until he was a 6-foot-7 high school freshman.
“You see the soccer skills,” Young said. “His feet are remarkable. His hands. He’s tough now. He’s tough as a pine knot. I just never thought he’d be much of a scorer. Just not who he was.”
Aluma isn’t the only transfer making a difference for Virginia Tech. Justyn Mutts produced 10 points, nine rebounds and six assists in Thursday’s win over VMI. Mutts averaged 12.2 points and 8.4 rebounds last year for Delaware, so other Colonial Athletic Association coaches weren’t sorry to see him transfer out of the league.
“(Hofstra coach) Joe Mihalich referred to him as a Rodman-type player,” Young said. “Mutts is a good basketball player. We’re going to do some more things with him offensively around the basket. He’s a lot stronger than he looks and can get up over the top of folks and score the ball.”
Interim head coach Jim Ferry, who was promoted when Patrick Chambers resigned in October, prefers for Penn State to get out and run past folks. The Nittany Lions like to push the ball after misses and makes as everyone except the ballhandler finds a place outside the 3-point arc to spot up.
Penn State built a 29-10 lead in the opening nine minutes Sunday night against Seton Hall by drilling 7 of 11 of its 3-pointers — each one by a different player.
But the Nittany Lions’ lack of size and depth eventually was exposed. Seton Hall outscored Penn State 54-30 in the paint for the night, yet the Nittany Lions still held an 8-point lead with just under two minutes to go.
“We’ve got to learn how to finish games,” Ferry said. “We should have won in regulation. We can’t just outscore people. We have to defend and rebound. When we do that, I think we can be very good.
“I thought we were playing so tight (in the first half) making extra passes — making great passes for each other. Then, all of a sudden, guys started looking for shots for themselves. We missed some layups, we turned the ball over.”
–Field Level Media