Who: Virginia Tech Hokies (4-2, 1-0 home) vs #18/22 Purdue Boilermakers (5-1, 0-0 road)
When: Wednesday, December 1 @ 7:30 p.m.
TV: ESPN (as part of ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
Where: Cassell Coliseum, Blacksburg, Virginia
The Opponent: Purdue limps into Cassell following an 11-point loss to Richmond Saturday in Chicago. The Boilermakers were once thought of as a National Championship contender, but things derailed on the very first day of practice. Preseason Second Team All-American Robbie Hummel tore the same ACL he did at the end of last year and was lost for the season. That alone dropped Purdue to #8 in the Coaches Poll, before their loss to the Spiders on a neutral court sent the Boilermakers all the way down to #18.
That being said, Purdue is still a solid squad. They return a dynamic duo in guard E'Twaun Moore (6-4, 190 lbs) and forward JaJuan Johnson (6-10, 216 lbs). Moore anchors the backcourt and is the team's leading scorer at 20.8 points per game. The senior leads Purdue in steals per game (1.5) and field goal percentage (48.9%), while ranking second on the team in rebounds (6.7) and assists (2.7). The Boilers primarily use a small three-guard lineup featuring Moore at the "3" position.
Johnson is the big threat underneath. However, he's the only eligible player with significant minutes that's taller than 6-5. That being said, he's shooting over 46% from the field and is second on the team with 16.5 points per game. The Hokies should have a height advantage at every other position, as the Boilermakers "4" spot is occupied by guard-forward combo D.J. Byrd (6-5, 225 lbs). Byrd contributes 7.0 points per game.
Terone Johnson (6-2, 212 lbs) is a player to watch for Purdue. In his freshman season, he is averaging 6.8 points per game at the "2" guard for the Boilermakers. Junior Lewis Jackson (5-9, 165) is the team's point guard, averaging 4.2 assists per game.
The Boilers have a relatively deep bench, something that could be used as an advantage against a Hokie team with limited depth. Eight players average more than 15 minutes per game, including sharpshooter John Hart (6-2, 199). The sophomore has made 50% of his three pointers on the season (13 of 26) and is averaging 9.3 points in just 15.7 minutes.
My Thoughts: The Hokies need this victory more than you think. Before the season started, Tech was boasting a beefed-up non-conference schedule. Well, that only helps if you win some of those beefed-up games. Right now, Oklahoma State looks like a solid win, but I can't imagine the Cowboys being much better than 6th in the stacked Big 12.
This is the last chance for Tech to knock off an above average non-conference foe. Victories over Penn State and Mississippi State would be nice, but wouldn't compare to knocking off a top tier Big Ten school.
The problems that have plagued the Hokies through six games have been turnovers, poor shooting and lack of depth. Unfortunately for Tech, Purdue is solid where the Hokies are weak. The Boilermakers force nearly 20 turnovers per game while committing just 12; they average 80.2 points per game, which is the 13th best mark in the nation, and give up just 57.5 points; and their bench gives them 31.5 points per game. By comparison, the Hokies are averaging just 11.2 points per game from their reserves, and that includes a 23-point performance at UNCG. Take that out and the bench is averaging a putrid 8.8 points.
Luckily for the Hokies, they won't have to deal with multiple big men as they did in the 76 Classic over the weekend. Then again, JaJuan Johnson is a load and the Hokies can't afford to get Jeff Allen and Victor Davila in foul trouble against Johnson.
This game will most likely come down to who can solve the opposing team's defense the best. Both teams thrive on defense, although the Boilermakers are still adapting to that adjustment with the loss of Hummel. The Hokies have not handled pressure well this year, but have kept themselves in games by forcing turnovers at opportune times.
Richmond delivered the recipe for defeating Purdue on Saturday: don't turn the ball over, contest shots and rebound misses. Moore and Johnson were a combined 8-for-28 in Saturday's loss. The Boilermakers also shot just 30.2% from the field.
Virginia Tech is coming off a long five-game road swing and will enjoy playing in front of a packed partisan crowd for the first time in nearly four weeks. Hopefully the guys will come out pumped and ready to knock off a top 25 non-conference squad at home for the first time since 1978.