Photo Credit: Liam Sment
After surviving last week against VMI, the #15 Virginia Tech Hokies face their toughest remaining non-conference test tonight in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge against a Penn State team hungry to pull off a big road upset.
With that said, here's our three things to watch for the Hokies and Nittany Lions.
1. Can Tech Control The Paint?
On paper, Tech has the better frontcourt led by breakout star Keve Aluma along with grad transfers Justyn Mutts and Cordell Pemsl. The Nittany Lions aren't as big as the Hokies, something that's weird to say about another major conference team but shows how successful Mike Young has been an infusing some much-needed size into this roster to do what he wants to do on the court.
This could be another showcase opportunity for Keve Aluma who had his most productive game of the season against Tech's toughest opponent of non-conference play, Villanova, having 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks while shooting over 64% from the field. While Tech probably won't need Aluma to play that well to win, there's no doubt that Aluma has shown the talent to be that type of dominant big even against the toughest competition.
Meanwhile, Mutts and Pemsl will be critical to controlling the paint especially when Aluma isn't in there to run the show. To date, Tech has been great at dominating points in the paint with their bigs being the difference, and they'll need to do so again including when Aluma isn't in the game.
Pemsl could be of particular interest tonight as the Iowa grad transfer could benefit a lot from having experience against the Nittany Lions and knowing what to expect in some aspects that you wouldn't normally get during non-conference play.
It's definitely a change to see Tech have a frontcourt size advantage against another power conference team and tonight, that could prove crucial in trying to stay undefeated against Penn State.
2. Containing Seth Lundy
It may be only three games but Penn State sophomore Seth Lundy has been a breakout player averaging 22.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 54.8% from the field including 42.9% from three-point range. At 6'6'', Lundy is a fascinating matchup challenge for Virginia Tech that may require some varying looks.
One possibility could be using the athletic Justyn Mutts though he could have some limitations as a perimeter defender. Another could be Cartier Diarra who is Tech's tallest guard and one of the best defenders not only on Tech's roster but also in the ACC.
Finding ways to contain Lundy, especially on the perimeter, will be key as he shot 50% from three in Penn State's wins against VMI and VCU but was held under 30% from deep in their loss to Seton Hall. While Lundy still had 23 against Seton Hall, the efficiency disparity from three proved critical in that game and shows both the challenge he can be to defend and the importance for the Hokies to contain him especially on the perimeter.
Tech's defensive strategy must start with trying to contain Seth Lundy and force other Nittany Lions to beat the Hokies. If they can do that, especially on the perimeter, they should have a very good chance of taking care of business and adding another quality, non-conference victory to their resume.
3. Will Tech's Three-Point Shooting Improve?
Virginia Tech's three-point shooting has been inconsistent so far this season which is reflected by the fact that the Hokies are shooting under 34% from three as a team. Tech's dominance in the paint has prevented those struggles from being too much of an issue while their three-point shooting has also shown up at good times as well.
The return of Jalen Cone should start to help that, but Cone had some struggles in Tech's opener going 1-4 in his season debut against VMI last week. Tech will need more than that from Cone going forward to help stretch the floor both for their big men, who have shown plenty of versatility to make threes like Keve Aluma, and for slashers like Tyrece Radford and Cartier Diarra who are at their best when having lanes to attack the rim.
However, it goes beyond Cone to needing more some more consistency from Nahiem Alleyne who has had a strong start to the season averaging over 11 points per game but is also shooting 35% from three. Additionally, you have to wonder if Tech may give more minutes to Hunter Cattoor going forward as he is 7-14 from three so far and has been somewhat better than fellow sophomores Alleyne and Cone to date this season though both of them, especially Alleyne, have proven to be more well-rounded offensive players.
Tech has had plenty of quality three-point shooting in a past but right now, the Hokies are looking for answers from deep which, if they can find them, should open up this offense even more.