After picking up an overtime over UAB in the consolation game at the Emerald Coast Classic, the Virginia Tech Hokies are 4-2 and looking for their best win of the season against the 5-1 Northwestern Wildcats in this year's ACC-Big 10 Challenge.
Tonight's ACC-Big 10 Challenge game also marks the return of former Virginia Tech big man Joey van Zegeren to Cassell Coliseum, this time with Northwestern. So far, the Wildcats have only lost to North Carolina and have a win over Missouri in Kansas City to headline their resume so far.
Sophomore guard Bryant McIntosh has been Northwestern's star so far averaging 17.3 points, 6.2 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. McIntosh is also shooting 52% from beyond the arc and 89.5% from the free throw line so far. McIntosh has the look of a player that can lead Northwestern to a trip to the NCAA Tournament as soon as this season, and will have to be contained tonight.
The Hokies will likely turn to Seth Allen if he brings the energy that it takes to go against McIntosh. Allen's energy has been inconsistent, but the former Maryland guard has been quite good when he has been on. Allen played fairly well against UAB with 23 points to lead the Hokies to victory, but Virginia Tech will need him shooting the ball more efficiently and playing solid defense.
Northwestern is built more as a perimeter team that is shooting 40% from beyond the arc while the Hokies have been dominant on the glass, ranking 15th in the nation in rebounds per game largely due to their revamped frontcourt headlined by Zach LeDay.
Zach LeDay has undoubtedly been the Hokies' best player averaging 19.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game while having double-doubles in four of six games. Northwestern's Alex Olah is the main big man for the Wildcats, but LeDay likely will be matched up against smaller big men while Kerry Blackshear or Johnny Hamilton go against Olah.
LeDay is ready to be a nightmare along with Hamilton who is averaging 4.8 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game. Hamilton has been a force on the glass, and the sky seems to be the limit for the former JUCO big man.
If there is one player that can be an x-factor tonight, it's Justin Bibbs. Bibbs is averaging 10.3 points per game so far, but is Virginia Tech's one solid three-point shooter as he is shooting an impressive 60% from beyond the arc. If the Hokies can get Bibbs going tonight, Virginia Tech's chances of winning this game go up a lot.
The Hokies have definitely improved a lot, but Northwestern looks likely to be a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament this season. However, this game is in Blacksburg, and the Hokies know that this is a great chance to get a solid win before conference play.
However, Northwestern is a solid basketball team that doesn't have many new parts while the Hokies are still improving in the team aspect. If this team had played together longer, my prediction would be slightly different, but this game is definitely a toss-up tonight.
Prediction: Northwestern 73, Virginia Tech 69