After beating a Big 10 team Sunday in Nebraska, the Virginia Tech Hokies face another Big 10 opponent on the road in the Michigan Wolverines in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Both teams have strong hopes of making the NCAA Tournament and are led by two very good head coaches in Buzz Williams and John Beilein who both know how to win and have done it at some major programs.
Both programs already have some solid wins with Michigan having wins over SMU and Marquette with the Wolverines' only loss being by 15 against South Carolina while the Hokies have beaten Nebraska and New Mexico with their only loss coming in a game they should have won against Texas A&M.
Michigan does have some size but both teams are fairly small with the pair of teams only having three guys 6'9'' or taller that play regular minutes for their respective teams. Both teams don't have the deepest of benches with Virginia Tech being eight-deep right now and Michigan only having seven players average at least 10 minutes per game which given the Hokies' physical style may be an advantage for Virginia Tech.
One of the big matchups will come in the backcourt between Michigan's star point guard Derrick Walton Jr. and Virginia Tech's point guard duo of Seth Allen and Justin Robinson who will be the ones guarding Walton throughout this game. Walton has been Michigan's best player so far leading the Wolverines in points and tied for the lead in assists while shooting a stellar 95.8% from the free-throw line and 42.9% from beyond the arc while averaging under 2 turnovers per game.
Walton has been quite good for the Wolverines so far and is a key piece for Michigan on both ends but will have a tough challenge opposite him throughout this game with it likely being Robinson playing most the point guard minutes with Allen working a lot at shooting guard after Robinson's impressive performance out west where he was in double figures twice and played some of the best basketball in his career.
If Robinson can put together another strong piece tonight while also limiting Walton, the Hokies will be in a strong position to pull off the upset but that will be a big challenge for the sophomore.
Virginia Tech has a big advantage of being the better outside shooting as they're shooting 40% from beyond the arc while the Wolverines are shooting 33.6% from beyond the arc. Ahmed Hill has looked at times like Virginia Tech's best player this season and will have an interesting battle with Michigan's talented wing Zak Irvin who has been solid at the line shooting almost 80% but shooting under 30% from beyond the arc.
For Hill and Justin Bibbs, it will be important for them to limit Irvin's ability to attack the rim and draw fouls while also avoiding forcing Irvin to take outside shots instead of letting get in the post and draw a foul. Irvin and Michigan's wings will also face a big challenge with Hill as the redshirt sophomore is averaging 14.7 points and shooting an impressive 47.6% from deep in what has been an impressive start for the athletic shooting guard.
Zach LeDay and Chris Clarke may be outsized down low when Khadim Sy isn't in the game but the duo has crashed the boards effectively so far averaging a combined 14.9 rebounds per game while Michigan's taller big man duo of D.J. Wilson and Mark Donnal are only averaging 12.4 rebounds per game though Wilson is averaging the most rebounds per game of any big man in this matchup (8.2 rebounds per game). Michigan also has Moritz Wagner who is not a great rebounder either averaging 3.3 boards in 16.7 minutes per game so far.
While Michigan does have a lot more size than the Hokies, the Hokies have the more talented frontcourt unlike Texas A&M when the Aggies were built around their talented frontcourt with three very talented forwards and solid backups behind them that allowed the Aggies to consistently go with a big lineup.
Virginia Tech has a talent advantage in the frontcourt largely due to LeDay while Michigan has the slight backcourt advantage along with having a very good home-court advantage and a size advantage that will cause problems for the Hokies against this well-coached Michigan team. For the Hokies, that makes it even more important to limit Michigan to outside shots to an extent while also doing a good job of boxing out against a Michigan team that is averaging around 2 rebounds less per game than the Hokies.
One critical factor could be free-throw shooting as the Hokies have struggled early shooting only 69.4% from the line while Michigan has shot an impressive 82.3% from the charity stripe so far. Virginia Tech has seemed to shoot its best from the free-throw line in big games though but the challenge of playing in Ann Arbor will make this difficult.
Both of these teams are NCAA Tournament-caliber and there's an outside chance that maybe we could see them facing off in the first round. This will be a very close game between two well-coached teams but the Hokies have a little more momentum coming off an impressive win and a decent advantage in frontcourt talent with Zach LeDay. Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, and Seth Allen will limit Michigan's backcourt advantage and while this will be close on the road, the Hokies will get a big win over Michigan.
Pick: Virginia Tech 68, Michigan 65