With games such as No. 3 North Carolina vs. No. 10 Indiana, No. 14 Louisville vs. No. 16 Purdue, No. 17 Wisconsin vs. No. 22 Syracuse all on the schedule; the Big Ten/ACC Challenge has its fair share of heavyweight bouts.
But another big game in the Challenge will take place inside Crisler Center Wednesday night between the Michigan men’s basketball team and Virginia Tech (5-1).
Both teams, who were on opposite sides of the bubble last season, with Michigan making the NCAA Tournament and the Hokies going to the NIT, come into the game with bounce-back wins. The Wolverines (5-1) beat Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday after losing to South Carolina, and the Hokies downed Nebraska on Sunday after losing to Texas A&M.
“We got a quality game on our hands,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “It’s really odd that the bubble teams (from last year) that have (players) back are the teams we’re playing, whether it’s South Carolina, UCLA, Marquette and now Virginia Tech.”
After a lackluster loss in Columbia, S.C., where they shot just 19.2 percent and made only 1 of 25 from behind the arc, the Wolverines bounced back to handily defeat the Mountaineers, 64-47.
Led by the trio of senior guard Derrick Walton Jr., senior forward Zak Irvin and sophomore forward Moritz Wagner, who all put up double-digit point totals, the Wolverines powered their way past Mount St. Mary’s for the victory.
“We knew we just had to bounce back (from the loss to South Carolina),” Irvin said. “Every team goes through those games where the ball doesn’t fall for you. The game doesn’t go your way, and I knew I had to come with a mindset to be able to bounce back, and I think the team did that as well.”
Michigan shot much better against a much smaller opponent in the Mountaineers and regained some of its stroke that allowed it to shoot its way past Marquette and Southern Methodist prior to its loss to the Gamecocks.
On the other side of the court, Virginia Tech, which was projected to finish 10th n the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, has impressed early on in the season. The Hokies started the year with four straight victories before a narrow three-point loss to Texas A&M at the Wooden Classic in Fullerton, Calif.
Coach Buzz Williams’ team is led by 6-foot-7 forward Zach LeDay, who ranks first on the team in both points and rebounds, averaging 16.3 and 7.7 per game, respectively.
Virginia Tech’s biggest strength has been its shooting and its transition offense. The Hokies are shooting at almost 50 percent this season and play an up-tempo style that Michigan has not had to defend yet this season.
“They’re a really smart team,” Beilein said. “They shoot the ball really well. They remind me of some of the better teams we’ve had, who have a lot of shooters and have a lot of guys who can see the floor.
“That ball is going to come through the basket and pushed up the floor right down our throat. So if our transition defense isn’t good enough, they will get 80 on us.”
While Virginia Tech’s style of offense is something that the Wolverines haven’t yet seen this season, it is one that they will see down the road.
Beilein highlighted Michigan State and Indiana as teams that play with an up-tempo style that Michigan will see later on in the season.
So while the Hokies may not have the talent of the Spartans or the Hoosiers, Virginia Tech will pose a good challenge for Michigan before tougher Big Ten foes come to town.