As soon as he watched No. 1 Michigan State's wins against Columbia and Portland, Virginia Tech's Adam Smith had a distinct feeling about the Hokies' chances Friday when they play Michigan State.
Though Tech (3-1) will arrive at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic as huge underdogs against Michigan State, Smith thinks otherwise regarding Tech's chances. Maybe it's youth talking, but Smith is thinking about more than just hanging close to the Spartans.
"Very winnable," Smith said of the Hokies' chances. "I've watched their last two games ... and I think we match up very well with them."
Tech has had encouraging recent history against No. 1 opponents, winning three of its last five games against top-ranked teams, but all of those opponents were Atlantic Coast Conference brethren.
Tech is 4-7 all-time against No. 1 teams, including 1-6 away from Cassell Coliseum. Tech's last outing against a No. 1 opponent came Feb. 26, 2011, against Duke, which Tech beat 64-60 in Blacksburg.
Senior forward Jarell Eddie is the only current player on Tech's roster who played in that game against Duke, and he only logged three minutes. Tech likely will start freshman guard Devin Wilson (10.3 points per game, 3.8 assists per game), and possibly sophomores Marshall Wood and Smith (10.8 ppg) against Michigan State (4-0).
"They're going to have opportunities to probably play No. 1s down the line during our ACC season, too," Tech coach James Johnson said of his young team.
"I'm not sure they know what to expect, but sometimes that can be a good thing. I kind of saw that in the West Virginia game (which Tech won 87-82). They just kind of got in the game not knowing what to expect, went out there and played."
Tech again will be without junior point guard Marquis Rankin, who has missed all four of Tech's games due to personal reasons. Without Rankin, Tech has one fewer experienced player to put on the floor against a Michigan State roster that includes 6-foot-10 senior Adreian Payne (17.5 ppg, 7.8 rebounds per game), 6-1 senior Keith Appling (15.3 ppg, 6.3 apg) and 6-4 sophomore Gary Harris (16.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg).
Harris, who was named by media the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, and Payne are considered by many draft pundits to be potential lottery picks in next year's NBA draft. Appling, who is shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and 61.5 percent from 3-point range, also likely will be a draft pick.
"They've got a little bit of everything," said Johnson, whose team also will play Saturday evening in the consolation game or championship game against Oklahoma (3-0) or Seton Hall (3-1). "You're not No. 1 just by chance. You've probably got some good pieces there and a good coach (in Tom Izzo)."
Johnson said Eddie (16.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and freshman Ben Emelogu (15.8 ppg) will be among players called upon to guard Harris. Wilson, who held West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten to 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting, will be on Appling.
"When we talk to Devin Wilson in the scouting report, we'll tell him, 'Here you go again. Your matchup is another senior, another very good player, another all-league player. You, as a freshman, Devin Wilson — you've got him,' " said Johnson, whose team lost its season opener at home against South Carolina Upstate, but has won three straight games, including a 105-92 victory Monday against Virginia Military Institute.
Smith, a native of Jonesboro, Ga., who played one season for UNC Wilmington before transferring to Tech, said he's only made one previous trip to New York City. He wants to make this a memorable one.
"We're going to treat it like any other game," Smith said. "Of course, we know it's the No. 1 team in the country, but nothing is different. We're going to prepare the same way. It's the same routine that we've had for the past four games."
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