Buzzketball Shows a Plan Without Robinson

Looking past the bricks of the Hokies' 47-24 win against NC State in Raleigh, we see how Buzz Williams plans to survive without his star point guard.

[Mark Umansky]

Hahahaha what just happened?

With star senior point guard Justin Robinson on the bench in a walking boot, the Virginia Tech men's basketball team had seven available scholarship players (including little used freshman guard Jonathan Kabongo). Playing on the road against #23 NC State, who run an up-tempo press that gave Virginia problems just days earlier, meant sure doom for the Hokies.

But an ugly start for both sides left the door cracked open for Buzz Williams' depleted bunch, and what did the coach decide to do?

Make it even uglier.

The Hokies won 47-23, in a game that was somehow tougher to watch than the score suggests. Tech gummed up the Wolfpack offense with a combination of great defense and State's own absolutely frigid shooting, which lead to a scoring output that would have been underwhelming for Dave Doeren's football team.

But no matter how ugly it was—and my god it was ugly, the score was tied at two until 12:59 in the first half—it counts as Tech's 18th win of the year.

It was a rocky start full of turnovers, sophomore combo guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker struggled early as he shouldered much of the ball handling duties with Robinson sidelined. Tech only managed five points through the first eleven minutes of action, and seemed out of sorts on defense as well, surrendering many open looks. An output like that would usually put the team in an inescapable hole, like the one they faced in Chapel Hill a week earlier.

But luckily for the Hokies, the Wolfpack happened to be even worse.

To say Kevin Keatts' group couldn't buy a bucket is an insult to just how impressive their game-long cold streak was. By the end of regulation the Pack made just nine field goals on, wait for it, SIXTEEN PERCENT SHOOTING. They went 2-28 from three (a sterling 7.1%), and Braxton Beverly, State's sharpshooting guard who hit 39% of his triples coming into the afternoon, went 0-12 from the field.

And while the Pack started the game cold, the Hokies slowly got comfortable. They turned it over nine times in the first 20 minutes, but just three the rest of the way. Instead of settling for jumpers, Alexander-Walker, Ahmed Hill, and Wabissa Bede attacked the basket and weaved their way into open shots.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. became the force of emphasis in the second half, and let the offense flow through him both in the low post (11 of his 13 game after intermission), and at the top of the key (he continuously found cutters to keep the attack flowing).

And as the offense found its groove, the defense began to clamp down. Bede was everywhere, hounding the opposing ball handlers and attacking shooters off the ball. Blackshear did his best job so far this season by hedging without fouling. Hill and NAW were all over passing lanes, helping to force 10 Pack giveaways.

It was ugly, but it was exactly what the Hokies needed to do to pick up a win. And it wasn't just a win, they beat a ranked opponent by 20 points, on the road, without their most important player. It may be one of the most impressive victories in Williams' entire tenure in Blacksburg.

Despite the great result, Tech can't celebrate much. They head home to host fifteenth ranked Louisville in just two days, again without their senior point guard. Each game going forward with Robinson is a walking boot is going to be a struggle, and not all of them will end up as 20 point wins.

But this one? It was the prettiest ugly game I've ever seen.

Let's talk about the path without Justin Robinson

This is usually a place where I put notes about the best or worst things from the game, but I think it's much more important to discuss life without Justin Robinson in realistic terms. The Hokies are no longer the fourth best team in the ACC, not without the most impactful player in the history of the program.

But that doesn't mean things will completely fall apart. Opponents won't always shoot 16% like the Pack did in Raleigh, but there's a pretty clear game plan that Tech needs to follow moving forward.

Step One: Play balls-to-the-wall defense at all times

That means Blackshear hedging high. Surprise twists to cause turnovers (the Hokies doubled the ball handler off a screen way more than they have before, expect to see more little wrinkles like this every game). Chasing shooters off the line, even if it means it leaves Tech open to a drive. They simply can't play conservatively, they need to use their defense to make deeper teams uncomfortable.

Step Two: Play point guard by committee

Nickeil is great. He's a good scorer, good defender, good ball handler. He can initiate the offense almost as well as Robinson. But asking him to completely fill a point guard's role is both asking too much, and it takes away the things he can do off-ball after the defense breaks down.

I wonder if Williams noticed that after the early turnover issues, because they switched to an attack that flowed through anyone on the floor. At times it was NAW, other times Bede or Hill. But Blackshear, Ty Outlaw, and even Isaiah Wilkins took a turn initiating offense and keeping the ball moving.

After the brutal start, Tech scored 42 points in 15 minutes. Again, that's not ideal, and they won't always (or ever again) face a team that played as poorly as the Pack did, but their attack won't completely break down.

(Side note: I was especially impressed by the way Tech frequently broke down the press. Alexander-Walker, Bede, Hill, and Blackshear all worked together to move the ball and not fall victim to the traps Keatts and company tried to spring on them. Hill's handle is too loose to move in tight spaces, but his speed is tough for anyone to handle.)

Step Three: Get great performances from "the other guys"

Alexander-Walker, Bede, and Hill all played 40 minutes. Be prepared to see those numbers all the time, barring foul trouble. Blackshear was able to get some rest, and seems at his best when he can sit for about six minutes a game. But the reason he was able to, was because of very solid minutes from both Outlaw (who didn't hit a shot, but rebounded well and played physical defense) and Isaiah Wilkins.

I said Wilkins wasn't ready for ACC play early in the year, but this was his best game of 2019. He's now strung together three solid games in a row, showing the same kind of improvement he's displayed since stepping on campus. If he can provide 15-18 solid minutes, it can be the difference in weathering a bad outing from one of the stars.

For instance today, we got a poor shooting performance from Hill (3-13, 1-7 from three), but it was mitigated by Wilkins and Bede (who hit three of his four attempts from behind the arc).

All is not lost without Robinson, but the ceiling is lower. With 18 wins already, Tech needs to win two of their final nine to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. That will probably happen, unless more injuries strike. But let's look at the remaining schedule, grouped by likelihood of a win.

Yes it's at home, but...no:

2/18 vs #4 Virginia

2/26 vs #2 Duke

I love the Hokies. I believe in Buzz. But as currently constructed, without Robinson, it would take a miracle to win either of these.

I mean, anything can happen:

2/4 vs #15 Louisville

3/5 @ #25 Florida State

Louisville on such a tight turnaround will be tough, but it's in a sold out Cassell (where the Hokies haven't lost yet). Could they win off pure adrenaline? Maybe. FSU is tough on the road, but a win there isn't out of the question.

Road games against bad teams

2/9 @ Clemson

2/16 @ Pittsburgh

2/23 @ Notre Dame

These could all be wins, but games on the road are tough. Clemson will be the biggest challenge, but I wouldn't be surprised to see if the Hokies dropped two of these three (but they could just as easily win them all).

Food for Cassell

2/13 vs Georgia Tech

3/8 vs Miami

Even without Robinson, Tech should be able to win both of these.

It's not an easy schedule, but all things considered it could be worse. Things won't always shake out as well as they did in Raleigh, but if he can come back by mid-March, Buzzketball's tournament ambitions remain in reach.

Comments

Watching this was like the wake forest 0-0 game, but atleast we won. Fells much better.

Fugazy

See, I don't get that. The first ten minutes of the game were brutal, and I just kept waiting for NC State to warm up and crush us. But once we started finding our groove, we were in complete control of the game. Yes, we only scored 47, but we were also holding the ball until the shot clock showed five or less for basically the entire second half. I'm confident we could have put up 60+ if we weren't milking the clock. And after being tied at 2-2 in the 8th minute of the game, 60 points is kind of insane

Long story short, we controlled this game from about the halfway point of the first half until the end, and played the exact kind of ball we needed to play to do that. That's not ugly to me.

"I liked you guys a lot better when everybody told you you were terrible." -Justin Fuente

I went from being frustrated watching in the first half to absolutely enjoying the second half. We could have stepped on the gas if we wanted, but it was a game that we managed the last 25 minutes of and cruised to victory. I will take that all day.

The Hokies are no longer the fourth best team in the ACC, not without the most impactful player in the history of the program.

Does 5 get his jersey retired? I'm asking this without a real perspective of the history of Hokie basketball, is Robinson as important to VT basketball as Curry, Bristow, Coles and Custis?

I think it's a great argument to have in a bar. My view is this: he's not the most talented (Curry) or the highest scoring (Coles). But his improvement directly correlates to the best run in program history. The more he's improved, the more the team has. Without him, they don't make the bubble in 15 or get off the bubble in 16.

Without him, they don't make the bubble in 15 17 or get off the bubble in 16 18.

FTFY

Also, to be more on topic, isn't there a school rule where a player has to win a major national award to be eligible for having his jersey retired?

Love that Buzz just low key dunked on them at the presser with that stopping for ice cream line. That guy is a killer

NAW did not see to handle the ball well. I thought he looked sloppy and careless for a large portion of the game, especially when he was playing point guard. Yes, everyone had a less than par day shooting, but with all the talk of NAW being an NBA prospect, today he didn't show it that well. DOn't get me wrong, I love to see him play, and many games he's unstoppable, but today was not one of those days. It's a good think NCState had a REALLY bad day.

Dang, was that from the broadcast? If so, I totally missed it.

The angle and the shakiness of the camera (as well as the fact that I too didn't see it during the broadcast) make me think it's probably a cell phone video.

No it's from a fan, I saw it on reddit

I think he was doing the Frug!

"Hey Bud, you wont have to hold the opponent to 17 points anymore."

was anybody even watching him, other than the kid in the stands?

Go Hokies

5 had a pretty good battle going on with the students behind the bench for most of the game, so I'd say at least 20-25 students were paying attention, which is more students than UVA had at their spring game, so a lot.

This was actually as he was walking back to his seat from the huddle. He was out in the middle of the court right before this dancing just outside of the huddle even more. I thought it was good to see him moving.

The really encouraging thing from that gif is how well he was moving on both legs. Makes me hope there is reason to be optimistic about his return.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.

So our plan is hope and pray the opponent can't buy a bucket.

Eh, we certainly got lucky that NC State started as cold as we did, but by the end we were finally looking like a competent basketball team again. We weren't pushing the ball down the court like we usually do, but we were setting up and playing good defense, and we were spreading the ball around on offense almost as much and as skillfully as we had been with JRob.

I got the feeling that Buzz learned some stuff about his team that he'll take with him into the preparations for the Louisville game on Monday. Maybe we'll win, maybe we won't, but I was encouraged by the effort we showed over the final 30 minutes today, and I'll be shocked if we finish conference play worse than 11-7. We still have 4 games left on the schedule that we have no business losing, 5 or no 5.

not without the most impactful player in the history of the program.

Ahh yes..... Dell is holding on line 2..

"Hey Bud, you wont have to hold the opponent to 17 points anymore."

Kevin Keatts probably didn't understand what James Johnson meant when he said "Let me put together today's offensive gameplan, I'll remind Virginia Tech what they lost by firing me."

to the heart of cygnus' fearsome force we set our course

To be fair, scoring wasn't our problem during the JJ years. Defense on the other hand....not so good.

I'll agree defense was the biggest problem, but Erick Green's amazing senior year did a lot to cover up how disastrous Johnson's offense was. In Johnson's second year the team managed to finish outside of the top 300 in both ppg and fg%

to the heart of cygnus' fearsome force we set our course

Great article Brian and Great win for the Hokies...let me just say that Outlaw and Hill have really stepped this year. Even with Hill shooting poorly today, he hasn't "disappeared" out there. I took a "show me" attitude with both of them and they are showing up and showing out.

Brian, what are your thoughts on Kabongo?

I like Bede. I have been very impressed with him these last few games. And Blackshear. He's showing out. That three today was epic.

TKPhi Damn Proud
BSME 2009

He was just awful against UNC. I'm very much encourage with how he played against State.

It seems like he grew up a lot as a player during the State game. He seemed to flow better and press less as the game went on, but some of that was playing the point less.

Sometimes we live no particular way but our own

Ok no doubt NC State played their worst game ever. But in the back of everyone's mind ... how much of this was NC State being awful on O and how much was VT being good in D? I may watch the game again and see how many uncontested shots NC State missed. That will provide some indication.

Check the video from the giftory comment thread. Has all NC State's shots.

___

-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.

It seemed like about 1/4 of the way through the game NC State started pressing as hard as I've ever seen a team press. That's partly due to them getting in their own heads, and partly due to our defense.

21st century QBs Undefeated vs UVA:
MV7, MV5, LT3, Josh Jackson, Jerod Evans, Michael Brewer, Tyrod Taylor, Sean Glennon, and Grant Noel. That's right, UVA. You couldn't beat Grant Noel.

Indicator of a poor offensive output from both teams: extensive post-game analysis and interviews inside the 2 hour TV time slot.

___

-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.

Hope this isn't a repost.

Buzz at post-game:

On shooting performance...
I thought it was really pretty. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And respectfully, we shot double what they shot. It is kind of like art, it just depends on what you want to buy and that is why there is nothing hanging on my walls except my kids.

Interview chocked full of Buzz-isms:

Click here.

On shooting performance...
I thought it was really pretty. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And respectfully, we shot double what they shot. It is kind of like art, it just depends on what you want to buy and that is why there is nothing hanging on my walls except my kids. kid's (or kids')
FTFY

Don't want Child Protective Services knocking on Buzz's door!

From the 2018 VT-uva game-"This is when LEGENDS are made!"

Is Justin really going to be out for the rest of the year? I haven't seen an official announcement

People have been saying 4-6 weeks which would put him back right before the tournament but to my knowledge no official announcement has been made.

I don't think we ever got an official announcement on Horne's injury either so I wouldn't expect anything.

Anyone else notice that JRob was in a warmup, Horne was in street clothes? It's like JRob was ready to go if shit hit the fan. I doubt this was the case, but it did make me think for a second.

I don't think Robinson was actually dressed for the game, he just keeps it casual athletic for his daily look

Casual is an understatement for what he was wearing. I didn't really think it meant he would play, but the two's dress were completely opposite. To be honest it makes me believe that horne's Indefinitely means season ending. Horne's in Jeans and a collard shirt, JRob's rocking athletic apparel

Going off how Nolley dressed at the start of the season vs how he dressed now, I would agree with this take.

Nolley at the start of the season was dressed with the team and/or in sweats. But then, all of a sudden, he was in dress clothes with Tyrece Radford, who is redshirting this year. Shortly after, Buzz announced that Nolley wouldn't be playing this season.

Horne was dressed for the UNC game but since then has been in street clothes. That would line up with the reported injury timeline for Horne and how the team would be able to determine how severe an injury it actually is.

So my basic albeit not proven theory is that for Buzz's teams, sweats/dressed out with the team means "will play at some point this season" and dress clothes means "done for the year". So until Five is in dress clothes, I think it's okay to assume he'll be back at some point.

And there it is. I'm not crazy....thanks. I'll let someone else put up the goldblum gif as I'm too lazy too be a gif guy.

I got your back. It's 12:40 in the morning and I've got nothing better to do than look up gifs

Do you put Tyrece Radford in a uniform and break glass in case of emergency? It's a long run between now and the end of conference play without #5. That is...assuming it's true that 5 is out for the balance of the regular season.

JP

I don't think that would be fair to him so I'm going to say no.