Buzzketball Sprints Past UMBC 87-70

The Hokies (11-1) head into ACC play on a seven game win streak after beating the Retrievers.

[Mark Umansky]

In his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell lays out his idea of the hero's journey. It's straightforward, describing the standard arc we see every time we go to the movies.

But there's a certain addendum I always think is important to the story. It's when you see the protagonist complete their training, and are ready to take on actual villains. As things progress, you're not certain everything will go right for the hero (in fact Campbell has a portion of his journey called "death and rebirth"), but you know they're ready for a real test.

Think about the moment Spiderman finally harnesses his powers. Or in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke Skywalker leaves Dagobah to rescue his friends in Billy Dee Williams' sky lounge. Or when, in Disney's animated Hercules, the title character leaves the training ground and heads to Thebes with Phil.

Things may not go perfectly for any of the three, but they seem ready for bigger challenges by the time of their departures.

(Side note: has there ever been a more perfect match of animated character and actor than Danny DeVito and Phil? If anyone was born to play a 3-foot-nothing, half man/half goat, it was DeVito.)

With their 87-70 win over University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the Virginia Tech men's basketball team has finished their training. They end non-conference play at 11-1, which is more than half their win total from a year ago, and launch into ACC play with a full head of steam.

The victory over the Retrievers looked nearly identical to the Hokies' last two games. They came out sloppily, turned it over too much, and played down to their opponent for much of the first half. Yet despite early difficulties, talent won out in the end and propelled Tech to another easy result.

Once again, Chris Clarke was the best player on the court. He streaked up and down the floor, vigorously attacked the basket, and dominated the glass. The sophomore wing lead all scorers with an impressive 22 point, 12 rebound performance. Fellow small ball wing Ahmed Hill had 18, and Zach LeDay, Seth Allen, and Justin Robinson all finished in double figures as well.

There's not much more to say about the game, other than the fact that the Hokies feel ready. It won't necessarily go according to plan, especially because their first conference test is against fifth-ranked Duke, but the preamble's over.

This is the best the program's looked in at least five years, if not a decade. It's time for a challenge.

There are still things to clean up. Robinson had one of his worst games since becoming a full time starter last February, with seven turnovers to just one assist. LeDay struggled at the rim, and often looked his size (a major concern to watch over the next few months). Justin Bibbs continued his ice cold shooting stretch, dropping his field goal percentage to 37% (a career low).

But these things are correctable. Tech has steadily improved on the defensive boards, moves from one end of the court to the other in a flash, and can to score in bunches. It's attributes like this that make us look forward to whatever's ahead.

And first up? The Blue Devils, who come to town on New Year's Eve, the first of 18 ACC contests. Now, this team's true journey begins.

A few quick thoughts

An interesting side effect to the newfound plethora of playmakers (Clarke, Hill, etc.) is that Seth Allen's roll has been significantly reduced in a scoring capacity. Many of you may think it's a positive development, and even the strongest Allen supporter (yours truly), would say the smaller role leaves a smaller risk of variance game-to-game.

But the senior still has a vital niche that can be forgotten over a string of blowouts. He's one of just a select few who's not afraid with the ball in his hands in crunch time. For as good as Clarke has been, we don't know if he's a consistent late game threat (shooting 64% from the line doesn't help, however). Robinson hasn't shown the ability consistently, and Bibbs has never really been that guy.

But Allen's best quality? He always thinks his shot will fall. It also happens to be one of his worst qualities, but let's not undermine my argument. Think back to Tech's comeback win over Michigan in Ann Arbor. Down one with less than two minutes to go, the senior scores five consecutive points and puts things away.

Last year's OT win over NC State? He scores 10 points in the last 5:39 of regulation, including the game-tying three. When Tech beat UVA he racked up eight in just over a minute, breaking things open for the Hokies. In the one point W against Georgia Tech, he got to the line 10 times over the last four minutes, made eight of them, and sealed things yet again.

Yes, he often makes boneheaded decisions. But his play down the stretch far outweighs his mistakes. And since he and Hill are the two guys who've proven themselves with the game on the line so far, the Hokies will need their senior guard as they move forward.

Comments

Interesting thoughts on Allen. He still has plays where you literally facepalm, but it seems to me those have been reduced so far this year. They may rear their ugly head if we have to lean on him handling the ball towards the end of the game, but I have to agree with you. His ability to drive and many times finish smoothly around the rim make him a threat. When he hits one jump shot, his confidence soars and he's most likely going to hit a few more soon after.

@vtscottyb

And to think the only lose was by 3 points if I recall. Should be exciting season.

After being up by almost 20 too....

They end non-conference play at 11-1, which is more than half their win total from a year ago, and launch into ACC play with a full head of steam.

Saw on Facebook by the VTBB account this is also the first time in program history we head into the conference schedule with 1 loss or less. Ever. So yeah, you have to really like what we are doing so far this year.

Don't let this comment take away from the fact that Arkansas blew a 24 point 2nd half lead in the Belk Bowl.
Don't let the Belk Bowl take away from the fact that Matt Ryan blew a 25 point 2nd half lead in the Super Bowl.

Helps to play the school's worst non-conference schedule since Kenpom started tracking said stat. 341/351 in non-conference SOS. Nonetheless it's a great start seeing as in the past we always lose one dumb game we shouldn't.

That's. . . Not great

"That kid you're talking to right there, I think he played his nuts off! And you can quote me on that shit!" -Bud Foster

It's honestly kind of impressive that we managed that with games against Michigan and Texas A&M who are both in the top 40. The offenses we've played rank 269th (pretty bad) while the slate of defenses we've gone up against are ranked 351st (again, impressive).

This is one area where I actually question Kenpom's evaluative criteria. Part of this being that if our OOC SOS was so poor, than how is it that we are ranked so high at this point. Even if you do a straight line average of our opponents current Kenpoms, its about 208, which is not impressive but I find it hard to believe that there are only ten or so schools that have a worse straight line average of opponents. The truly amusing part is that most of the teams that have the strongest OOC SOS are the teams ranked above 300 in the Kenpom rankings. They are the schools that get paid to take a beating to have the money to support their entire program before conference play. #1 OOC SOS is South Carolina St (Kenpom 318). Nine of the top twenty OOC SOS are above 300 Kenpom rankings.

Have to hand it to Florida though, coming in at 17th on OOC SOS. Another reason why they made it into the rankings this week before us. They are one of only eight programs ranked in the Top 100 Kenpom in the top 50 OOC SOS.

Well we're ranked high because we've rolled these teams like we should be. I don't believe it's done by straight numerical average like you're doing but by collectively efficiency and game location (could be wrong though). Which is where playing 5 teams ranked in the 300's and only 1 road game hurts. Also, it would make sense that teams in the 300's have high SOS since good schools are paying them to come get their butts kicked and aren't playing many home games.

I understand what they are shooting for but this is one area I feel they fall short. You essentially get little to no credit for neutral site games which is a huge hit to our year so far since that accounts for New Mexico, Nebraska, and Texas A&M which outside of Ole Miss and Michigan accounts for the majority of our "Strength" of Schedule

Non-conf SOS rankings are BS. Wins over teams in the 30s, 40s, 50s are a lot better on a resume than blowout losses to a top 15 (ISU, WVU come to recent memory).

Always choose joy.

Chris Clarke is the best player in the ACC no one has heard about yet. Dude can ball

Allen's a 50 - 50 guy. Half the time you say WTF and the other half you say great shot. You just never know where you stand at the beginning of the play. Great non-conference record and really should be 12 - 0. Bring on Duke, the real test.

Might've still been 11-1 if we beat A&M because we would've played UCLA in the finals. That game would've improved RPI and strength of schedule. UCLA proved that they are beatable with a loss last night to Oregon, so maybe we could've pulled it off.

Regardless I am so pleased with the start of this season!

Nebraska's win over Indiana last night doesn't hurt any

Very true! Hope they keep it up. In addition with the rest of the teams we played or will play.

I watched the game with no sound on and saw no stats during or after the game...interesting exercise. I thought Allen, Clarke, and Hill dominated.

I thought Allen was the glue last night; other than two ugly free throws at the end of the first half. He played within himself and pulling him was the only reason we didn't win by 25.

His shortcomings notwithstanding, Allen is so vastly underappreciated by our fan base. Brian and I bitch about it offline to an unhealthy degree.

Some guys you want to see giving 110%. Allen is often most effective when he's at about 95%.

Admittedly I haven't watched much this season, but was surprised to see most of the 2nd half Allen running the show and Robinson off ball. Has that been the norm?

He is my girlfriends favorite player and she is a VT Bball maniac.

"And guess what, you've wandered into our school of tuna and we now have a taste of lion." -Allen Gamble, The Other Guys
@Doooougie07

So much this. This team will go as far as Allen takes them. He's the one who really makes the team go.

I think maybe part of the reason for that is the high expectations the fans had for him when he transferred here. He had a really good season at MD and I think a lot of people expected him to come here and be our best player. But, when he struggled and made a lot of mistakes in the early portion of the year and conference play, I think it turned a lot of people off of him. Others stepping up and performing also plays into that as well. Behind Clarke, he's my favorite player on the team to watch though. When he's on, he can drop 25 on you in a hurry.

He's one of those who you don't realize his importance until he's not there. For him, the less dribbles the better. He can sometimes try and do too much and lose control in traffic. All that being said, he appears to be a great teammate and a crucial member to this squad.

@vtscottyb

11-1 OOC schedule is quite an accomplishment. Too many 250+ teams, but wins over Mich, Miss, Neb and New Mex are solid.

We are well positioned for the ACC

Are they REALLY called the Retrievers??

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

As in the Maryland state dog...a chesapeake bay retriever. It's actually a pretty good mascot and makes a lot of sense.

No, I mean, without the CB in front of it, just seems weird (to me).

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

gotcha. umbc-cbr's. rolls right off the tongue and keyboard.

Good win. I actually thought this might be a trap game with Dook looming on the horizon and UMBC not being terrible. Yeah, there are still things that need cleaning up but I like where this team is headed. This game wasn't even a game after a few minutes and no one got hurt. That's all I really wanted from last night.

Also, Magic Rat did his best to make things weird for UMBC players at the free throw line:

I found TKP after two rails from TOTS then walking back to my apartment and re-watching the 2012 Sugar Bowl. I woke up the next day with this username.

This made me LMAO. Thanks & leg.

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

Still disappointed that this didn't lead to an air ball free throw or two. Those were clearly some well trained retrievers.

Happy with the game overall, surprised by Robinson looking a little out of control/in a rush for parts of the game....that usually isn't his game. On the plus side for him, his 3 game was on point.

"And guess what, you've wandered into our school of tuna and we now have a taste of lion." -Allen Gamble, The Other Guys
@Doooougie07