Up and down.
Up and down.
Up and down.
There's no other way to introduce Virginia Tech men's basketball's 132-93 win over The Citadel. Both teams like to run the floor, play fast, and score. And by God did both squads do that in Cassell Coliseum on Sunday night.
The Hokies firmly controlled the game by consistently breaking down the Bulldogs' full-court pressure and getting out in transition. Junior point guard Justin Robinson started things off with a bang, scoring his team's first eight points less than two minutes into regulation, but it was just the start of an offensive onslaught from everyone in gray.
Freshman phenom Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 21 in the first half. Big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. had a ridiculous 22/15/8 (yes, for those scoring at home, that's eight assists). Chris Clarke also had a double-double with 15 and 10. Robinson finished with 19 points and seven dimes, and Ahmed Hill shot 61% from the floor and had 20 of his own.
Buzz Williams may not have enjoyed it much, but hot damn, watching a team score 132 points is exciting.
Tech dominated nearly everything on that end of the floor. They shot 69% from the field (you better believe I rounded up from 68.6%), hit over half of their threes, and had 36 assists on 48 made baskets. Yes, the Bulldogs' defense is atrocious, but it's still a statistical sight to behold for the Hokies.
But with the good comes the bad. The Citadel saw two guys break 20, had a ton of open shots from the perimeter, and were able to turn the home team over quite a bit. Though it seemed like they were down 20 in the blink of an eye, the Bulldogs never stopped doing what they do best—operate at a breakneck pace.
Despite the 132, it wasn't the greatest outing for the Hokies. They were sloppy on defense (more on that later), the non-Robinson lineups had problems with giveaways, and they weren't particularly good from the free throw line (24-36, 67%).
Yes, it's only the second game of the year, and the team's second in three days. But the matchup against the Bulldogs was supposed to be a tuneup for the upcoming 2K Classic in Madison Square Garden. Instead, the Hokies go in against Saint Louis with lingering questions. Again, it's early. And even a loss in New York wouldn't be the end of the world, especially if it came against a solid Providence squad.
But the issues still stand. After breaking 100 twice in a row, what will happen when Tech meets actual resistance on offense? How much will things break down in the half court? Will they try to get out and run as much as they have this weekend?
All great things to watch going into Thursday's game against the Billikens.
The good, the bad, and the defense
We have to start with the defense, which was a relative disaster at times for Tech. Since they're playing one big (at most), everyone on the team needs to do a better job both individually and as a group. The start of the regular season has shown sloppy rotations, lackadaisical on-ball defending, and general miscommunication.
Some of it stems from youth, and the lack of minutes these guys have played together—even the more experienced guys like Devin Wilson and Blackshear still have a year of rust to shake. But they're just not crisp working as a unit yet, and it resulted in a lot of open shots tonight. For instance, you'd think when an opponent is hitting over 50% from three, like the Bulldogs were doing for a long stretch, guys would stop going under screens. Yet the practice continued.
You would think it'd be hard to lose Hayden Brown or Tariq Simmons, the two Bulldog players who broke 20. Yet the pair consistently found themselves with open shots.
Again, it's tough to take a lot from this one. With The Citadel's pace-of-play, it's easy to get caught running up and down with them, something that will often result in an inflated score. But I can't decide if this lack of execution is in part due to playing down to competition, the lack of overall experience, or if it's something that'll be a problem all season.
I tend to lean between a combination of the three, but it's Williams' biggest issue to fix in the non-conference.
On a few lighter notes:
Alexander-Walker could've had 40, and the fact that he only ended with 29 points speaks to Tech's willingness to pass more than anything else. In the two games plus the scrimmage, the offense has moved the ball around splendidly, which has resulted in a bunch of uncontested looks.
The Bulldogs play small, so it's hard to take Blackshear's scoring and rebounding numbers seriously. But his most impressive feat? The way he passed.
It's not just about leading the team in assists, which for a 6'10" power forward is impressive as is, but it's about the way he saw the court. He wasn't just passing out from the post to open shooters. He found cutters from the elbow, he hit guys running the baseline, he found them in transition. If Blackshear can score consistently against ACC bigs, he'll be even more dangerous. Because the minute anyone brings an extra defender to guard him, KJ can find the open teammate.
Justin Bibbs coming back should really fix a few things defensively. He was Tech's most consistent perimeter defender last year, and could do a number on opposing wings. I'm interested to see which lineups he'll find himself in upon his return, because giving him a lot of Wilson's "power forward" minutes would make a ton of sense. And though I'll never pretend to know what's going on in Buzz's head, having the senior run the young guns unit with Tyrie Jackson, Wabissa Bede, P.J. Horne, and Alexander-Walker is very enticing.
And finally, the more players Buzz brings in, the more it brings out Clarke's best attributes. The young guys want to get out and run the break, and you know who has the best full-court vision on the roster? Clarke. There was a moment in the second half where Blackshear grabbed a board, gave it to Clarke, and the junior found a streaking Hill for a layup a second later.
If the knee stays healthy, we'll really get to see how dangerous of a weapon he is.