Everybody who thought this team was going to score a total of 243 points in the two games this week, raise your hand.
Put your hand down, VTGuitarMan. You liar. Just because you acquired a lot of turkey legs doesn't mean you were able to predict that.
The Hokies went 2-0 last week (thank goodness). Tech dispatched Detroit Mercy and The Citadel. If you don't want to read this whole article, the TL;DR is as follows:
Points. Nickeil Alexander-Walker. More points. Kerry Blackshear Jr.
Now that we got the stragglers out of here, let's dive right into what happened last week.
Virginia Tech 111–Detroit Mercy 79
The Hokies opened the regular season with a convincing win on Friday night. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was everything as advertised, if not more. Kerry Blackshear Jr. added the dominant post presence the Hokies desperately needed. Chris Clarke seemed like he didn't even notice his knee brace. It was a good win.
A couple things stood out to me right away. The first four baskets were each scored by a different starter. It was exciting to see the ball being distributed in a way that allowed for any position to score. When it was all said and done, five Hokies finished the game in double figures. No matter the opponent, that's a great performance.
The negative side of this game from a team standpoint was that the defense could've been much better. Detroit Mercy is not a good team. Straight up. Yes, it's nice to hold them to 79 points, but that's still too many. Part of that high-scoring performance for the Titans came from the Hokies turning the ball over 12 times. But part of the Titans' output was because the Hokies looked sluggish on the defensive end. They weren't fighting through screens. Weren't boxing out. Weren't hustling to get loose balls. And it hurt.
Now, let's talk about some individual performances. Because hot dang, there were some good ones.
In Alexander-Walker's first official game, he casually led the entire team in scoring. With a 9 of 14 shooting performance, including 4 of 7 from deep and a couple free throws. He finished the game with 24 points. Not too shabby for a true freshman.
I joked last week that he was the best player on this team after seeing his performance against South Carolina. Yeah, it might not be a joke. He has all the makings of a player for the ages. He showed a poise and calmness that shouldn't come from a teenager playing in his first collegiate game. I'll talk about what he did against The Citadel in a little bit, but it was somehow even better.
Another performance that stood out to me on Friday night came from Ahmed Hill. He quietly put together a 19 point night and added nine rebounds. I asked him about being only one rebound away from an opening game double-double and he said he's "been working on getting more rebounds and tonight it just all worked out for me." I then tried to follow up with him about the guards in general crashing the glass a lot more, but I couldn't. Because the players got pulled out of the break-out session with no warning. Cool.
Virginia Tech 132–The Citadel 93
I will now quote from last week.
"Spoiler: There will be a lot of points in that game."
And Henry said, let it be so.
The over/under on this game was 188. Ha.
Over/Under for this game? 188. I'm taking the over against this team. Every. Single. Time.— Henry Skutt (@hskutt17) November 12, 2017
Look. The Citadel was one of the highest scoring teams in the country last year (77 points per 100 possessions), but also one of the worst defensive teams as well. They score a lot of points, and they give up a lot of points. And that's why I wasn't surprised to see the Hokies put up 132 of them. Was I surprised at the team-record 36 assists? Perhaps, yeah, a little.
Last year, the Hokies struggled in the first half against The Citadel, going into the halftime break with only 40 on the board and down by four. They then busted loose and added 73 more in the second-half, en route to a 113-71 victory. It was a decent performance, but they didn't play to their potential against such a bad defensive team.
This time around, that changed. The Hokies scored 66 points in each half, shooting almost 70% in the first half and 68% in the second. They took advantage of a terrible full-court press from the Bulldogs and scored 72 points in the paint. They made 12 three-pointers. And they had the aforementioned 36 assists. They set the record for most points scored in a regulation game. It was fun to watch. Just don't let UVA see. They'll probably think this is the combined score from three games.
Now, you're probably thinking I'm going to talk about Nickeil Alexander-Walker YET again. You're wrong. That's later. Instead, I'm going to focus on Kerry Blackshear Jr. His stat line against The Citadel: 22 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists.
It was an extremely efficient performance. He shot 9 of 11 from the field, and 4 of 6 from the line. I made a note during the game that stood out to me later that night as I reviewing. Kerry being back is great for this team. He can pass. He can score down low. He can stretch the defense with his outside shooting. He can be physical in the post. If he can stay healthy, he's exactly what the Hokies needs to surprise some teams in March.
Okay, NOW it's NAW time. He scored 29 points on Sunday night, so that's pretty good, I guess. He also added four rebounds and three assists. I mentioned that he played even better than he did against Detroit Mercy, and it's true. He didn't sub out until the ten minute mark in the second-half. And yet, he didn't appear tired. At all. He was running up and down the court and getting to the hoop just as effortlessly as usual. After a particularly deep three in the first half, I turned to somebody next to me on press row and remarked that he seems like he chooses when he wants to score. It's almost like he knows he can put up 40 every night, but decides not to. That's scary.
One final observation from Sunday night. During the game, I chatted with other TKP staff and mentioned that Pig (read: Tyrie Jackson) and Wabissa Bede were playing great perimeter defense. I pointed out that the defensive effort from the guards being stepped up a notch throughout this season is key. French, being the ever observant man that he is, added that having Dikembe Mutombo at the rim would help too.
So, as promised, here is a Mutombo gif.
#SCTop10 Play of the Week
You know what this is. Click it anyways.
Quote of the Week
Buzz Williams on why Virginia Tech continues to schedule games against The Citadel, even though he has publicly said that they don't play basketball normally:
"We probably need to pause it. I just love Duggar [The Citadel coach]. ... When I can help them, I want to do that. I think we've played them every year I've been here except for Year 2. It's not smart on my part. The officials asked why I'm playing these guys and it's because I like that guy down there. We need to stop that. That's not a good enough answer anymore."
So there's the answer to the question we've all been kind of asking. Why schedule a game against such a polarizing team? It's because Buzz likes the other coach. And to be honest, I'm not a fan of that logic. Schedule somebody better, Buzz. Get a home game version of the Kentucky game. Scheduling games shouldn't be based off of friendships. It should be based off the desire to make the team better.
November 16: Saint Louis
The Good: It's another very winnable game.
The Bad: It's a winnable game becuase Saint Louis isn't good.
This is another game within the 2K Classic. This time the game's in Madison Square Garden. While that will be a lot of fun to watch, I don't feel that worried about this matchup. The Billikens (what the heck is a Billiken anyways?) are 247th in the RPI, and really shouldn't be that much of a challenge for Virginia Tech.
This game is a chance for Buzz and the team to show off to the national audience what the Hokies are capable of. They're part of a Thanksgiving tournament for several reasons, and this is one of them. National exposure. The game is going to be televised on ESPN2, it's in MSG, it's going to draw an audience.
That's what is most important about these next couple games. Show off to the country what this team is capable of. Get the players used to the bright lights. Get some respect for the program.
November 17: TBD
The Good: We've never lost to TBD
The Bad: We've never beaten TBD
This is a tough opponent. TBD has always proven to be a struggle for the Hokies.
On a serious note, it's either going to be Washington or Providence. My hope is that it'll be Providence. They would prove to be a much more difficult matchup. Hopefully that would lead to our first real look at what we can expect from Buzzketball against tougher opponents. Providence should prevail, but this is college basketball and anything can happen. I'm looking at you, Indiana-Indiana State.