Tuesday evening in Blacksburg had all the makings of a Thanksgiving-week snoozer: a student-less Cassell Coliseum, a mediocre (at best) Houston Baptist team, and a perhaps slightly under-motivated Hokies squad looking forward to its brief holiday break.
For the first 20-plus minutes, the Hokies stuck to script. Bouts of careless perimeter defense and equally concerning rebounding displays seemed to pop up at wildly inopportune times, allowing the Huskies to remain competitive throughout the first period. But all the while, the offense was its typical efficient self, leaving little doubt as to the final result.
But if you were to doze off for the second half, you would have missed a surprisingly impressive spurt of basketball, one highlighted by a refined defensive intensity coupled with dizzying ball movement on the offensive end. In the blink of an eye, the Hokies had nearly eclipsed the century-mark for the fourth time in five tries, cruising to a just-convincing-enough 99-73 victory over Houston Baptist.
Level of opponent notwithstanding, it was perhaps a telling tale for Tech.
Was Buzz's bunch great on Tuesday night? Not by a long shot.
But a 26-point win is a 26 point-win, and the continued emergence of Justin Bibbs and Ahmed Hill as potential lead scorers remains an incredibly encouraging sign for the Hokies.
Think, for a second, back to a season ago, when Zach LeDay and Seth Allen were the engine (shoot, they were the whole damn car) that kept Tech running for painfully long stretches that often spanned several games. Not this year. There's no shortage of balance from this group, an assertion admittedly aided by the healthy return of Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Chris Clarke. Throw in all-everything freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker and a legitimate scoring threat off the bench to spell Justin Robinson in Pig Jackson, and this offense promises to be dangerous deep into ACC play.
Now for the less promising news. The defense is bad (for now), even for the most optimistic of Buzz fanboys. It wasn't necessarily a single issue on Tuesday night — a few needless turnovers hurt the Hokies early, and stone-hands on the defensive glass didn't help the cause, gifting Houston Baptist with a few easy layups. But more worrisome was the absence of perimeter pressure early, with the Hokies struggling to stay connected to shooters for no apparent reason beyond a frustrating lack of attentiveness.
You'll notice there's something missing from my brief laundry list of defensive complaints — an interior presence. Spoiler alert, that's not changing. That said, Blackshear seemed up to the task tonight, arguably out-dueling the Huskies' talented behemoth inside. And to be fair, at 6'11" and 250 pounds, Josh Ibarra can flat-out play. Is he a top-end ACC big? Probably not. But with the combination of size, fluidity and touch he flashed against Tech, that's a guy that eats up minutes for a bunch of teams throughout the league.
Bibbs Staying Hot In the latest edition of TKP's Annual Buzzketball Preview, I proclaimed that Justin Bibbs would be the Hokies' most improved player. It was a strange take, sure, given Bibbs' year-over-year consistency — yes, that's the nice way to say he's remained impressively static. But the once one-dimensional sharp-shooter appears to finally be playing with far more aggression inside the arc, a welcome sight for Tech fans who have long awaited the emergence of Bibbs as a true standout player in Blacksburg.
Consider Bibbs' career offensive numbers: 11.4, 11.7, and 9.2 ppg over the last three years, with 3-point attempts accounting for nearly 60% of his total shot output over the last two seasons. That's a highly-focused shot chart on the perimeter, one that was partially driven by the Hokies' makeup at the time. Through three games this November, those figures have flipped, with Bibbs averaging 23.3 ppg despite only 40% of his overall shots coming from distance.
It's a small sample, but it's an intoxicating story-line to follow. My points:
- Bibbs, on his own, is an improved all-around offensive player, and we'll see that continue to bear out. With the length he possesses paired with an innate ability to stretch the floor, his floater and mid-range game have the potential to be remarkably potent.
- The Hokies have more shooters around Bibbs than ever before, meaning they don't need him to solely jack up threes and live outside the arc.
- Most importantly, Bibbs is still Tech's best shooter. I'm not saying he should stop doing what he's best at. But with the ball movement and depth of weapons Tech has offensively, the quality of Bibbs' looks will only improve.
Taken in conjunction, those 3 statements should have Tech fans feeling bullish on the Hokies' offensive prowess this year.
Now just time to figure out the defense.