Virginia Tech went 2-0 last week. The Hokies beat Houston Baptist and Morehead State. Buzzketball now turns its attention to the Iowa Hawkeyes and Ole Miss Rebels. Before we preview two really good games, let's review last week.
Virginia Tech 99–Houston Baptist 73
Virginia Tech looked great on offense. Virginia Tech looked not great on defense. Sound familiar? I promise you're not going crazy, and yes, this is a different column than last week's.
The Hokies exhibited their main defensive struggles in the first half, as they allowed the Huskies to stick around through the first 20 minutes. The Hokies struggled to force turnovers, allowed open shots, and were lazy while guarding. Virginia Tech guards didn't fight through screens, they didn't crash the glass, and the didn't communicate well. Houston Baptist even had a five-point lead with five minutes left. However, Tech ended the first period on a 17-6 run and meticulously built a larger and larger lead after the half. The biggest margin during the game was +31, with around three minutes left in the contest.
In the second half, Virginia Tech stepped up on defense. I asked Justin Robinson for his thoughts on what changed during the intermission.
"We started to click together more. The second half, we were scrambling too much. In the second, we were much more vocal and more of a team," said Robinson. "In the second half we held them to 37% which is better for us. We're just trying to learn from that."
It was evident that the Hokies and their communication improved after the break. Not only did the overall field goal percentage drop in the second half, Houston Baptist made only two shots from deep. That type of performance stems from a more active defense.
I'll be honest, I've begun to get a little nervous about the Hokies' defense. They're playing below-average competition, and letting those teams score with relative ease at times. The main culprit of this issue is — I bet you 20 turkey legs you know what I'm about to say — giving up offensive rebounds. The return on Kerry Blackshear Jr. was supposed to address that issue, and it has. Sort of. Blackshear Jr. has been decent on the boards, but the Hokies need him to be better. I'll be focused on how he performs against tougher competition.
On the offensive side of the ball, Virginia Tech continued to look extremely proficient. Justin Bibbs had a Stephen Curry-esque game, not missing a shot until the 12-minute mark in the second half. Couple that with the fact that Bibbs had made every single one of his shots since there were 9 minutes left against Washington, Bibbs went almost a full 40 minutes of game time shooting 100% to rack up 25 points. For those keeping score at home, that's pretty good.
Ahmed Hill continued to be consistently impressive. He scored 19 points, and grabbed seven boards. He was 5 for 8 from beyond the arc to keep his hot streak alive. It's a welcome sight for Hokie fans, especially after Hill struggled shooting down the stretch last season.
I was able to ask Hill after the game about what, if anything, has changed from last season. His answer was a little surprising.
"I'm not changing my release point based on the defense this year. I was messing with it too much last year and that's why I was so inconsistent," said Hill.
As a high school sharpshooter myself, I can promise changing your release point throughout the season is Not Good™. Hopefully Hill can continue to produce evenly throughout the season, because I'm sure Buzz and Co. would love to have yet another player that can spread out ACC defenses.
Virginia Tech left Cassell on Tuesday night leading the country in points per game (103). Not too bad if you ask me.
Virginia Tech 96–Morehead State 63
Now this was more like it. Virginia Tech scored at ease on the offensive end of the floor, they played great defense, and they coasted to an easy win. The Hokies had nine players touch the floor in the first half, and all nine of them scored.
Yet again, this game was a story of offensive proficiency. Individual performances include but are not limited to:
- Justin Bibbs with 10 points in just eight minutes, en route to a 15 point and four assist performance.
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker leading the team with 18 points, including 3 for 4 from distance.
Ahmed Hill with yet another double-digit night, scoring 12 points.
Virginia Tech played much better defense than they did against Houston Baptist. That was clear from the onset. The Hokies went on a 14-0 run to help distance themselves in the first ten minutes of the game. The rest of the first half was a dominant showing from the Hokies. With 12 minutes gone, Morehead State had only 11 points.
And now, on to the second half. (And I have to be honest with you here, I was mostly eating kettle corn and trying to stay awake after my adventures in Charlottesville the night prior resulted in a 4:00 AM bedtime back in Blacksburg.) The contest was never closer than 28 points over the final 20 minutes, and at one point, it was a 40-point blowout. The highlight of the entire second frame was when walk-on Justin Ammerman got fouled and made a couple free throws.
This was the performance I was hoping to see. It was a sleepy (pun absolutely intended) environment in Cassell. Students were still on break and other fans were still in bed after football's victory over UVA.. We've seen Virginia Tech get hurt in scenarios like that before — looking at you, 2014 Radford — so I was a tad concerned. Instead, the Hokies came out and suffocated the Eagles.
Quote of the week
When asked if he's going to let P.J. Horne have a better 3-point percentage than him, Ahmed Hill responded, "Of course not, but I do want him to keep shooting. He's a sneaky good shooter, so I wasn't that surprised when I saw it go in tonight."
Horne, of course, is sitting at 100% from downtown this season after finishing the Houston Baptist game 1 for 1 from the bonus-sphere.
#SCTop10 Play of the Week
Devin Wilson made a three! Well, he made one after the whistle. I still think it deserves recognition, and apparently HokieVision thought so too, because they included it in their game highlights.
November 28: Virginia Tech vs. Iowa
The Good: It's a chance for the Hokies' to add a quality win to their resume.
The Bad: Tip off is at 9:00 PM, therefore I won't be out of Cassell until midnight.
I touched on this matchup last week, but now's the time to dive in. Iowa travels to Tech as part of the ACC-B1G challenge. It's a great event as a whole, and especially when the Hokies have a home game. Iowa narrowly missed out on a NCAA tournament bid last season. Instead, the Hawkeyes were a one-seed in the NIT. The Hokies have a difficult, albeit winnable, matchup for the challenge.
Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes dropped two games at the Caymen Island Classic, losing to Louisiana and North Dakota State. It's unfortunate, but I still believe that Iowa will turn into a very quality win if the Hokies can pull it off on Tuesday night.
Iowa is a very capable team which averages 85 points per game. Three of their players average double-digit points per game, G Jordan Bohannon is shooting nearly 50% from deep, and F Luka Garza is almost averaging a double-double.
Iowa did lose Peter Jok from last season. Jok led the Hawkeyes in scoring last year, and was second in minutes, rebounds, assists, steals, and three-point buckets. He was pretty good. Replacing those numbers on the stat sheet will be Iowa's main challenge this season, and it's plausible to summarize they haven't figure out how yet.
I went into the season expecting both of these teams to be undefeated and playing for a spot in the top 25. Although that outlook didn't hold, I still believe that this game presents an opportunity for major growth for the Hokies. Williams has certainly recognized its importance.
"This will be the biggest week of the program, since I've been here, in nonconference play. It'll be the first time we've played two Power 5 teams in a 7-day period, one on the road, one at home." - @TeamCoachBuzz See you Tuesday..🎟 » https://t.co/JjA2cYZzJV pic.twitter.com/kH4ePJcBfJ— VT Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) November 27, 2017
Hopefully, the head Hokie has the team ready for some much more competitive basketball during the upcoming week.
December 2: Virginia Tech at Ole Miss
The Good: Another P5 opponent!
The Bad: Virginia Tech almost lost to this team last year in Cassell.
Virginia Tech and Ole Miss clashed in Cassell last season, and the Hokies came away victorious 80–75. The win wasn't without some stress down the stretch. Virginia Tech was up 68–54 with just 4:53 left in the contest. The Hokies then allowed the Rebels to go on an 11-0 run before Chris Clarke hit a three to extend the Hokies' lead back to six.
Why am I recapping a game that's almost a year old? I wanted to point out that Ole Miss is a solid opponent and should hopefully provide a great test on Saturday. The SEC is a surprisingly competitive conference.
Back to back Power Five non-conference contests will provide valuable intel about the Hokies. Until now Tech's played the majority of their games against inferior opponents, and Buzzketball has rightfully responded with a plethora of points. The Hokies' defense has remained suspect though, and this pair of games will focus in on any shortcomings.
The Rebels return two of their three top scorers from last season, and they're bolstered by two transfers. Memphis grad transfer Markel Crawford is a 6'4" guard and provides a solid presence in the front- or back-court. Center Dominik Olejniczak sat out last season after transferring from Drake. The 7-footer didn't average a bunch of points or rebounds at Drake (8 and 4), but his size could pose a problem for the Hokies if Blackshear Jr. gets in foul trouble.
Ole Miss is averaging 82 points per game and three scorers average double figures. Crawford averages nine points and four rebounds this season, and also leads Ole Miss in minutes played.
The main matchup concern for Virginia Tech will be Marcanvis Hymon. He's a 6'7" forward who's averaging almost nine rebounds over 25 minutes per game. I'm interested to see how Buzz matches up with him. Horne seems to have shown he's capable of banging with the big boys down low, so don't be surprised to see a little bit more of him. I remain hesitant on his potential on that front until I see him against some more skilled post players.