In Buzz Williams' self-proclaimed biggest week of Virginia Tech basketball, the Hokies went 2-0. Victories over Iowa and Ole Miss pushed Virginia Tech's record to 7-1 on the season. Buzzketball looks to move to 9-1 this week with games against Radford and Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Virginia Tech 79–Iowa 55
I already shared my real-time thoughts from press row. In addition, I believe this outcome was the best-case scenario for Virginia Tech. The Hokies' defense won't often stifle its opponents. It's just not how the Hokies built or how they play. They're built to have smaller players on the floor that can run and shoot. Consider the defense's performance — holding Iowa to 17 points in the second half on 19% shooting — as its ceiling.
A couple more thoughts upon closer examination of the box score:
- Off his February ACL tear, Chris Clarke was restricted to 15 minutes against South Carolina. That was nudged to 20-25 minutes against Detroit Mercy, and he hit the upper bound last Tuesday night. He wasn't as present on the boards (.12 rebounds a minute) compared to last year's production (.25 rebounds a minute), but he contributed 12 points. That scoring included a three-pointer. As I previously noted, if he can reliably add the three-ball to his arsenal, there is nobody more valuable to the Hokies.
- Virginia Tech wasn't very good on offense. The Hokies shot 43% from the field and only 30% from deep. There aren't going to be many nights when that's the case, and Tech still won by 24. That's reassuring. Partial credit to Iowa for not making a shot for nine minutes straight, but also consider this — Virginia Tech only made two three-pointers in the second half. The Hokies didn't shoot the ball anywhere close to their standards and won with a walk-on playing at the buzzer.
This win will be the bright spot on the Hokies' resume until they beat an ACC team. For it to happen on a slow night offensively is extremely encouraging.
Virginia Tech 83–Ole Miss 80 (OT)
Good teams find a way to win games that they shouldn't.
Everybody read that again. And maybe a third time as well.
Virginia Tech only held the lead for a total of 4 minutes and 32 seconds, and the Hokies' largest lead was four points with 21 ticks left in the game. Buzzketball had no business winning, and yet, they did. Let's examine the positives.
Virginia Tech finished the game with 14 turnovers.
But Henry, how is that a positive?
Good question, educated reader.
Virginia Tech committed 10 turnovers in the first half. Compare that with the total (14), and it's awfully impressive. Especially because one of the final four turnovers was an obvious attempt at an intentional foul by Ole Miss. But I digress, for now.
Virginia Tech allowed nine three-pointers.
But Henry, how is that a positive?
...Let me explain, and maybe you won't keep asking so many questions, Self.
Ole Miss started the game at a ridiculous pace. The Rebels made six out of their first eight shots from deep. And let's all be honest, everybody assumed that it would be yet another record setting game from long-range for a Hokies opponent.
Those early attempts dropped because the Hokies allowed Ole Miss' shooters to step into their shots. Whether that came off of Rebel ball movement or good passess in transition, the guards for Ole Miss were taking shots in rhythm. Once again, I will reference my high school basketball experience. When I put up a shot in rhythm, I thought it was going in. Every single time.
So what changed that held Ole Miss to 3 for 23 from deep after the first nine minutes? Yes, you read that correctly. They only made three more from the bonus-sphere after their hot start, and not a single one in the final 20 minutes of the game.
Virginia Tech did two things to slow the Rebel shooters.
1) The Hokies stopped turning the ball over. The 10 turnovers in the first half were cut into only four for the remaining 25 minutes. It's amazing what not coughing up the ball will do. It prevented Ole Miss from flipping the floor at a very quick pace, and in turn, finding the wide open shooter on the wing. It also allowed Virginia Tech to settle in their defense. Speaking of...
2) The Hokies changed their defense. I don't find it coincidental that Ole Miss struggled to find open shooters once Virginia Tech went to their full court press.
The press itself was pretty tame — a defender on the inbounder, and man pressure on any Rebel in the backcourt. Double team the first man to get the ball, and have the inbound defender rotate over to trap. Back off and apply simple ball pressure once the ball got out of that trap. It was a simple press, but it was effective.
The press shortened the shot clock to around 20 seconds, which meant less time for the Virginia Tech defenders to play and maintain their hyper-active defense. This all-out, full speed defense meant Ole Miss shooters weren't open. When a shooter isn't open, and they still shoot it, it's probably not going in.
Watch this possession.
It starts with a made basket by Clarke, which allows the Hokies to get into the press. Robinson fakes the trap once the ball is inbounded and forces the cross-court pass in the backcourt. Ole Miss crosses half court with 21 seconds on the shot clock. Bibbs is active enough to switch on a guard-on-guard ball screen. Kerry Blackshear Jr. has the energy to close out on the first shooter and forces the extra pass. Usually, that extra pass leads to wide open shot. However, Clarke sprints out at the shooter. The close-out creates a contested three-pointer attempt that rims out.
That forced ball movement created a lack of Ole Miss players in the paint to rebound. And it leads to an easy defensive board for Blackshear Jr., who starts a quick fast break with an outlet pass to Robinson. Five gets his layup attempt blocked, but the Hokies' run-and-gun style is on full display.
The Hokies forced overtime.
But Henry, how is th—
Nope. Stop that.
With about four minutes left in the game, I dropped a simple message in TKP's Slack.
"Wow, I can't wait to lose on a buzzer beater."
I thought it was one of those games. Virginia Tech had battled back from a ten-point halftime deficit, a 16-point hole in the second half, and had still managed to tie it up. Everything was going too right. I had that feeling.
Robinson turning the ball over after somehow not getting the intentional foul was a frustrating catalyst for overtime. But I'm pretty sure that the selection committee isn't going to watch every possession of this game. Trust me, I barely wanted to do it. However, the committee will see Virginia Tech was down by 16 in the second half and fought all the way back to win by three in overtime. That, in itself, is a major win.
Other positive notes:
- Chris Clarke played 35 minutes (yet another increase) and recorded a double-double. He also grabbed a team high 12 rebounds. Just another step towards Clarke being the clear-cut best player on this team.
- Justin Bibbs, Justin Robinson, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker combined for 15 of 18 from the free throw line. Having three guards who can shoot that reliably from the charity stripe will be huge as the Hokies look to close out close games in ACC play.
- This type of performance from the Hokies is something the coaching staff can point to in March. It's a teaching point. A mental checkpoint. A learning experience. Being able to reference this type of showing will be huge when Virginia Tech faces adversity in post-season games.
Alright, let's take a look at some negatives!
I mentioned that 14 turnovers in the game was a positive for the Hokies, and that's true. But 10 giveaways in a half will not cut it when Virginia Tech begins conference play.
Another negative from this game was the
officiating fouling. Tech will need to cut back and improve on its 24 team fouls in ACC play. I hope that the officials will be better in conference games, but those were ACC refs on Saturday in Oxford. Don't get too excited.
Ahmed Hill was seemingly whistled for all three of his personal fouls while going up in the air with his arms straight up. Blackshear Jr. was called for a foul on a clean block. Robinson should've been at the line with 10 seconds left to ice the game. Those were the calls that stood out to me. But guess what, they were made, and the Hokies need to be good enough to win through those bad breaks. On Saturday, they were.
This game was ugly. It was sloppy. It was poorly officiated. And at the end of the day, it was a Hokies' victory. It was Virginia Tech's first true away game in an SEC arena since 2008, and they flew home with the W. Let's move on.
Quote(s) of the Week
"Fast beats big when fast is really fast. But fast can only be fast when fast has the ball." — Buzz Williams
Ignoring the lack of word choice for a second, this quote stood out to me in the Iowa post-game. It's obvious that Virginia Tech will once again look to get out and run this season. That's not breaking news, but it ties into the next quote that resonated with me.
"What's happened with our team, earlier than ever before, is that they're comfortable with who we are."
Buzzketball has found its identity faster than any other season, according to Williams. I can only imagine that is a good thing.
#SCTop10 Play of the week
As soon as I saw this crossover, I knew it was going to be sitting right here.
Robinson has the best handles on the team, and the poor Iowa defender had no chance. I was on press row and therefore couldn't cheer. But trust me, I was very close.
December 6th: Virginia Tech vs. Radford
Oh good. A game against a team that desperately wants to be relevant and beat Virginia Tech. And if they do, it kills the Hokies' shot at the NCAA Tournament. Gotta love it.
The Highlanders already boast one victory over Buzz and Co., a 68–66 triumph in Williams' first season as head coach. I remember sitting in Cassell on that fateful day and thinking, 'I really hope this never happens again.'
Luckily, I don't think it will. At least, it won't any time soon. Virginia Tech bested Radford in 2015, and now play them for the third time in four years.
Radford is coming off a 13-point victory over VMI on Saturday afternoon. The Highlanders are 4-3 on the season, with losses against Ohio State, Vanderbilt, and Elon.
Season averages for Radford? They're nice.
The Hokies are down to only averaging 97 points per game. I wouldn't be surprised to see them break 100 points at least once this week.
The main threat for the Highlanders is 6'5" F Ed Polite Jr., who's averaging 13 points per game while playing 30 minutes a contest. Here he is doing some nasty things to the VMI rim.
Another player to keep an eye out for is Caleb Tanner, a local sharpshooter from Floyd that can make just about anything. I played against him once in high school and he truly has unlimited range. He's only averaging seven points per game, but the Hokies best be stepping out on him when he has the ball.
December 10th: Virginia Tech vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore
Virginia Tech KenPom rank: 35th
Maryland-Eastern Shore KenPom rank: 340th
By metrics, the Hawks are the worst team the Hokies will pla-
Sorry, I got on auto-pilot there and just assumed that there was no way Virginia Tech plays one of the only 11 lower-rated teams this season. Then I saw Presbyterian at No. 342. Anyways.
There's not much to say about this game. UMES averages only 61 points per game, and are allowing, surprisingly, only 71. However, when you take a deeper dive into their schedule, the Hawks allowed 96 points to both Maryland and Saint Bonaventure. That's a season-high in terms of points for those respective teams.
In conclusion, based on many hours of analysis and deep thought, I believe that Virginia Tech will win. They'll probably have yet another shot at eclipsing the century mark.
Thomas Miryne, a true freshman forward, is the Hawks' leading scorer. He's averaging 13 points per game while playing 27 minutes. He's listed as 6'8" on the official roster, so he's a bit of a stretch forward. A la Zach LeDay.
This is one of those games where I'm going to look for the coaching staff to mess with the lineup rotations, try some different defensive looks, and maybe incorporate more offensive sets. Williams has been quoted several times this season saying that Virginia Tech probably has the least amount of actual offensive sets installed in the entire country.
This upcoming week is yet another great chance to get everything clicking and well oiled. Rupp Arena looms in the distance.