In a week of non-competitive games, Virginia Tech went 2-0, with ease. The Hokies bested Radford and Maryland-Eastern Shore. Those wins push Buzzketball to 9-1 on the season. Tech will attempt to move to 10-1 with an upset win over Kentucky on Saturday. A contest John Calipari is not overlooking.
"I'm going to tell you one that you guys aren't thinking about and when we play the game you'll say, 'Holy cow were they good?' Virginia Tech," Calipari said. "That's going to be a really hard game for us to win. I don't care that it's at home. That will be a difficult game."
December 6: Virginia Tech 95–Radford 68
The Hokies started this game a tad slow overall, and Radford hung around behind hot shooting and a solid defense. It wasn't until Virginia Tech utilized 14-2 and 9-0 runs in the first half that Tech began to show more control.
Radford isn't a terrible team. They gave Ohio State and Vanderbilt close games, and only lost by 10 and 12 points respectively. However, the Hokies looked dominant by the end of the game.
Shooting a blistering 62% from the field, 53% from deep, and 81% from the charity stripe, Virginia Tech held onto the country's best scoring average (96.6 points after this game).
Justin Bibbs and Kerry Blackshear Jr. led the team with 20 points a piece. Blackshear Jr. also snagged six rebounds, a game high. Bibbs contributed his points via 80% from the field (8 for 10) which included 80% from deep (4 for 5).
Every other player who played significant minutes for the Hokies — Ammerman and Fullard don't count, sadly — scored at least four points. Diversity among scorers is extremely important for the Hokies this season. Tech can't rely on only a couple scorers, as their defense won't compliment an underwhelming output.
The Hokies' performance from the free throw line was extremely encouraging. Blackshear Jr. shot a perfect 11 for 11, and freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker contributed 7 for 9. Tech leads the country in free throws attempted and free throws made. Keep that pace up and it'll be a way for the Hokies to secure precious points.
One more positive from this game, surprisingly, was the Hokies' defense. Seems rather contradictory to what I wrote above. Let's discuss.
As previously mentioned, Radford isn't a terrible team. They rank 156th in adjusted offense according to KenPom, a category where ACC foe Georgia Tech is 204th. Virginia Tech held the Highlanders to 43% from the field and a mere 15% from distance. It's an encouraging step forward for the Hokies' defense, but I'm still not sold. Save for the second half against Iowa, Tech hasn't locked down on defense. And those games have been against underwhelming competition. They have two more non-conference games against terrible teams where, hopefully, progress is made for Tech's defense. The Hokies need to become a more cohesive unit when guarding their basket. Too many easy layups and open jumpers have been given up.
December 10: Virginia Tech 93–Maryland Eastern Shore 40
Oof. This was an absolute whooping. I knew it would be lopsided, but didn't think it'd get that out of hand.
Let's examine the numbers that tell the story.
55% vs. 29%
Feel free to guess which shooting percentage belongs to each team.
The Hokies had 21 assists on 35 made baskets. Maryland Eastern Shore had 11 assists, which isn't too shabby, but they only had 15 made shots all game.
Surprisingly, the game was close in the opening minutes. The score was at 16-15 with 12 minutes left in the first period. Tech first expanded that one-point lead to an 18-point margin, courtesy of an initial 17-0 run. They then continued their expected dominance, finishing the first half on a 38-7 spurt.
To put that thrashing in perspective, the Hokies finished the game on a 77-25 run, and at one point it was a 65-15 jaunt.
Chris Clarke reflected after the game on what changed to allow such a impressive showing.
"The rhythm and our pace really helped us out," said Clarke. "We started to get stops. They were shooting a really good percentage in that first segment of the first half."
There are two scenarios where this number applies. Both involve three-point shooting.
- Virginia Tech drilled 15 attempts from deep, two away tying from the team record. Tech made those 15 shots at a 56% rate, and exhibited again why they're going to be a very dangerous team in ACC play.
- Maryland Eastern Shore shot 15% from the bonus-sphere. Virginia Tech really stepped up its defense. (Is that worth writing given the opponent...) The Hokies played so well on defense that it didn't feel like the Hawks were shooting at even a 15% clip.
Prior to the tip, Tech hadn't proven its defense was capable of holding a team to a paltry amount of points. That narrative evolved. There are plenty of stats to point to to buoy that claim, e.g. Maryland-Eastern Shore didn't make a shot from the field in the second half until the 9:53 mark.
TL;DR: The Hawks' largest lead was 2 points (18:55, 1st half),Tech's was 54.
Quote of the Week and #SCTop10 Play of the Week
Here you see a man who tore his ACL about ten months ago, gliding down the court with ease. He then proceeds to do what I can only assume to be magic, and converts a layup while simultaneously crashing into the stanchion.
Buzz Williams remarked on this play, and Clarke's progress in the postgame presser.
"He's beginning to have more comfort in 'Yeah, I'm back full speed. I can do this now'," said Williams. "When you're herky-jerky, and you tear a ligament, I think it takes time before you feel comfortable. I do think he's more confident."
Williams then simultaneously enriched my vocabulary and went into more specifics about said layup.
"The whirly dervish layup that he made," added Williams. "He wouldn't have made that the second week of the season. He wouldn't have shot that shot. It would've stayed on the left lane line. He wouldn't have gone under the basket."
December 16: Virginia Tech at Kentucky
Buzzketball's trip to Kentucky has been circled on my calendar since the game was announced in May. And I'll be in Rupp Arena, checking it off my bucket list.
Kentucky is No. 8 in the current AP poll, although they haven't beaten anyone of note. Their marquee game thus far this season was against Kansas. The Wildcats lost a hard fought contest 61-65 .
The Wildcats have uncharacteristically struggled at home this year, making hard work of dispatching teams such as Vermont and Harvard. Vermont is a tournament caliber team however, so I don't consider that 73-69 victory too much of a worry for Calipari's team.
This game presents a huge opportunity for Buzzketball. One the aforementioned moniker's namesake sought out.
"I told Jeff [Reynolds, Director of Game Management] ] that I wanted to play the best team in the country and I wanted to play on the road," said Williams. "Let's play at Arizona. Let's play at Kentucky. Let's go play somewhere ... if a committee member were to look at it, there would be ... someone who said that we did it."
These are the type of big-time matchups Hokie Nation wants to see scheduled. A loss is barely a typo on the Hokies' resume come March, but walk off the floor victorious, and it's a headline for Tech.
Williams realizes this fact.
"It'll be good for us. Good or bad, it'll be good for us."
Even though Williams jokingly answered a question about expectations for Saturday with a coy "We'll see", the Hokies can, in fact, win this game.
Well duh, Henry. They can technically win any game they play.
Prior to Williams' arrival, it was inconceivable to imagine Tech competing with a non-conference blueblood of the Wildcats' calibur anytime soon. Now it's plausible to believe Tech is capable of going into Rupp Arena and beating Kentucky. I'm not guaranteeing a win, but a realistic chance is there.
Tech must continue to shoot the ball extremely well. Put up, and make, double-digit three-pointers and Tech will have a chance against any team they play this season. That includes Kentucky. On the contrary, if Virginia Tech doesn't convert their open shots, it will be a long night.
However, if we're being completely honest, Kentucky isn't the toughest test the Hokies will face this season. And Williams agrees with this sentiment.
"I think it's great for our program," said Williams."But, and I mean this respectfully. We're going to play teams just as good or better, than Kentucky over the next 60 days. We're going to play in arenas where the ambience is just as good or better."
Even though the Hokies will face stiffer competition in January, February, and March, Saturday is Buzzketball's first moment to show their fans what to expect during ACC play.
Virginia Tech must also get out and run the fast break whenever they have the chance. The undersized Hokies will get outrebounded. It's not a prediction, it's a certainty. Calipari has assembled one of the tallest teams in the country; seven players stand at 6'7" or taller. Tech, in comparison, has two players of the same qualifications. And one of them only plays with one minute left in a blowout.
Because of this size disadvantage, the Hokies must take every opportunity they can muster to reign in a rebound and push the ball up the floor. Tech has looked like a completely different team this season when on a fast break compared to when they're running sets in the halfcourt.
"We'll do what we do best," said Nickeil Alexander-Walker. "Get multiple paint touches, make open shots, make it easier for each other."
Virginia Tech has an opportunity to make a statement on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies have the capability to pull it off, it's just a question of whether they capitalize on their potential.