Buzzketball Drops One at Louisville 94-86

Hokies have 19 turnovers as they lose a winnable game and fall to 13-5 (2-3 ACC).

[Mark Umansky]

The Virginia Tech men's basketball team put their flaws on full display against Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

The only thing more dumb than the name of the KFC Yum! Center (the Cardinals' arena) were the abundance and types of turnovers committed by the Hokies. They played poor defense. They allowed far too many open threes. And they lost their third ACC game 94-86.

Yet, despite all of their mistakes, Tech had a chance to win for the first 38 minutes and 45 seconds. They traded baskets (and giveaways) with the Cardinals, in a fun back-and-forth affair that was both exciting and allergic to defense.

But as Louisville began to pull away, Tech desperately needed a stop. And down six, with just under 90 seconds to go, Nickeil Alexander-Walker came away with a steal. He hit Justin Robinson, who was screaming up the court.

At the moment of the catch, the junior point guard had hit the Hokies' last three field goals. Even with a teammate streaking alongside him, there was no doubt who'd take the shot to cut it to four.

The crowd at the Yum! Center knew it.

The entire ESPN2 viewership knew it.

And Deng Adel knew it.

The Louisville guard lead all scorers with 27 points. He lead his team with 11 rebounds. And he lead all players with one game-altering block.

Chasing Robinson down, Adel took two gargantuan steps from the free throw line, lept, and blocked the layup from behind. The clock read 1:15, but it could've just blinked double zeros.

It's a shame for the Hokies, who despite all their mistakes could have (or should have) secured their second straight road win. Though they suffered from a massive size disadvantage, Buzz Williams' squad attacked the rim furiously.

Robinson scored 23, primarily from lightning quick drives. Chris Clarke held court in the post, lead the team in assists (five), and was the primary playmaker on the night. Kerry Blackshear and Kerry Blackshear's footwork consistently bested the Cardinals' shot blockers, scoring 19 and getting to the line 10 times.

But for every positive (there were many), there was at least one negative (again, many). The Hokies turned the ball over 19 times. Some of them on offensive fouls (mostly excusable), some of them on travels (mostly inexcusable), and some of them on a collection of the worst/laziest/riskiest passes of the season (self explanatory). They allowed Louisville—the 250th best three point shooting team in the country—to hit 57% of their shots from deep. They gave up 11 offensive rebounds.

"We always say the same thing," Williams said in his post-game press conference. "It's our turnover rate and it's the opponent's offensive rebounding percentage, those are our Achilles heels. Obviously when we get a shot, we're pretty good. We shot close to 50 percent. We made 18 free throws, that's really good. We didn't get completely hammered on the glass, but that's still an issue. I don't know. I need to do better. I need to do better. We're not an 11-to-19 assist-to-turnover team."

It's the kind of yo-yoing that Hokie fans will have to brace for over the next two months. Don't let the Syracuse and UVA games taint you, Buzz's bunch has the talent to run with anyone. Their seven-man rotation (Robinson, Clarke, Alexander-Walker, Bibbs, Hill, Blackshear, Bede/Wilson) is tough to guard.

But it's the games like this that'll be the difference between an NCAA Tournament bid and a mildly entertaining jaunt in the NIT. This wasn't like the trip to the Yum! Center last year, where Tech was kept alive by an insane shooting streak from Ty Outlaw and were ultimately put down by a more talented opponent.

The Hokies showed that they're good enough to run with the Cardinals. They're good enough to go to Tallahassee, Coral Gables, or Chapel Hill, and win. But it's not just about talent. It's also about not making an insurmountable amount of mistakes. It's about playing well enough for a full 40 minutes, not just the first 38:45.

The Hokies have a full week off before two crucial matchups. First, they welcome Florida State to Cassell Coliseum next Saturday. And just two days later?

North Carolina.

Such is the life of an ACC schedule.

"I'm just demented," Williams said. "That's why I tried really hard to get the Virginia Tech job. I think it's the best league in the world, other than the NBA. I don't think that there's a night off. Hall of Fame coaches, the most NBA prospects, incredible home courts - playing here- what a great atmosphere this is."

Asking for a win between the two games isn't too much. But if the Hokies can't hide their flaws, it's a very tall task. Luckily, they have the right man to lead the way.

A few quick thoughts

There was a lot of talk on Twitter during the first half about Tech's perimeter defense, and how they can give up so many threes.

Admittingly, it was infuriating to watch the Cardinals shoot 8-14 from deep during the first twenty minutes. But not every three is created equal. Adel shot 30% from behind the arc coming into the game, yet hit three triples in a four minute stretch. If you're a coach creating a game plan, you give Adel those looks.

But, in the same vein, you can't just say "well Louisville is a bad shooting team, so we'll give them open looks to protect the paint." Just because a team shoots poorly doesn't mean you don't have to close out on shots. It doesn't mean that your hands shouldn't be up when their best shooter rises and fires from 22 feet. Even bad shooters hit their wide open, uncontested shots in practice.

Clarke is the most mind-boggling player I've ever seen play for Tech.

He can be amazing with the ball in his hands, isolating or as the playmaker in the pick-and-roll. He's great in the open court, and throws the most beautiful full-court bounce passes this side of Russell Westbrook. He also leads the team in turnover percentage, giving the ball away 24.4 out of 100 possessions. HE TURNS IT OVER A QUARTER OF THE TIME HE TOUCHES IT.

He does a great job making plays on defense, flying around to get in passing lanes. He crashes the boards extremely well, especially for a 6'5" shooting guard who plays power forward. But he also loses his man off-ball, and tends to (seemingly) freelance too much.

He's great. He one of the big reasons why the Hokies are so hard to guard. But he also commits more dumbfounding giveaways than anyone else on the roster.

And finally, I hate typing exclamation points in articles. Typing Yum! Center even once makes me want to stab something. I don't care that Yum! Center sounds dumb, but can we at least take the ! out of the name?

Comments

I said it in the game thread. But man this team is frustrating to watch. They're a solid NCAA caliber team based on talent but they play and have the fundamentals of an NIT team. Our defense effort which you touched on is lacking to put it nicely. We help off of defenders to make up for our lack of size in the paint, but that leads to people getting wide open 3's and shooting career highs against us every game. God it pisses me off

Question (because I
I'm too lazy & pissed to look it up): have we EVER made the tourney in consecutive seasons??

#FUENTEenFUEGO
Waho's suck
Uva swallows

the last time was 1985 and 1986

For as great as Kerry is and has been, it kills me to see him make these post moves that require a commitment to go up with a shot. Especially in this game he would get the ball in the post and it felt as if he thought he had to take a shot. Some of his moves could only end in an awesome basket, bad shot, or turnover. There was no checking for an open shot then passing it out. I love KJ and know he has an amazing basketball IQ but it just seemed as though he felt the need to take a shot whenever he got the ball in the post tonight.

This might have been discussed before, but why the hell do we continue to run that out of bounds play to set up a corner three. Nobody on the team is a catch and shoot player capable of consistently making that shot except for Bibbs. I guarantee our points per play on that is horrid. I know our half court offense isn't the best, but for a coach that prizes paint touches and categorizes shots as poor, good, great, and perfect, this play does not make any sense to me.

Sometimes when it is run well it produces an open shot, but most of the time teams know it and it does not produce an open shot. Maybe when we take that shot it isn't on the coaches and it's on the player I'm not sure. But a turn around fade away three with a hand in your face is by Buzz's standards, a poor shot and I will continue to get furious every time I see us jack up that shot until something changes whether it be a new play or better execution of that play.

I would argue that Hill is a much purer shooter from the corner than Bibbs but they are about the only two I would trust consistently from there

I think Hill is a great corner shooter but in the context of that play I don't think Hill is capable of being a quick catch and shoot guy that has to elevate over a defender. His shot starts from a very low point and he doesn't elevate when he shoots. He also never really shoots unless he has a very open shot which allows him to get his feet completely set. He was been somewhat successful with that play when he gets an open look but overall that play usually produces a very low percentage shot which is why I question its place in our offense.

Kerry's stats are elevated (as are JR's shots in the paint) because defenses are closing out and not helping on post feeds and dribble drives. The problem is that they are not finishing with consistency (although at the very least the team as a hole got to the line a little better than they did at Wake.) But, it isn't enough when you can't stop the ball or close out the perimeter defensively.

Five star get after it 100 percent Juice Key-Playing. MAN

Brian, to your point about open shots, I am most frustrated by our lack of defensive rotation. We don't communicate and switch on a screen. Hell, we don't fight through screens. We help down (without actually helping anything) when the ball is in the post and lose our man on the perimeter. We simply get lazy for small stretches. I thought these things would be cleaned up by now in Buzz's tenure. I'm mildly concerned that they are not.

And on offense, Brian made good points about turnovers and peterb94 made good points about KJ and our out of bounds plays. I would like to add one more thing: STOP BEING LAZY PASSERS. I distinctly remember three times about 25 feet from the rim where we lobbed soft passes at a teammate and it was easily stolen.

What Buzz is trying to do can work. I love that we're going small and fast. I love that KJ can step out and hit threes. We're going to have our fair share of turnovers because we're pushing the pace. We just have to get rid of the dumb ones.

I'm not sure Buzz even wants them to switch screens all that much. It's usually a staple of "positionless basketball", but to me, it seems like we don't do it near enough. Or maybe we do and are just very poor at it. But like you said, they do get incredibly lazy for spells on defense. They totally forget the "recover" part of the "help and recover" defense. I'd wager the vast majority of the 3s made against us are because someone is helping in the post for too long and/or where they shouldn't, the ball is pinged to their man, and they don't recover in time (sometimes not even bothering to attempt to recover, just conceding the shot). They have got to clean that up because its definitely an Achilles' heel that teams are exploiting against us

Dang Brian, thank you for the sharp analysis and eloquent perspective.

The KFC Yum! Center is by far the worst named building in all of sports. Of all time.

Also make me want a Red Robin burger and bottomless fries instead of chicken.

"What are you going to do, stab me? - Quote from Man Stabbed

If the ACC is really the second best league in the world outside of the NBA (and really, it's a reasonable argument to make) then you have to almost treat the abilities of the players as NBA-lite. I don't care what someone's shooting percentage is, if you leave them open in this league, they are going to make most of their clean looks. Hitting shots is what gets you a scholarship in this league and gets you playing time. These are the kids who dominated high school, we shouldn't be surprised they can take advantage of suspect defending.

This is what frustrates me the most about our ability to defend, and it goes back to even being a problem under Greenberg. We often allow the perimeter shots to pack the paint, and routinely it bites us. Year after year we see guys put up career marks from perimeter jumpers, and eventually we're going to have to address it. This year, it's killing us on the wins-losses column.

"Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while." - Roy Halladay

Chris Clarke might be the most frustrating player we've ever had. He's obviously an incredible athletic, but is also still very raw to basketball. Some of the passes he makes or shots he attempts are just mind-boggling. Today we would have honestly been better playing 4 on 5 on offense, just tough to watch.

Rip his freaking head off!

Agree 100% with this. I started counting Clarke mistakes that directly resulted in turnovers or missed opportunities and there were a LOT (5-7 in the course of 10 game minutes). From bad drives/shots, reckless passes, to poor ball handling. I think he definitely has a spot on the floor, but he is not a point guard and can't win games by himself (sometimes it looks like he's trying to).

Maybe that's my fault. I've been wishing for a take charge leader that would galvanize this team by taking it on himself to get something done. Right now, though, too often his grab is longer than his reach.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

Clarke plays like like a 10 year kid with ADHD who has just downed a Big Gulp Mt Dew. He's just a ball of pure energy and raw talent wreaking havoc on the court. Unfortunately, that havoc wreaking goes both ways. If he could just reign himself in just a tad, he could be a star. The talent is there, the restraint is not.

A lot of great points made above, but the absolute most frustrating part to me is the lazy/poor passing on this team. I know our style calls for a ton of ball movement and long transition passes, but I've never seen a team make this many unforced mistakes while passing the ball. It worried me in the OOC portion of the schedule, and it has not improved at all.

"For those who have passed, for those to come, reach for excellence."

I really like buzz. I like what he has to say, and i really like listening to him. One negative this year though: he recruites small and says that "small beats big, when small plays faster than big. " the problem is, after Kentucky, Syracuse, and Louisville, i find myself still waiting to see small play faster than big.

Oh man, I totally agree with him. I know they had a lot of blocks, but pace of play rendered he Louisville bigs pretty ineffective most of the day. Tech didn't lose because of size, the lost because their small guys were careless with the ball.

Brian, i have been a fan of yours since before espn Blacksburg, when you were right here doing doing whisky lane. Wish i knew where you were doing hokie radio lately.

A sincere question, why does it seem like a team with big seem to be able to keep us from making drives to the basket? Slowing is down, and taking more difficult shots outside the paint, and from the three. When we play bigger teams, we seem to be more turn over prone (im thinking Syracuse). Texas am last year was the same thing. What am i not setting that you are, because i see big centers and forwards really hurting drives, influencing turnovers and hindering buzz's offense.

Edit: please excuse grammer errors, i wrote this from my phone.

Our half court offense thrives on paint touches that result in the defense crashing and us kicking the ball out to find an open jump shot. That's why you see Chris Clarke stretching to keep his foot in the paint while he catches the entry pass. He poses a threat to score when he is in the paint and most defense will crash on him, leaving 4 shooters space to possibly get an open 3.

The problem with big teams is that they don't need to rely as much on paint help. Against Louisville, one of the best shot blocking teams in the country, they feel confident not rotating over as much because they know there is a good chance our 6'6 SF won't get a good shot up in the paint against their 7 footer.

You also talk about how we're turnover prone and throw more errant passes. Again, once we get the ball in the paint our shooter space the floor and we will try skip passes that just don't work as much against guys with 7 foot wingspans. Passing lanes just aren't open as much as they usually are.

This is why we rely on transition baskets against big teams. Their 7 footers can't run for more than a few possessions with our guards if we are able to get out and run which forces coaches to play smaller lineups. Then we are back into shooting threes all day or being able to score in the paint without shot blockers in our way.

For one, or both, of these to be successful you have to get defensive rebounds and shoot the ball well. Without one or the other it will be hard to win games against teams that have size available to them.

Thanks for the update; didn't get a chance to watch this one. Man, this was a frustrating read. Right after seeing the final score, I guessed it was probably due to poor defense and turnovers like it usually is, but was hoping it was just a cold shooting night or a good fight against a better team. However, it is good to see that we're not outmatched {as much} anymore and have fixable demons to exorcise. Need to really clamp down this week during practice on defense and better decision making with the ball.

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"