Buzzketball Earns a Critical 80-75 Road Win Against Notre Dame

The Hokies nearly blew a 15 point second half lead, but they held on to earn a resume-boosting ACC road win in South Bend.

It can feel a bit strange to label a late January game as a "must win" for a team's postseason chances. After all, the ACC is an incredibly deep conference that provides plenty of resume-building opportunities. Yet Saturday night's ACC matchup with Notre Dame had that vibe.

The Irish were without their two most important players, PG Matt Farrell and Preseason ACC Player of the Year Bonzie Colson, giving the Hokies a distinct matchup advantage. Even with Farrell and Colson in the lineup, Tech's athleticism and desire to run would level the playing field somewhat. However, the absence of ND's offensive maestro and their physically dominant — albeit undersized — post guy gave the Hokies an incredible opportunity to earn a vital ACC road win.

The Hokies led by as many as 15 points midway through the second half behind lights out shooting from all over the floor. After an apparent knee injury to Irish wing Rex Pflueger with 14:20 to play, the Hokies looked ready to bury an already thin Notre Dame squad for good. With the Irish looking a bit disheveled on the defensive end, Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill nailed three-pointers on consecutive possessions to extend the Tech lead to 14. After a TJ Gibbs bucket and a well-timed timeout by Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, Pflueger returned to the lineup and the Irish looked like an entirely different team from thereon.

The Hokies nailed two more three-pointers on their next two possessions — making it 12 points in 4 trips down the floor — but Notre Dame held serve behind Gibbs and John Mooney. A red hot Tech team suddenly went ice cold from the floor, struggling to find open shots behind the arc and in the paint. The Irish used an 11-1 run over a four minute span to cut the Hokies lead to 3 before a Nickeil Alexander-Walker three-pointer gave Tech some breathing room.

The two teams traded baskets down the stretch, but a plucky Tech team that played the final 4:16 without Kerry Blackshear, Jr. was able to maintain at least a two point cushion throughout. After a missed three by Notre Dame and a crucial Chris Clarke rebound, Buzz Williams called a timeout with 36 seconds to play.

Despite Justin Bibbs' strong shooting night and Robinson's playmaking abilities at the top of the circle, Buzz put the ball in the hands of his most athletic guy to simply go out and make a play. Clarke took his man off the dribble, grabbed his own missed layup and put it back up with a quickness only Clarke has. It was an incredible play that highlighted Clarke's prodigious bounce, but also his instinct to follow his miss and go up quickly with his shot.

Clarke scored the Hokies' final six points in a 30-second span and 10 of the Hokies' last 12 points, helping Tech seal their second win all-time against the Irish and their first since the 1973 NIT. Once again, Clarke was the catalyst for the Hokies. So often he would grab a rebound and immediately turn and look to push the pace against the Irish. While the Hokies were relatively underwhelming in transition on Saturday, finishing with only 6 fast break points, they continued to regularly push the ball. Their transition game was highlighted by this gem from Clarke, yet another example of his freakish athleticism:

Bibbs paced the Hokies with 20 points and 5 assists on 8-10 shooting (4-4 from distance). Clarke chipped in 12 points and 14 rebounds. Robinson added 12 points and 7 assists; KJ finished with 9 points, 3 boards, 3 blocks and 3 steals; and NAW and Hill added 11 and 9 points, respectively. The Hokies went 14-25 from behind the arc (56%), with six players (including KJ) notching at least one triple.

It was a solid win for the Hokies, albeit one that never should have come down to the wire. The Hokies cruised through the first 30 minutes of play, pushing the basketball off of defensive rebounds and looking fluid in their half court sets. But as they've been prone to do this season, they went cold from the floor. They turned the ball over. They struggled to create clean chances. They failed to close out shooters. They picked up chippy fouls.

The good news is that the Hokies held on. The bad news is that they squandered a sizeable lead against a team devoid of scoring options. Though it was frustrating to watch the lead slip away, it was encouraging to watch them grind out the win. It's easy to think that the Hokies would have lost this game if Farrell and/or Colson were healthy. It doesn't matter. College basketball isn't played in a vacuum. The important thing is that the Hokies were able to leave South Bend with a win. What the performance means for the rest of the season (if anything) will reveal itself as the conference schedule plays out.

A Few Quick Thoughts

There has been a lot of discussion this season about the absence of Seth Allen and Zach LeDay. The lack of a true alpha dog on this Hokies team has had, and will likely continue to have, an impact on their ability to withstand offensive droughts and close out tight games. It was clear all night long that the Hokies were considerably more athletic than Mike Brey's depleted squad. So what does Buzz do? He dials up a play for his most explosive player, isolating him at the top of the arc and asking him to beat his man to the rim. Simple as that.

Not only was it a low-risk play call by Buzz — the worst case scenario is Clarke thinks he's "Pistol Pete" Maravich and dribbles the ball off his foot — but it also increases the Hokies' chances at grabbing an offensive rebound. Here's why:

If Tech runs their standard offense with Robinson at the point, they're almost surely going to settle for a mid-range (or deeper) jumper. This essentially isolates Tech's only viable rebounding option (Clarke) against Notre Dame's two bigs (Mooney and Martinas Geben) and increases the chances of a defensive foul, putting a ND player at the free throw line with a chance to tie the game. Typically, mid-range and three-point shots are low-percentage looks, but the Hokies are one of the best distance shooting teams in the country so that increases their odds somewhat. However, I'd be willing to bet Buzz prefers attacking the rim (and potentially earning some free throws) over hoping to find a clean jumper in the 10 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Clarke succeeded in getting to the rim, missed his layup, didn't get fouled, but used his instincts and hops to put back his miss.

When we compare this year's roster to last year's, the failed emergence of a true closer or alpha is glaring. Here we are in late January and there is considerable worry about Tech's NCAA Tournament chances given the remaining schedule. As strange as it sounds, I would argue this team is more talented than last year's. KJ is an upgrade over freshman Khadim Sy. Without a guy like LeDay, Buzz can trot out a more dynamic lineup that can score from anywhere on the floor and run a team out of the building. And defensively, the team is able to utilize a stronger defensive option alongside Justin Robinson in crunch time, as opposed to the sphincter-tightening pairing of JRob with Seth Allen down the stretch. What made fans feel good about Tech's chances last year were Allen and LeDay and their ability to keep the Hokies alive. Everyone is acutely aware of the glaring hole that guys seem reluctant to jump into. Buzz's decision to play the matchup advantage Saturday night may be his best approach to closing out games, given the present state of the roster.

While the Hokies' tournament chances received a boost with a decent ACC road win (ND's RPI currently sits at #78), there is still a ton of work left to do. The Hokies' remaining schedule includes road trips to UVa, Duke, Miami and a suddenly formidable Boston College team, as well as home games against Louisville, Duke and NC State. You could look at that schedule as an impossible path to 8 or 9 ACC wins. Or you could see a ton of opportunities to earn resume-strengthening wins over top-ranked teams. With one of the worst non-conference records in the country, it will be imperative for the Hokies to win a couple games against their toughest foes if they want any shot at earning a second consecutive invite to the Big Dance.

They took care of business on Saturday to earn an RPI Top 100 road win. They get another crack on Wednesday when they travel up (#73) Boston College.

Comments

Clark was clutch down the stretch, came up with some big rebounds and hit big shots. I loved the dunk exclamation point to end the game!

1-0 every week

Clarke is the only player in the country that would attempt that long bounce pass in that situation. At least several times out of 10 that probably ends in a turnover, but I love watching him make/attempt those ridiculous outlet passes. Love J-Rob's ability to handle that pass and get to the rim; his finishing at the rim seems to be getting better and better with each game. 7 Ast to 0 TO isn't bad either.

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"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

And he fires that ball with passion and energy.

Yes, a top 100 RPI game, but the committee can't overlook:

The Irish were without their two most important players, PG Matt Farrell and Preseason ACC Player of the Year Bonzie Colson

Better win without them on the court than to lose...... How much the committee "overlooks" this will likely depend on how they finish. If Colson had not been hurt this would likely have been a top twenty five or better win/loss, and if they lose all the other games with Farrell out they may not stay top 100. It's not like the committee will count this as a loss. It's still an ACC road win, just not as impressive as it could have been if they were top 25/50 and we had won.

Sometimes we live no particular way but our own

A road ACC win always counts for something. A Notre Dame team without Colson and Farrell is still better than Pitt or maybe even Syracuse and GT.

I just sit on my couch and b*tch. - HokieChemE2016

If they'd lost this game their tournament chances would all but evaporate.

"When you're green, you're growing. When you're ripe, you rot." -Ray Kroc

Good thing they didn't, then

I still think we need one if not two upset wins to get in the tournament. That St. Louis loss is going to be staring us in the face come March. But this win was certainly a great step in the right direction. I'm with you Pierson, I think Buzz is on to something with allowing CC to close the game with his athleticism. Not many players at his position can stay in front of him towards the end of the game. I hope this is a consistent option for Buzz throughout the rest of the season. I'll live and die with the ball in CC's hands due to the lack of alpha dogs on our team. Maybe we have one that's just been waiting to be let off the leash.

"...I'm getting a little tired of hearing how good everybody else is..." -Coach Fu [This week: 1-0]

Buzz should feed Blackshear raw meat.

via GIPHY

JP

VT is building a decent resume. All they need are more wins. Win the ones you're supposed to, and a couple you're not and you make the tourney.

GO Hokies!

The ACC will get at least 8 teams in...if we can prove to be one of the best 8, then we're in. If you assume that Wake, Pitt, BC, and GT won't make it, UVA, Duke, UL, and UNC do, that leaves 7 teams fighting for 3-5 spots. We need to beat BC, GT, NCST, and split with Miami. If we win those games and can get 1-2 more, then we will finish .500 or better in ACC and I think we make it with a decent showing in ACC tourney. I like our chances, but the next 3 games are big.

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"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

I would not put BC in the assume they wont make it category. Yes they are 3-5 in conference right now but so is Notre Dame and I would argue that due to the injuries, BC is on a better trajectory than the Fighting Irish. The other reason I would say BC has a better than average shot is their schedule.

They play Tech next but after that they have GT, then at Notre Dame, Miami, then at Pitt, Notre Dame again, then at NC State, at Miami, home to Syracuse, and then at Florida State. That's only one game remaining against a team currently with a winning conference record (Florida State at 5-4) All the others are either .500 or worse.

Yes, but I would think they need to finish several games better than .500 to make it, because outside of the early season Duke win, they won't have any other signature wins. And if they're sitting right around .500 in ACC, I have to think the committee would much rather have a .500 Syracuse team, or ND, or just about anybody else. The committee will do everything they can to let Syracuse in, they will give ND a huge benefit of the doubt factor especially if Colson is back and playing well in time for ACC tourney. So that is a good point, they have an easier schedule, much easier than us, but if it is between BC and some of these other ACC middle-of-the-pack teams, I think BC gets left out. You're right though, BC and VT are similar bubble teams right now.

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"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

The challenge with this team is they do not play defense - period. So they will have to outscore their opponents and win with 80+ points. That's fine when shots are falling but when shooters go cold (or the opponent plays D, aka uva) and Tech is not getting lots of free throws from driving to the hoop, they can lose to anyone.

A strong defensive team has the chance to hang with anyone but I think we are going to live and die by the 3 this year. Let's hope the nets stay hot the next 8 games.

Buzz says it over and over, and it is very true...if we limit TO's and limit opponent second chance points, then we have a chance. We are 1st in country in points per shot. That number is coming down, mainly because of the cold shooting to begin ACC play, and also because we are not getting to the FT line near as much in conference play. That being said...we are a good shooting team, better than most of our opponents, so if we can take as many or more shots than the other team, then we likely win the game. TO rate and opponent Off Reb rate are the main things that take shots away from us and give more shots to the other team, and that is why Buzz is so focused on those two areas.

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"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

With the rest of our ACC schedule, this BC game is another must win then. Hope they come out shooting hot again

We're 67 in RPI, we are so close, just need to keep winning

Recruit Prosim

I really do not understand RPI and BPI, etc. But we are top 30 (29th) in ESPN's BPI. That has to count for something.

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"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

ESPN's BPI and a dollar will get you a cup of coffee at McDonald's.

In The King Pomeroy Version of College Basketball Gospel, VT's only a bit lower at #39

That bounce pass was beautiful

Reach for Excellence!

VT Football: It'll get after ya!

Proud Hokie since 2004.

Lunardi has the good guys out of the tournament right now (first four out). J. Palm has us in, playing a play-in game against K-State as a #11 seed.

"...I'm getting a little tired of hearing how good everybody else is..." -Coach Fu [This week: 1-0]

Lunardi also referenced joking about the good guys and Greenberg always being on the bubble in his latest.

I saw that. But I wonder how much of our snubs under Greenberg were a reflection on our coach more than a reflection on our school or schedule.

There was only one year where I believe we truly were snubbed. Every other year we ended the year with very bad losses after the single impressive win for the year.

I think it was a combination of all of them- after Greenberg's "certifiably insane" comment that is. I do think that fans are too quick to place a majority of the blame on Greenberg's personality rather than recognizing that we kept playing a horrendous out of conference schedule (which, granted, was created based on Greenberg's direction). My concern though is that Buzz seems to be taking a similar approach to OOC scheduling and pushing back against the notion that an extremely weak OOC slate can hurt our resume come March.

Joffrey, Cersei, Ilyn Payne, the Hound, Jeff Jagodzinski, Paul Johnson, Pat Narduzzi.

I am torn on this because I do see Buzz making improvements to our OOC schedule, but it is more slowly than I had expected. I can remember years during the Greenberg era we wouldn't even have a P5 opponent on the schedule. Buzz has improved our holiday tournament each year he has been here and that plays a major role in terms of the strength of OOC. It also can be luck of the draw, as teams improve or worsen season to season. The ones I would really like to see Buzz drop are the schools that consistently are over 250 in the rankings year on year.

That would mean no more UMES(338), The Citadel(281), Detroit Mercy(285), Houston Baptist(344), Morehead State(257), and Presbyterian(303).

Unfortunately it would also mean that Buzz wouldn't be able to schedule quite a few of the local schools as well - VMI, Norfolk State, Hampton, James Madison, Liberty, American, North Carolina Central, Howard, Longwood, High Point, East Carolina, UNC Wilmington, and Loyola Marymount who also are regulars at 250 or higher.

Next season we know we don't have the two bad games for the holiday tournament we had this year. The eight teams playing are Purdue, Ball State, Davidson, Wichita State, Alabama, Northeastern, Appalachian State and the Hokies. That should upgrade about a ten to twenty percent of our OOC compared to this season especially if the Hokies find early success.

Scheduling though is a two edged sword, so finding other quality opponents can sometimes be difficult because they don't want to risk losing early in the season.

I am with you on the scheduling. A couple of better mid majors every year would be nice. But it is also nice for us to share the love with other Commonwealth teams.

Limited Love - or at least balanced love, so in one year add a George Mason, George Washington, Georgetown, or VCU along with one of the teams I previously mentioned above so the impact to our SOS is not as dramatic.