Georgia Tech is not a good team.
That's the first thing to understand when unpacking the Virginia Tech men's basketball team's 76-56 win over the Yellow Jackets Saturday in Atlanta. Not to disparage Josh Pastner or the way his team is playing, but a 20 point win in February is indicative of one of the two teams, and it wasn't the Hokies.
But that shouldn't take anything away from their total domination. The men in maroon looked good early, and after a back-and-forth opening 10 minutes, they took control. Buzz Williams' squad was at their best bombing away from three, attacking the rim, and disrupting passing lanes.
Point guard Justin Robinson bounced back from an off performance against Duke to lead the way with 18 points, four assists, and 20 oh-my-god-how-did-he-see-that passes. Freshman Nickeil Alexander-Walker hit six of his nine attempts from the field, and used his pterodactyl arms to cause problems on the defensive end.
"I think we're continuing to improve in all of the different facets defensively," Williams said in his post-game press conference. "That's all we've been doing since Miami. I think the numbers reflect that. Any win, any game, regardless of locale, regardless of opponent in this league I think is incredibly hard."
Justin Bibbs hit a few crucial jumpers while things were still close, and tightened up his defense after Georgia Tech came out hot. Kerry Blackshear wasn't flashy, but did a wonderful job guarding Yellow Jacket center Ben Lammers, and used his quick feet to jump passes inside (he wound up with four steals).
Possibly the most fun part of the matchup was watching Tyrie Jackson face off against his brother Tadric. Though Tadric is a starter and Georgia Tech's best offensive weapon, Tyrie checked in earlier than usual for a head-to-head sibling battle. And while Tadric lead his side with 17 points (though only shooting 6-17 from the field), Tyrie lead all players with high-flying alley oops.
The Hokies opened the second half on a suffocating 21-3 run, and the result became apparent quickly (yes, Pastner and company scored three points in TEN minutes). Robinson, Blackshear, and Bibbs all sat for long stretches while Jackson and his energetic group of freshman closed up shop.
"We haven't done anything, literally anything, offensively since Miami," Williams said. "And I think that because we spent 100 percent of our time defensively, I think that in an unspoken way it helps our guys understand the difference between great and perfect shots. I think it forces them to move the ball because of what we're trying to accomplish defensively. I thought we shared it, the first 30 minutes of the game, I thought we shared it as well maybe since we've ever been here. I'm thankful that those other guys got the minutes that they were able to get, because I think down the stretch that will be really important."
And though their opponent has had serious problems over the last month, this was an important outcome for a Hokie team still fighting its way through the NCAA Tournament bubble. With their last four games all coming against ACC schools locked to make it in March (Clemson, Louisville, Duke, and Miami), a win over the cellar-dwelling Jackets was critical.
Had they dropped this one, Tech (the real one) would have had to win three of their final four to have a chance. This would have been a bad loss, regardless if it was on the road or not, and Buzz's bunch did what they needed to do. They took care of business, with authority.
Tech has Clemson on Wednesday as the first of a three game stretch in Blacksburg. Though they sit on the back end of the Tournament (ESPN's Joe Lunardi—as was said ad nauseum on the ESPN2 broadcast—has the Hokies as one of the last four byes), they may have a little more room for error than we thought. CBSSports' Jerry Palm has them as a nine seed, and USA Today's Shelby Mast has them as an eight seed.
The variance between the experts is interesting, but I think that one more regular season win will send them dancing for the second year in a row. But as nice as a comfy Saturday in Atlanta may have felt, there's still more work to do.