Hokies the Better Team in 74-67 Win over Duke - A Glimpse into the Puzzle

The plan that Mike Young put in place when he was hired in April of 2019 is finally starting to show results. Virginia Tech's victory against Duke is just one example of the process and progress.

[ACC Pool \ Matt Gentry]

Stop me if you've heard this storyline before: "Virginia Tech knocks off a ranked Duke team in Cassell Coliseum."

It happened again, though it wasn't shocking this time. The Hokies didn't have to pray that a Grayson Allen half court heave at the buzzer was going to rim out, cross their fingers that someone would hit clutch free throws to seal the game or hope that Seth Curry was going to commit some dumb turnover to hand Tech the ballgame.

The Hokies' win didn't surprise anyone, because they were the better team. And they played like it.

How No. 20 Virginia Tech (10-2, 4-1 ACC) performed in its 74-67 victory over No. 19 Duke (5-3, 3-1) has slowly become the expectation in year two of the Mike Young era.

Accurate and efficient shooting from the floor (50%) and from behind the arc (43%). Winning the battle on the boards (34 rebounds to Duke's 33). Taking care of the ball (16 assists, ten turnovers). Getting defensive stops when needed. Three players in double figures with Tyrece Radford stuffing the stat sheet.

It's become the standard.

In mid-January of last season, Virginia Tech sat at 14-5, 5-3 in the ACC with losses to No. 10 Duke, at No. 9 Virginia and vs. Syracuse. Though the run from there on out wasn't pretty — the Hokies won two of the remaining 13 games — Tech was clearly building for the future.

"16-16 is never going to be good enough in Blacksburg, nor should it be," Young said after Tech's loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament that ended his inaugural season. "But to cobble that together and do so with some really quality people and scrap and claw and some great moments, some not-so-great moments. ... Things are in place. The foundation is in place."

I remember having a one-on-one conversation with Jalen Cone after that ACC Tournament game. I asked him about the future of the program, about what he thought the 2020-21 season would look like.

"I think we're going to be just fine next year," Cone responded, as confident as ever. "I think next year, we're going to have a good shot at the big dance."

Clearly, the Hokies are better than fine. They proved that against the Blue Devils, Tech's fourth win over Duke in the last five meetings in Blacksburg.

This is a team Young practically built from scratch, though.

Above is a chart of every player in the Virginia Tech basketball program over the past three seasons.

In the offseason when Young was named head coach in April of 2019, the Hokies lost six players. Young was left with seven guys — two sophomores in Wabissa Bede and P.J. Horne and five freshmen. The only player 6'7" or taller was Landers Nolley.

Young and his staff accepted the challenge and brought in two transfers, Keve Aluma was one of them. They hit the recruiting trail hard and earned four commitments. Still, Aluma had to sit out in 2019-20 and Tech was one of the most youthful teams in the ACC.

It was a similar situation in this past offseason, the Hokies lost six players to graduation, medical issues or the transfer portal. Yet just like before, Tech found success in recruiting and in the portal, adding four freshmen and three transfers. And, for the first time since 2015-16, a Virginia Tech basketball team had four scholarship players taller than 6'8".

Additions of Aluma and Justyn Mutts, who transferred from Delaware, have been golden. The two are averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds per game.

There's Wabissa Bede, the veteran of the program, and potentially the only player in school history to go to four NCAA Tournaments, should the Hokies reach that mark. There aren't many better ball handlers in the ACC.

The 6'2" Radford, the lone player of Buzz Williams' final recruiting class remaining in Blacksburg. Potentially the best inch-for-inch rebounder in the country, the Baton Rouge native is ever-so efficient.

The signees from last offseason, the trio of sophomores — Hunter Cattoor, Nahiem Alleyne and Jalen Cone — are clicking and have all played major roles in Tech's success. Alleyne has started 38 of 44 games in two seasons while Cone and Cattoor have been electric off the bench. The duo averages 20.6 combined points per game, which is 77% of Tech's bench points per game this season.

Young has solved the puzzle for Tech's success in such a short amount of time, yet it seems like the Hokies have played together since they were ten when they're out on the court. At times, that's been the difference.

"They're really good," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "In the first half, they really hit us hard. They played great defense, really strong, physical and tough. It knocked us back - we have not played in an ACC game like that.

"We learned a lot tonight on how hard an ACC top level game is."

The chemistry was on display against Duke.

Radford (18 points, 12 rebounds), Aluma (17 points, seven rebounds) and Cone (14 points, 3-5 3FG) led the way for Tech, but it was a team effort. Eight Tech players scored and grabbed at least one rebound while seven recorded at least one assist.

At many points throughout the game, that teamwork showed. It was there when Cattoor found a wide open Radford for a layup with 30 seconds to go in the first half.

Also evident when Cone hit a streaking Aluma for an easy transition bucket with 11:28 to go in the second.

There was also the spectacular moment where Jeremy Roach drove towards the bucket with 1:30 to play. Roach released a floater from the block and Aluma grabbed the shot out of the air, miraculously saving the ball from going out of bounds.

It reminded me of a Deron Washington play from a 2007 game against Miami. Check the 30 second mark.

Plays like that, with extraordinary togetherness — one teammate covering for another — helped the Hokies knock off Duke.

Tech never trailed, starting out the game with a quick 11-2 run. After shooting 63% in the first half, the Hokies led by 12, 46-34.

The Blue Devils didn't mess around to open the second half. They blitzed out of the gate and put up 12 to Tech's two points over the first 2:30. From there, margin stayed under ten points, dropping as low as one with 13:12 to play after a Matthew Hurt three-pointer.

The Hokies picked up the pace, though, and outscored Duke 18-12 the rest of the way. 11 of those 18 points came from Aluma, while Cone added a three, Radford hit two free throws and Mutts capped the game off with a dunk with 1:02 to play.

"I saw a level of poise [in the second half]," Young said. "I didn't want to call a timeout there when Duke took off on us in the second half. Part of that was by design. I wanted to see us figure it out and fight through it.

"We didn't have our best start, but I knew we would figure it out. I was pleased with their patience, their poise, and togetherness. They continued to share and I do think that is the mark of a team that's been there and done it and knows what it takes to get out games like that with a win."

Despite Hurt, Roach and DJ Steward scoring 20, 22 and 14, respectively, the Hokies kept Duke at bay for their fourth ACC win of the season.

It's been a work in progress for Young & Co., but the process is starting to pay off. Virginia Tech has proved it is one of the best teams in the ACC, though there's a good chance that it's not the last time this season that the Hokies earn a result like this.

"Let's not beat around the bush - we've got a pretty good team," Young said. "I think we've got a chance to be really good."

Comments

I might just have to start watching VT shooty-hoops now...

Great article!

I don't know what a Hokie is, but God is one of them!

They had some nice plays against the press last night, but Duke's press looked weak (I'm used to watching WVU press so everyone's looks weak)

But this team needs to work on passing amd catching the ball. They never look comfortable receiving a pass.

We give up too many easy turnovers on bad/lazy passes around the perimeter every game. Clean those up and we are looking at +4pts at least for the good guys each game.

"I'm too drunk to taste this chicken" - Colonel Sanders via Ricky Bobby

Loved the defensive plays at the end, but Radford was such a beast he should have a lifetime Man Card.

I can't remember a guy with that much rebounding talent with that little height since Sir Charles

Yes, especially after one particular rebound that he came down with and took off with, I was thinking of the similarities to the Round Mound of Rebound's game myself.

Let me point you to Russell Westbrook. Most don't realize he is only 6'3. Last six years he has averaged 7.8 rebounds or more per game, three of those seasons finishing in double digits.

I'm a big Grizzlies fan, and the best overachiever rebounder Ive seen is Zach Randolph, who had an amazing ability to rebound without even jumping...

“In order to conquer an animal, I have to think like an animal, and whenever possible, look like one.”
— Carl Spackler

Russ is definitely a great rebounder for being a PG. However, he gets his totals inflated from FTs. Not to many guards line up under the basket. In a lot of situations in the NBA the shooting team doesn't contend for missed FTs so he gets a lot of gimmies.

There is some validity to putting him there so he can push the ball quicker, so its a fine strategic move.

I freakin love this team! The energy, unity, grounded optimism, and access all combined make it so easy to root for these guys.

Edit: that's my quarterback head coach!

VB born, class of '14

Mike Young has those legs pulled up so high it looks like he's preparing for a flash flood. Reminds me of my grandpa haha.

Outside it's night time, but inside it's LeDay

Good article, David. Nice homework on the VT history. I thought your father had poisoned you with soccer growing up, but I see it didn't keep you from recalling our basketball history. :-)

I'm as encouraged with this team as much as anyone. However, I remember how we got a great start last year, and then the bottom fell out. So, I'm cautiously optimistic about this season.

I think last year's fall had as much to do with Nolley as anything. He got off to that big start, and then he couldn't sustain that pace. We depended on him so much that his late season slump really hurt team performance. This year's team is different, so hopefully we won't see a repeat of last year to end the season.

Young has said last years team relied too much on the 3 ball. This years team definitely seems more well rounded.

Tyrod did it Mikey, Tyrod did it!!

"Let's not beat around the bush - we've got a pretty good team," Young said. "I think we've got a chance to be really good."

(COVID impacts aside) Anybody think Mike Young isn't having a good time? SW Virginia boy goes from Wofford to the ACC and jumps out to 5-1 after beating Duke. Gotta love what he is doing and who he is. Happy for him ad happy to have him.

I can't wait for the students to be back in Cassell some day. Popcorn sales will be through the roof!

Any chance we get MY popcorn sold at Cassel? Asking for a friend...

Reach for Excellence!

VT Football: It'll get after ya!

Proud Hokie since 2004.

I asked Hokie Club about buying commemorative tins of popcorn adorned with CMY back in December on Twitter, they liked the tweet but did not respond

They need to get on this. It would have made the perfect holiday tin to send out a month ago... while they're at it, they need to start selling Mellow Yellow at Lane as long as Fuente's sideline demeanor doesn't change.

Another thing that would be fun for those near Blacksburg would be for them to broadcast the games on a big inflatable screen and have drive in basketball.

One Loudoun in Ashburn has been running a drive in theater for about six months now. Just a fun experience that I think they could pull off using parking lots around Lane.

The Zoom call last night was fun, especially for my kids. Just ways to get "connected"

We have a TEAM, not a bunch of guys with 1-2 stars. That is the big difference. When Aluma, Cone, etc have a bad or off night, there is somebody there to pick up the ball and keep the scoring up.

Duke has too many star players demanding the ball so they can be a one and done to worry about if their teammate might actually have a better shot. Our guys are completely selfless, it might actually be their weakness, there are a couple of times per game the player should just drive the ball and score.

Great write up as usual. Bonus points for the Deron Washington highlights. I had forgotten the kind of hops that dude had.

My favorite Hokie basketball player of all time. Had to include some clips.

DC

Deron was something. I saved a pic to remember him by. The pic below is his last time walking off of the Cassell floor when he graduated. Dude was a beast!

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

Very nice write-up, and this continues to raise my excitement level for the rest of the season.

One quick question - Wouldn't this be Bede's third NCAA appearance (potentially), and not fourth? Or did I miss something?

Yeah, I was just about to ask about that and refreshed the page to see if anyone beat me to it.

Maybe speculating that he'll be back for a fifth year since this one doesn't count towards eligibility?

stick it in, stick it in, stick it in!

Yeah, I was more saying the opportunity is there for Bede if he wants to return. Should've made that more clear though. But should Tech make it this year, he'd tie Robinson and Hill for three NCAA Tournaments - most in school history. Should he stay, he could be the only one with four.

DC

The Duke win currently is a quadrant 3 win in the NET. They are ranked #96. Probably will change as the season goes on, but that's a little shocking that this win means so little in the NET rankings.

It could actually get worse...Duke is not a complete team, especially if Jalen Johnson continues to miss time. Other then Hurt, they are limited in creating their own shot.

Roach had a big game. That was greatly bolstered by going 8-8 from the line. That is not the norm.

Unless it's changed, a home Q3 win is anywhere from #76-#160 in the country. I don't think Duke will fall below 160...

We can always hope...but...

Question - Is Pemsl still on the team?

He's got a minor injury.

The word is a back injury and he was struggling to walk this week. Could be out for a while.

Back injuries can be a pain to rehab.

N'Guessan is doing just fine as the only backup big man for now.

I thought this was another FAM thread, just with a more elaborate title. I was disappointed.

Great article. Thanks for the hard work!

fam!

Danny is always open

What is the status of Ojiako?

Life is good.

Healthy enough to play but still not 100%. Also an uphill battle for him to play outside of countering bigs at UNC and FSU. Hard to make a comeback in the middle of ACC play.

For me the difference was our willingness to drive to the basket and get the ball in to the post. You could see how Duke was going to press our "weave" offense on the perimeter at the start of the game. Frankly teams have seen enough of that now to know how to defend it. The good news with this team is that we actually have a Plan B with Radford and sometimes Alleyne/Bede driving to the hoop and then also post options with Aluma/Mutts. The final piece would be in my opinion Maddox returning to give us a legit penetrating/scoring PG. Anyway, I like the ability to score two ways.

I think Bamisile has shown the ability to reach the rim better than anyone else but then is a liability defensively. Cattoor is emerging as a better handle which is beneficial.

Cattoor's handle improving is important because it allows us to get a shooter on the ball more and results in more open shots from the perimeter for the other guys. Unlike Bede however he cannot get to the rim off the dribble so it balances out for me in that regard. I've seen Hunter's shot get swatted a lot but hey I like the guile. I'm still in evaluation mode on Bamisile... just not enough minutes to know and his body has a long way to go. There does seem to be some dexterity and creativity for him getting to the rim and I agree defensively (like so many FR) there is a long way to go.

A couple of thoughts after a great win:

  • This is a very down year for the ACC, but when would we ever expect a Hokies team outplay Duke so well that they never trailed (and only 1 days rest to prepare!!). That's an incredible accomplishment in the 2nd year of the Young era.
  • When Bede and Mutts are both on the floor, VT's defense is incredibly good and was able to shut down Hurt when he was putting Duke on his back to try and recapture the lead. That D effectively won the game for VT, but man, that offense can be hard to watch with the 2 of them.
  • Sometimes I checkout how Texas A&M is doing. They're not good and getting blown out the gym by Big 5 opponents. They have one win in the SEC and listening to Buzz brag about beating last place Auburn (by 2 pts) makes me feel blessed to have a coach that never spews hyperbole.

🦃 🦃 🦃

Taylor, looking desperately, now throws it deep, has A MAN OPEN, CAUGHTTT!!!

This nugget of information a great testament to the mind of Mike Young. The best college basketball coaches in America, who often have the best talent in America, are often bamboozled by Mike Young's schemes, especially on the offensive end. I have an extremely hard time believing he will ever coach anywhere else besides Blacksburg, but if he does leave, it will be for the NBA.

Put in Donlon

Cattoor, Alleyne, Radford, and Cone will could be on this team for 3 more years. Let that sink in people. Even if they show ZERO improvement in those years, I would still be happy with that backcourt

Here lies It's a Stroman Jersey I Swear, surpassed in life by no one because he intercepted it.

We probably only get Radford for 1-2 more years. This is already his 3rd year of college. He needs at least another year to refine his game (jumpshot) but eventually he'll probably go play pro ball somewhere. I don't think he'll be in college for 6 years haha.

Boots graduated in December I believe, so he could choose to get a Masters or two...

You are surely mistaken. That would be graduating in 2.5 years, which I assume is impossible. His profile still says "Majoring in human development" on HokieSports. On the other hand, for Wabissa Bede, his HokieSports bio specifies that he earned an undergraduate degree already.

"Almost time." He might be graduating this spring. I just checked and he's not on the list of fall 2020 graduates on the VT website

If he stayed at school, maxing out summer sessions and maintaining a heavy class load, I could see him being done

Definitely possible. I graduated in 3 without taking a single summer class.

I knew a girl that was a junior her freshman year.

AP credit for the win.

Totally agree with you here. I am looking for Joe Bamisile to take Boots' place in rotation. Even though he hasn't showed it yet, I really think Joe could be a game breaker for VT. He is also likely our only NBA prospect on the current roster, so it would be nice if we could get him the minutes to raise his stock over the next couple of seasons.

Put in Donlon