Close But Never Enough

Streaky shooting and post-COVID break rust doom the Hokies in a loss to NC State.

[Virginia Tech Athletics \ Dave Knachel]

If there was such a thing as a "must-win" game in January, the Hokies let one slip away Tuesday night in Cassell Coliseum.

In a contest of wild runs, Virginia Tech found themselves on the losing end of yet another nailbiter, this time falling to NC State 68-63 in their first game back from a 13-day COVID pause. While the Wolfpack snapped a five-game losing streak and earned their first ACC win, the Hokies suffered their third consecutive loss to begin league play, as their NCAA Tournament hopes dwindled more.

This loss played out like many we have seen this year. NC State made plays where the Hokies didn't, consistently driving to the rim and finishing through contact. They were tenacious on the offensive glass, securing 14 offensive rebounds. In so doing, Tech surrendered a season-high 43% offensive rebound rate, which is to say that the Wolfpack gained a second possession on nearly half of their misses. In a game decided by three possessions, it's hard not to pull your hair out and wonder what could have been if the effort on the boards was better.

Cleaning up the Glass

Many of the Wolfpack's offensive rebounds were the result of dribble penetration. NC State's guards were able to muscle their way inside and put Tech's defenders in awkward positions when they came down for the board. It didn't help that Nahiem Alleyne frequently got beat off the dribble, forcing help that left open shooters to take advantage.

Here, Casey Morsell (#14) was able to squirt past Alleyne, putting up a wild bank shot which he may have been trying to miss. He got the rebound and kicked out to an open Terquavion Smith (#0) on the wing. David N'Guessan, playing to give Aluma a breather, was overaggressive on the closeout, committing a foul as Smith drained the shot and converted the four-point play.

Another huge offensive rebound came in crunch time off a missed jumper by Cam Hayes (#3).

Alleyne lost defensive positioning, and though I think he was trying to draw a foul he may have had his arm yanked by Dereon Seabron (#1). The possession didn't end with points, but it took valuable time off the clock.

Dreaming for Nahiem

Having conspicuously observed Alleyne's game over the past two weeks, I believe his offensive woes may be impacting his defense. He is now shooting 6-for-35 (17%) from the floor over the past four games, including 3-for-22 from behind the arc. I don't worry too much about three-point shooting slumps because jump shooting tends to ebb and flow throughout the course of a season. My main concern is that Alleyne isn't doing a very good job at driving to the rim, so when he isn't hitting his jump shots, he essentially provides nothing. According to Bart Torvik, Alleyne is shooting 4-of-19 (21%) on close two-pointers, which ranks dead last among 113 ACC players with at least 10 attempts. For comparison, Seabron is shooting 61% on 169 close twos, in addition to 17 made dunks (Alleyne has one).

On paper, NC State is one of the more talented teams in the country. They have six blue-chip recruits (four- or five-stars) on their roster, and eight players who were rated Top 150 coming out of high school. They've also been without the services of four-star forward Manny Bates, who is sidelined for the year with a shoulder injury. That talent hasn't translated to results on the court, as they are just 8-7, but the raw athleticism was certainly on display. In the second half, Seabron had a spectacular reverse layup with the shot-clock expiring; Ernest Ross took flight for a vicious slam after a turnover in transition.

The Wolfpack were able to blow by Tech's slower guards and get to the rim. They also exploited matchup advantages, like getting the 6'7 Jerrico Hellems isolated against the helplessly undersized Storm Murphy. NC State plays an iso-heavy brand of basketball, which can be hard to watch when the shots aren't falling but is incredibly difficult to defend when they are, and probably explains their propensity for hot-and-cold streaks: this game saw runs of 17-0, 18-2, and 8-0 to close it out.

Seabron had a huge impact, notching a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He finishes so well inside, and as much as I've criticized Alleyne, sometimes good offense beats good defense. I'm more frustrated by the inability of Tech's guards to break down defenders off the dribble, particularly when the opposition does it on a nightly basis.

Missed Opportunities

While NC State can put up points, they've been held back by their atrocious defense, which ranks 202nd on KenPom, second-worst among Power Five programs. They like to double in the low post, and while the Hokies were able to get some open looks from three off drive-and-kicks, they didn't take full advantage of the Wolfpack's lousy D, with a combination of subpar shooting and careless turnovers. I didn't see the offensive creativity that was on display against St. Bonaventure and Duke; many of Tech's points came from Aluma in one-on-one matchups, which is perfectly fine, but there was too much standing around and not enough cutting and screening action. Additionally, hardly anyone made an attempt to drive to the basket when the threes weren't going down.

Young yells out "motion" on this play, to no avail. Perhaps if he had more practice time with his players to get on the same page and develop a game plan tailored to his opponent, the outcome may have been different.

If there was any place I saw rust from the COVID break, it was in Justyn Mutts. The redshirt senior had an uncharacteristically poor game, missing several close layups and committing six turnovers, including several poorly-timed entry passes. Like Murphy earlier in the year, it seems that Mutts' confidence has diminished. He did not shoot an open three after N'Guessan passed out of a double-team in the post; he later passed out of a post-up opportunity multiple times in a single possession. Mutts does so many valuable things for this team (specifically passing and rebounding), but his indecision on offense has become a liability.

Elsewhere, Aluma has been prone to mental lapses on defense for much of the year, and this game was no exception. On the first possession of the game, he lost track of the cutting Hellems (#4), giving up an easy two. On the very next sequence, he switches the pick-and-roll with Alleyne and gets flat-footed, letting Seabron (#1) run straight to the hoop.

With less than four minutes remaining in the game, Aluma again lets Hellems slide right past him following a three-point attempt, and was boxed out as Hellems was able to tip the ball to Ebenezer Dowuona (#21), who scored his only points of the night on the putback. The Wolfpack were constantly a step quicker.

Those mental miscues are correctable, but Virginia Tech lost yet another game this season in which they got out-athleted and simply out-worked. Another eight-day break looms ahead before a Jan. 12 matchup on the road against Virginia. The Cavaliers are not the ideal team against whom to break out of a shooting slump.

Sum of the Parts

If his postgame press conference is any indication, Young has full confidence in Alleyne to break out of his slump; he will have to if Virginia Tech wants any chance of success going forward.

"If it was an easy answer," Young said of Alleyne's shooting problems. "I'd have already done it. We all know what a fine basketball player he is. He works as hard as anybody I've ever had. You know we got his first one down opposite NC State's bench in the first half and looked great doing it. He's practiced very well. He was not paused, was great. We're gonna hang in there with that kid. He's got to play well for us. He knows that. We all know that, and I know that he'll pop out of it here very, very quickly."

Unfortunately, the current iteration of the Hokies look like a group where the whole is less than the sum of their parts. Compare this team to last year: there is no Wabissa Bede, a lockdown defender. There is no Jalen Cone, who can knock down a three from anywhere in the front court. And there is no Tyrece Radford, a physical force who can score from close range almost at will. All these players had flaws, but it is difficult to replace their production in the course of a single offseason. While Alleyne is an important player because he can score in a variety of ways, the ripple effect of these absences is that he is drawing more attention from the opposing team's best defenders, and thus far he has not responded.

This was a bad loss. NC State ranks outside the top 100 in both KenPom and the NET, and because the game was played at home, Tech now has a Quadrant 3 loss to their name. The Hokies have somehow managed to hold at No. 29 in KenPom, and with their poor record in close games are now the 14th unluckiest team in America. I believe in analytics, but I also believe in "manalytics", and you would be hard-pressed to find many teams that thrive with a starting guard and wing combo that struggle to create for themselves. While the efficiency metrics will always be favorable to a team that can hang around in every game, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and the Hokies are rapidly running out of time to right the ship.

Comments

Great analysis! Tech is limited by its roster for options. Someone to take the ball on the dribble to the hoop could open up the offense

If we see another backwards bounce pass from Storm at the basket he is going to get lynched by the crowd. There was a lot of grumbling as we walked to the exit about his play. He only finished at the basket on his last two plays. He was dishing with BAD passes a lot during the game and inviting the pack to steal the ball. He needs to finish at the basket half the time to keep those passes open.

We had a lot of sloppy passes and that could be rust. When Mutts passes, it is a fastball pass.

On a lot of our offensive sets Mutts was the only one by the basket with Aluma outside the arc with the others. I would have liked to see both of them inside a little more. When Aluma was outside, Mutts was immediately double teamed when passed the ball.

This is likely by design for spacing reasons. Aluma is capable of shooting the 3 so defenses have to respect him. Pulling him out clears the lane some, which allows for the drives, kicks and movement that makes up a lot of our offense. Putting Aluma and Mutts inside the foul line or lower would clog things up. Defenders could stay home and basically just watch us dribble around the perimeter without ever getting any kind real movement or attack. The problem I saw, at least in the last game, was when the post player (Mutts or Aluma) was doubled, we were slow to react. The pass came out and went to the right man, but then we either weren't ready to shoot on the catch, or drive, or whatever else. We caught the ball, hesitated for a brief second to survey the options, and then made a decision. But that pause allowed NC State to recover its defense. And on top of that, as you mentioned, plenty of those passes were sloppy. Mutts was unusually careless with the ball last game.

Agreed, we had a lot of passes to the perimeter guy that was open, who paused, and then wasn't open when they went to shoot.

As always Hunters shots when they go in are a things of beauty. He seems our best player to catch and immediately release/shoot.

Alleyne being cold has really hurt.

I hope the rust falls off and next game they are back to winning basketball.

If we see another backwards bounce pass from Storm at the basket he is going to get lynched by the crowd.

What, you mean to tell me the Ben Simmons approach to offense isn't advisable in the current era of basketball?

This is my school
This is home

Another great writeup!

Bottom line, we have some talent, but not nearly enough. We aren't terribly athletic. Combine those two things and we simply must play perfect as a unit in order to be good. CMY really has his work cut out for him, and not just for the rest of this season.

Is coronavirus over yet?

Unfortunately accurate. I think we will win some exciting games where we play really good basketball, but we should enjoy it during the season, because it is not consistent enough for there for much tournament play to watch. Maybe three games between the ACC and the NIT.

Sometimes we live no particular way but our own

It's going to be a rough year because we simply don't have the scorers we need. We lost 20ppg when Radford and Cone left and haven't had anyone step up to replace that production other than what Murphy contributes. The team also lacks a player who can get the ball on the wing and consistently create their own shot. Radford was great at getting to the basket. Who on the roster can do that now?

Unfortunately it seems like it will get worse before it gets better. Next year doesn't look promising either with Aluma and Mutts leaving an already thin roster, although we do have Rice coming in. I'm hoping Pedulla and Maddox can make big leaps in the next year.

It'll depend on how hard we hit the Portal. The recruits we have coming in are pretty good and should getting ample playing time. Not a given because I feel like CMY is the type of coach that isn't going to play freshmen much regardless but he really doesn't have much of a choice next year. But back the portal, we can't strike out there again if the team is gonna have tournament goals. We'll need a couple of players that are developed and ready to go. I'm not talking good potential guys who had bad fits elsewhere and maybe it could work here guys, I mean guys that you can give 20+ minutes right away and get production

Mike Jones was hired to be a big time recruiter. You will start to see some guys in here that can compete at the top of the ACC

We hopefully will be pushing early playing time to some top recruits, maybe tech can turn the corner with talent with next years class. I am praying so, because our older talent is drained

Yeah, I agree with that. It sucks to have to rely on the portal, but in this case it's our best option. We definitely need a good big (doesn't everyone lol) who can get at least 10 & 10 each game and a guard who can create his own shot and get 10+ points each game. Hopefully Mike Jones can help us pull in some big talent, both from the portal and high schools.

glad its only year -1 for young.

"Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I am not yet completely sure about the universe.” -Einstein

Just a bit of a note - State generally has never doubled the post with Keatts as coach. This is the first game I've seen them actually double the post player. It worked because Mutts and Aluma became more passive instead of looking for their shot.

Also, a game like this is where losing a guy like Radford shows. Is there anyone on this team that can consistently drive into the paint and get their own shot? That's an ingredient this Hokie team is missing.

Thanks for filling me in. They just did it so much I figured it was a staple of that defense. Aluma could have done a better job of passing out of those double-teams.

VT '21

Alleyne is the key for me. He's in a funk and people are daring him to shoot. Once he can start making them guard him, he will open up Cattoor and others for open shots. It's how we started the year.

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

We need to recruit some ACC athletes. Even NC State (who sucks by the way) had such an advantage on the perimeter against our smaller, less athletic guys. Our team is built like a mid-major team. And no that doesn't mean we need a bunch of 7 footers like everyone always seems to think. Way more important than that it means we need longer, more athletic guards who can create their own shot. Or at least a Radford type who plays much bigger than he is.

I posted some of this in the gamethread but the staff has really disappointed us with:
- Underwhelming recruiting (ex. #90 nationally for 2021) - especially not bringing in ACC level athletes
- Our two best MY-era recruits transferring (Bamisile & Cone)
- Questionable player development (Alleyne regressing and Ojiako playing less and less - it's their 3rd year!)
- Our best MY-era player being a Buzz leftover (Radford)

Let's just say that a lot of these year 3 warning signs are familiar to Hokies fans...

Mike Young & co. need to recruit ACC level athletes asap. It won't help the next couple years, but it's needed for the long term. We need guys who can create their own shot. All that ball movement is great and all but it's really hard to outcoach the physical tools of high major athletes.

Besides recruiting, I really need to see some growth and player development over the next season and a half to have faith in the program moving forward. I'm expecting us to be even worse next year, barring a couple star level transfers, which seems unlikely.

Pedulla has looked okay in his limited minutes. Maddox has impressed.

I think Big John has Covid still. He wasn't at the game.

I thought I saw Ojiako on the bench but i could be mis-remembering.

Pedulla and Maddox have potential, hopefully they develop well. Maddox is a lights out shooter but not sure if he can create his own shot. Same question for Pedulla. If those two become starters down the road, we'll need to start a bigger and more athletic wing with them IMO.

I've seen pedulla drive the basket and Maddox create his own shot more than I've seen other starters do it though!

I agree with this. Maddox can be a Radford driver/slasher type. As good as Radford? Maybe, maybe not. Time will tell. IMO Pedulla > Murphy. Just needs more minutes and more experience.

I seldom speak to loluva grads, but when I do, I tell them I want large fries.

I definitely don't see Maddox as a Radford type. Maddox reminds me of Justin Bibbs. Maybe shades of Ahmed Hill too. More of a shooter, but can put the ball on the floor. Radford is the inverse, a driver who can shoot a little

I thought Basimile appeared the best driver of the class last year, but we let him get away. No idea how he is doing elsewhere.

Go Hokies!!

He's averaging 29mpg for GWU
averaging 13 ppg on 43% shooting (28% from 3) and 6.4 rpg

note: GWU is 4-8 and has a team SRS of -2.78 (264/358) vs VT's 14.44 (30/358)

Ojiako was on the bench but obviously did not play. I would not be surprised if he recently had COVID and just returned to practice the day before.

VT '21

Lunardi currently has VT as the last team in the field of 68

Hard to believe the tournament is still in play with how we have played. We have zero Q1 wins (and likely very few Q1 games remaining) and a Q3 loss.

But i guess there's lots of similarly bad teams for some reason. First team out is Memphis, despite beating us.

I've reset my expectations for this season. I was hopeful the would get to get to 20+ wins, but now it's looking like a .500 record may be the best case unless something changes quickly

This is a team without a superstar. There is no one who can put the team on his back and carry them to a win. We need everyone to contribute; and when we get that, we are a very good team. If any player has an off day, CMY has been reluctant to take away minutes and give a bench player a chance. There has been a lot of discussion on this board about whether Maddox and Pedulla should see more playing time. I think we are very close to a turning point. If Murphy and Alleyn continue to play the way they have and CMY does not have a better option, we are not going dancing this year.

Doesn't matter if it's cake or pie as long as it's chocolate.