On the Bubble

With a renewed emphasis on defense, Virginia tech finds themselves on the brink of the NCAA tournament.

[Virginia Tech Athletics]

There is an oft-repeated phrase that every college basketball fan instinctively knows when the calendar turns to March.

Expect the unexpected.

With wins in eight of their last nine games, the Virginia Tech Hokies are peaking at the right time. On Saturday in Coral Gables, Tech improbably stormed back to snatch a 71-70 win against Miami after trailing by eight points with two minutes remaining. Darius Maddox hit a go-ahead three-pointer off a stolen inbounds pass with 12 seconds left, and the Hokies' defense stood tall on the final possession. Quite a way to earn your first Quadrant I victory of the year.

Succeeding that win was a 75-43 drubbing of Louisville, the program's first victory over the Cardinals in 31 years. After ascending to No. 28 in KenPom and No. 37 in the NET, the Hokies are in prime position to put themselves in prime position to make the NCAA Tournament. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi currently has Tech in the "Next Four Out", so they will need to beat out at least six teams between now and Selection Sunday.

The Miami game felt like the first time all year that Tech stole a win. They needed three missed free throws and a pair of Miami turnovers off inbounds plays just to win by a single point. The Canes won the first matchup on Charlie Moore's halfcourt buzzerbeater, so things evened out in the end. Although Tech didn't hit much from outside against the Canes, they were highly effective inside, getting a game-high 18 points from Keve Aluma and much-needed dribble penetration from point guard Sean Pedulla. Good passing led to easy looks at the rim, and it culminated with one of the best interior scoring games we have seen in a very long time.

Paint Production

Virginia Tech converted 22-of-27 (82%) two-point FGA against Miami. This was the 11th highest 2P% in a Division I game this season, and the highest against a major-conference team in two years.

It helped that the Hokies were tenacious on the offensive glass.

After Aluma (#22) misses a jump hook, Justyn Mutts (#25) sets the ball back to Nahiem Alleyne (#4) for a reset. Hunter Cattoor (#0) drives and then dishes to Mutts, who draws two Miami defenders. The crafty forward makes an underhand pass splitting the defenders, and Aluma was the beneficiary, finishing with a slam.

Mutts has been a Jekyll and Hyde-type character for me. His turnover rate continues to skyrocket at the same time that he leads the team in assists. He's like a quarterback that throws a lot of interceptions but also makes incredible throws through tight windows that few others can make. I said in an earlier piece that he needs to learn how to pass out of double-teams, and I believe he's doing a better job of that.

Mutts receives the ball on the low block and posts up 6'7 Jordan Miller (#11). Anthony Walker (#1) comes over to double, although in this situation he does Mutts a favor by only half-way committing, giving him a window (albeit a fairly small one) to find a cutting Aluma for the jam. Virginia Tech had six dunks against the Canes, their most in a conference game this year. It was an abnormally great shooting night, but the overall quality of their looks was a byproduct of good passing.

Defensive Mindset

Virginia Tech is 5-1 over their past six games despite shooting a putrid 29% from three. The reason is their defense: since Feb. 7th, the Hokies rank 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency and just 95th in offensive efficiency, according to Bart Torvik. This is a complete reversal of the trend we had seen for most of the season: the Hokies, normally an offensive-minded team, have now focused on getting stops on the defensive end. For a team that has been reliant on the longball, this is a sign of considerable growth.

Although three-point shooting can ebb and flow throughout a season, it's almost inexplicable that a team as good at shooting as Tech would endure a stretch this cold from behind the arc. I have a working theory that the reason for the decline in shooting is because Tech is putting more emphasis on defense during practice.

In the copious amount of time I spend watching and studying basketball, one thing I have observed is that offense-defense splits tend to be a zero-sum game, meaning that if you put more focus into one side of the ball, it will usually affect the other side in equal amounts. There are some teams that play great defense but have a terrible offense, or vice versa, but the aggregate of their body of work is going to be reflective of their overall talent level and coaching, irrespective of how balanced they are. Obviously, teams can improve throughout the course of the season as players grow and develop chemistry with each other. But in general, the product that you put on the court is the result of what you emphasize in practice.

An example: when the Hokies were climbing up the national ranks in 3P% after that white-hot stretch in January, I couldn't help but pay attention to South Dakota State, who has led the country in three-point shooting for most of the year and now has the 13th best offense per KenPom. The Jackrabbits just don't miss from downtown: in their last six games, they've had shooting splits of 45%, 55%, and 57% (!!), never once dipping below 40%. If the season were to end today, South Dakota State would have the second-best team 3P% in the last 20 years. But their defense? Not so hot. They rank 215th in AdjD, after having recently given up 102 points to Oral Roberts. Still, winning programs find ways to maximize their talent, and South Dakota State has done that with elite shooting. As a result, they just wrapped up their fifth straight regular season Summit League championship.

Now back to the Hokies. Virginia Tech's defense has ascended to 67th in KenPom after the season nadir of 113th back in January. They limited Georgia Tech to 58 points on Wednesday, and were able to contain Miami's playmakers as well as they could, holding the Canes to below their season-average in offensive efficiency. (They would have graded out even better were it not for the turnovers on offense, as Miami scored 26 points off 17 Tech miscues.)

The Canes have a trio of talented guards in Moore, Kameron McGusty, and Isaiah Wong who can all score off the bounce and hit contested shots. They did this in spades against Virginia Tech, but down the stretch, the Hokies' defense was able to get stops when they needed to.

The Hokies execute a soft hedge on the ball screens with Moore (#3), meaning that the second defender (in this case, Aluma) will slide laterally to prevent a drive. This allows Cattoor to fight over the screen and recover, playing tenacious on-ball defense against the Canes' talented point guard. I think Miami would have been better off running a pick-and-pop with Sam Waardenburg (#21), because it would've left an unguarded man on the perimeter, but perhaps Tech's coaches saw something that told them it would be unlikely. Nonetheless, Moore has no passing lane to Waardenburg, and Cattoor manages to poke the ball away into the corner before drawing a player control foul as Moore extends his elbow into Cattoor's chest.

A few possessions later, Tech deployed a hard hedge (ahem: a really hard hedge) on a dribble handoff to Moore (#3), forcing him to nearly halfcourt and disrupting the timing of the possession. Wong (#2) showed off his speed on his drive to the rim, but Mutts (#25) came over to help, allowing Aluma (#22) to contest from behind. Wong could have made a wraparound pass to Miller (#11) if he didn't slip, but it's not like he had much wiggle room anyway.

With a renewed focus on defense, Virginia Tech has put themselves in a much better position to close out games against quality competition.

Bubble Buddies

Since 2016, there have been five postseason-eligible teams that finished top 30 in the pre-tournament KenPom rankings that did not go dancing: St. Mary's in 2016 and 2018, Penn State in 2018, Clemson in 2019, and Texas in 2019.

St. Mary's, by virtue of playing in a non-power conference, probably didn't get the benefit of the doubt due to their subpar strength of schedule. Texas just had too many losses (16, including five in their last six games), as did Clemson, who was also beset by only having one great win (it was Virginia Tech, incidentally). Penn State is the best comparison to the '22 Hokies: they were 21-13 and 9-9 in a non-elite Big Ten. They finished 296th in luck and had two marquee wins, both against Ohio State.

Lucas Harkins explained why Virginia Tech is on the outside looking in.

The Hokies have good efficiency metrics, but the games have to count for something. A 1-5 record in Quadrant I games certainly isn't appetizing to the committee, whether fans like it or not. Additionally, the 25-30 range on KenPom is where teams start getting snubbed, so it's hard to say the Hokies have a huge advantage being ranked where they are.

Saturday's game against Clemson is a must-win. So too is the second round of the ACC Tournament. After that, opportunities abound for a Quadrant I victory, with Notre Dame, Wake Forest, and North Carolina all in the mix. Based on the precedent that has been set, I have a hard time seeing Tech slipping on their Cinderella shoes unless they make a deep conference tournament run, the odds of which are little more than a coin flip.

Then again, you know the old saying about March.

Comments

Here's hoping we play into an NCAA invite!

LET'S GO....

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

HOKIES!

Agreed, they just have to keep winning.

Surprising, even with the ACC down this year, that an ACC team with a winning conference record wouldn't make the big dance. Can't have happened many times.

Seth Greenberg is on the line.....

The 2008, 2010 and 2011 teams all had winning conference records.

...only to us.

It's also only relatively recently where the unbalanced schedule started, and you could have a good record while playing comparatively few good teams.

Up to net 33 now...just keep winning baby

Our resume is much better than St. Johns, Iowa State, and whomever finishes 3rd in the joke West Coast Conference. Lundari has all 3 in right now. Joke

3 WCC teams getting in would be such a joke barring some weird tournament shenanigans out there.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ #YNWA

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74

Cool article and all but the 'on the bubble' thing is moot. We're winning the conference tournament and taking that autobid

(add if applicable) /s

If you think we are beating Duke you have forgotten it will be nigh in-fucking possible to beat the ACC refs who will be in its Coach K's last tourney mode they wont let anyone upset them if they can have their way.

Directions from Blacksburg to whoville, go north till you smell it then go east until you step in it

Refs can't block 3s

(add if applicable) /s

TV Teddy: And I took that personally

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74

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

LMAO!!! That's the funniest thing I've seen in a while! Thanks.

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

I hate how accurate this comment is.

Cattoor 0 blocked 3s from the refs.

(add if applicable) /s

I've always said, you gotta beat Duke by 10 to beat em by 1. This tourney will be more like 20 to win by 2.

"That's it guys. Let's get out of here. That cold drink's waitin' on us, let's go." - Mike Young after win no. 300.

So we really beat them by 150 to win by 15? We are fucking awesome!!!!

This comment didn't age well.

If you're not sure if my comment warrants a "/s", it probably does.

You're welcome FAM

(add if applicable) /s

Am I the only one who wouldnt be that dissapointed with an NIT invite? More potential home games in a bracket we could go further in wouldnt be that bad. Considering how poorly we started the year in conference I am incredibly pleased they've pulled it together and made a nice run of it. NCAA would be nice but we've had better teams and gotten shafted in the past and wouldnt be surprised if we get the short end of the stick simply due to our really bad start to the year.

Directions from Blacksburg to whoville, go north till you smell it then go east until you step in it

I'm certainly not going to be disappointed with a high seed NIT bid after the way the conference schedule started. That said I would much much rather be a low seed in the NCAA tournament.

(add if applicable) /s

It will be really hard to make the tournament. As pointed out in the article, we need to win @Clemson and then win in the first round of the ACCT (that might be against Clemson again, but several possible teams). We're still not a tourney team with those two wins, unless the committee decides to value analytics way more this year than in prior years.

We also need to win in the quarterfinals of the ACCT against, most likely, Notre Dame. Sadly, Notre Dame just lost and fell to #52 (not a Q1 game anymore...)

So we also might need to win in the semifinals of the ACCT against possibly UNC.

The more I think about it, the more I think we need to make the championship game of the ACCT to go dancing (and win @Clemson). If we make the semis, it's possible.

All that said, I hate bracketology. VCU leapfrogged VT yesterday after beating St. Bonaventure by >20 points. On the same day, VT beat Louisville by >30 points. Not to mention, VT beat St. Bonaventure by almost 40 earlier this year. Makes no sense to move VCU over VT for a less impressive win than ours against the same team.

The A10 is always so overrated/overvalued. Always. Its a joke.

That VCU run and that GMU run still lives in the hearts and souls of the committee. Insane how that was so long ago and yet it still pays dividends in the present.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ #YNWA

Yep- one year they got 6 teams in- total joke- they games the system by playing high RPI other mid majors. Joke. Put Fordham in the ACC and see how good they are.

Those runs were when they were in the CAA. There's little chance there's any carry over for those runs by the committee.

Depends upon which A10 you are talking about. Some are devastating.

Recovering scientist working in business consulting

Now that's a gun win a plane built around it!

brrrrrrrrrrr

My mother's cousin was an A-10 pilot in the Gulf War and knows its effectiveness.

He is absolutely apoplectic and impatient watching that slow moving, undefended 40 mile long Russian convoy. He's in his late 60s now and is begging to "get in [his] old bird, with a full load-out, and go."

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74

Yes, that the line of targets even exists is difficult to understand.

This is going to be great for the ACC.

Ukraine would love to have some of those about now.

This sub-thread was locked by a moderator.

This broken down old helicopter pilot wouldn't mind launching a few Hellfires at those T-72's and BMP's either. I better shut up before my disgust at the sufferings perpetrated by evil men gets me going political.

VTCC '86 Delta Company, Hokie in Peru, Former Naval Aviator, Former FBISA, Forever married to my VT87 girl. Go VT!

This sub-thread was locked by a moderator.

Resume is important. But so is the timing of that resume. Having your Q1 win(s) and getting hot at the end of the season make a difference in selection.

I think it used to, the committee doesn't officially look at record in your last 10 games anymore. I could still see them using it to differentiate between two very close teams though.

I see the loss to Memphis being the nail in the coffin with them on the bubble as well that loss will be something the committee looks at when comparing resumes to me.

Directions from Blacksburg to whoville, go north till you smell it then go east until you step in it

If you do the general win by win analysis of our resume, it ain't very good. I honestly think Lunardi is weighting the metrics pretty heavily, and we're really closer to being the 9th or 10th team out as it stands. A win against Clemson and a trip to the finals puts us in imo, semis maybe

This turned out to be a decent strategy.

What about cutting your son's hair with a flowbee?

I think if we win saturday and win our first game in the tournament (against whoever), I will feel somewhat confident we will be in... if we win 2 games in ACC tourney, I think it will be close to a lock... but who knows... just win baby

Bleeding burnt orange and chicago maroon

Disagree. Almost no brackets have us in right now. 2 wins against bad teams won't move the needle to hurdle ~4 teams (+ any bid stealers). I think we need to beat Notre Dame (especially if they stay Q1) to reach the semis to have a real shot. I won't feel too great unless we reach the final of the ACCT tbh.

I am also banking on other bubble teams losing too... they aren't all going to rip off 2-3 straight wins

Bleeding burnt orange and chicago maroon

I lean more towards your sentiment than lowkeys but the best part is we won't know until we know! All speculation. Every year there's teams that made me go "wtf how did they get in over x?" In theory if we keep winning and some of the teams on the bubble ahead of us lose, we don't necessarily have to move the needle with wins as much as being the last winner standing.

Definitely need the win over Clemson and a run in the ACC tournament.

First things first. Beat Clemson.

So just looked for the first time all season, and kenpom has us at 27th and 2nd in the ACC.

If this is a year the commitee relies on the advanced numbers, we are in

According the Lunardi, we stole a bubble spot!!!!!

Technically, Duke stole the bubble spot.

If you're not sure if my comment warrants a "/s", it probably does.

Joe who?

What's a bubble?

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74

Something to be avoided by winning the ACC tournament..

WHO NEEDS THE BUBBLE AND WHO NEEDS THE FIRST FOUR 🦃🦃🦃🦃

Yes,that's the Hokie Bird riding a camel. Why'd you ask?

FUCK THE BUBBLE

Danny is always open

Pity those poor schools lingering on the bubble. Hokies going dancin'. Hell yeah, FAM.

Unrelated: Lunardi gets a lot of hate for keeping us on the fringe for so long, but the guy over at CBS didn't even have us on the radar all the way until we won last night.

Also has us as a 12-seed in his latest bracket - below the first four at-large teams. No idea what he's smoking...

Not looking good for Wake and is Miami not gonna get in either?

How the hell did Michigan get in as 11?!?!

They were acc champs I think

And won 13 of their last 15

Everyone loves the Big 10. Any loss is excusable and any win is a quality win with good odds of being a Q1 win.

Oooooof Virginia is unseeded playing at Mississippi State in the first round of the NIT

Hate to see it

This is my school
This is home

VT '10--US Citizen; (804) Virginian By Birth; (210) Texan By the Grace of God.

Rick Monday... You Made a Great Play...

I also root for: The Keydets, TexAggies, NY Giants, NY Rangers, and Braves.

I'll bet Lunardi still has us as one of the first four out.

If you're not sure if my comment warrants a "/s", it probably does.

No, but he did refer to us stealing a bid from a deserving bubble team.

Lunardi needs a wake up call:

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