All Good Things Come to an End

Virginia Tech was physically outmatched by Texas, placing a sorrowful end on an otherwise unforgettable season.

[Virginia Tech Athletics]

All good things come to an end.

Virginia Tech learned that lesson the hard way, falling in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament to Texas 81-73 on Friday afternoon. Thanks to uncharacteristically hot shooting and an overtly physical defense that stymied the Hokies' perimeter shooting, the Longhorns tasted victory in the Big Dance for the first time in eight years, while Tech was sent home packing.

It has been a long time since the Hokies were outplayed in nearly every facet of the game. They were out rebounded offensively 9-4, committed four more turnovers than the Horns, and made six fewer three-pointers. A Virginia Tech team that was scorching hot fresh off their ACC championship suddenly couldn't buy a bucket. In a single-elimination tournament, one fluky performance can end a season. The Hokies found themselves on the wrong end of a coin flip.

Shots Were Falling

Texas picked a very good day to have one of their best three-point shooting outputs of the season, hitting 10-of-19 (53%) from downtown. Relative to the opponent, this may have been the Longhorns' best offensive game of the season.

The tweet from ShotQuality displays the "expected" net points per possession for every first-round matchup. It confirmed my suspicions: Texas played a little bit better, but not that much better. If you were to play this game ten times, the Horns might win six, but not by this much on average. Everything just went in for Texas. Such is basketball.

That said, Virginia Tech needed to play a very good game in order to win because they had less margin for error. Much credit should be given to Texas head coach Chris Beard for using the extra preparation-time to attack the Hokies at their weakest points. Unfortunately, Darius Maddox was a huge weak point on defense.

Texas runs a wide pindown for Andrew Jones (#1), who had the hot hand in this game with 21 points and five three-pointers. Maddox loses track of Jones for just a split second, allowing him to cut to the wing as he got a strong screen from forward Dylan Disu (#4). This provided Jones plenty of space to get off an open three, which he drains.

Of course, defense is a group effort, and without knowing what any assignments are I can't say with certainty who is at fault on every play. But when Texas ran their screening action (especially the pindowns), Maddox seemed to be in close proximity.

Fast forward to this second half possession. Ball handler Marcus Carr (#2) runs the pick-and-roll as Aluma executes a soft hedge. Christian Bishop (#32) rolls to the rim and finds himself matched up on Maddox under the basket which was obviously a huge mismatch. Aluma plays it well by trapping and showing high hands but the second he recovers, Carr now has an open passing lane to Bishop, who backs down the undersized guard for the layup.

The Longhorns did a very good job of exploiting Virginia Tech's soft hedges throughout the game.

They run another pick-and-roll here, and Aluma does the best he can to deflect the pass from Carr (#2) to the rolling Disu (#4). But he can't do so, and Disu gets his own rebound after a missed layup and puts it back in. I think Aluma could have been more aggressive in going for the rebound, but once he left his feet he was out of position anyway. This was a perfectly timed pass and well executed by Texas.

Offensively, Virginia Tech really struggled to get open looks. While research suggests defenses have little control over three-point percentage, they absolutely have control over three-point attempts. The Longhorns took away the Hokies' perimeter shooting almost entirely, as Tech attempted a season-low 12 shots from three (and several of those attempts were in garbage time).

I do not recall any open three-point looks for Hunter Cattoor off of pindowns at the top of the circle (otherwise known as zoom actions, which is a staple of the Mike Young offense). These plays worked numerous times against Duke, and have throughout the course of the year. Texas used their length and physicality to alter much of what Tech wanted to run, in addition to displaying excellent closeout speed when there were shooters on the perimeter.

Lessons Learned

As I get older, I try to learn from what I've seen in the world of sports. I've always considered myself an observational person, and I think there is a lot to be gained by listening to players and coaches and drawing from past experiences. Here is what the past season of Virginia Tech basketball has taught me.

1) Never overreact to bad luck. When the Hokies were 2-7 in the ACC, it would have been incredibly easy to lose hope. Here was a team that was predicted to finish in the top half of their conference floundering towards the bottom. I recall having internet arguments with people who said that Young exhibited poor coaching after his team lost on a halfcourt buzzerbeater. I read from those who said that Tech hired a middling .500 coach who should've stayed at Wofford, that Nahiem Alleyne should be recruited out of the program, that the Hokies would be lucky to win four ACC games. I never believed in these things, but I certainly had my doubts as to the direction of the program in the dark days of January. Anyone who was paying attention could see this team was better than what they showed. The Hokies had talent, and the underlying metrics validated that. It just took awhile for them to gel. Which leads me to...

2) Teams can always improve throughout the course of the year. This one is fairly obvious but also hard to see in the moment. As a player, more reps always make you better. Players and coaches learn and grow from their mistakes. In nearly every press conference, when asked about the key to his team's turnaround, Young said something to this effect: he just stopped coaching. He let his players go out and make plays. Saint Peter's was a .500 team in the MAAC one month ago; they will play for an Elite Eight bid on Friday. Texas A&M lost eight straight conference games; they rallied to make the SEC Championship game. And Virginia Tech was a laughing stock in January. Now, they are the ACC champions.

3) There are some things numbers can't measure. I don't mean to turn this into a spiel about how "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." Recruiting rankings matter and always will. They define who the best programs are, and help those programs sustain greatness. But every so often there comes along a special person who has an ability to find value where others do not, and Mike Young is one of those people. The culture that he has instilled β€” exhibited in the resiliency and fortitude of his players β€” allowed Virginia Tech to rise from their darkest moment to their finest. In all the time I have spent studying recruiting rankings I truly believe that there is no better head coach at maximizing talent than Young. Can Tech's roster be improved? Certainly. And based on the incoming recruiting class, I think it will be. But Hokie fans should feel confident knowing they have a head coach who will always put a good product on the court.

Looking Ahead

There are a couple things I think Virginia Tech needs in order to win these types of games going forward.

The first is an increased level of physicality. To my eye, Texas' players were stronger and that helped them stop drives to the basket, contest shots, and fight through screens. These are the types of little things that win in March. I've harped a lot on length and athleticism β€” that will come in time with better recruiting. For now, Tech should focus on building up their players to be more physically ready to win these types of dog fights. Sometimes the three-pointers will be there and sometimes they won't, but physical play should always be a constant. Hopefully Young now has a better understanding of the types of players he needs to win in the Big Dance and can adjust his recruiting strategy accordingly.

The second is individual shot creation. Fundamentally, you need players who can hit a jump shot right in a defender's face. (Darius Maddox's game-winner against Clemson is the perfect example.) Set plays are fine, but they are difficult to execute in crunch time especially when the coach on the opposing bench knows exactly what you are trying to run and has high-caliber athletes to disrupt the timing of said play. When you look back at highlights from past years, those "in-your-face" type of shots are the defining highlight of March Madness. As a smart coach once said, big-time moments are about players, not plays.

When Virginia Tech gets those players, the sky is the limit.

Comments

I read from those who said that Tech hired a middling .500 coach who should've stayed at Wofford, that Nahiem Alleyne should be recruited out of the program, that the Hokies would be lucky to win four ACC games.

We did win four ACC games. In the ACC Tournament.

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

and it took some luck in that Clemson game so that statement holds

We did have a 14 point lead when the refs started changing the way they made calls. We should've run them out of the gym in those last minutes.

We put the K in Kwality

It is entirely possible we have 3 four star players on the roster next season. The last time we had that, we were a basket from the elite 8.

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

Over the course of the season I kept saying that sometimes the whole is sometimes less than the sum of the parts. In the regular season, this was very much true with the team this year, but they finally found their groove in the ACC Tournament. We will miss Storm next year, and I assume Aluma will be going pro which will hurt as well. But we have a lot of quality ready to play next year, and you have to figure we'll be in the market for at least one transfer. In basketball, our better days are still ahead, and we are just now entering a very exciting era for the program.

Texas exposed our lack of physicality down low, and if we can shore that up in future years while still playing the same style we do now, as you said, the sky is the limit on how far we can go. The Cassell renovations should be starting up in a year or so, and now we also have an ACC title to dangle in front of recruits on the trail. Things are looking up, that's for sure.

At the end of the day, we hung a Champions banner in Cassell this season. Any time you can do that, you can hold your head high in the offseason.

This is my school
This is home

100% agree. Banners hang forever, as they say.

VT '21

Well said. I liked the analogy in another thread about this feeling like 1995 was for the football team. There's a lot of reasons to look forward to the future of the program.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Jet Sweep

That banner photo by Umansky is moneyyyyy

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

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 have confidence in CMY. I have confidence in our players working hard for him. Sometimes the ball bounces in, and sometimes it bounces out. We got the luck during the ACC Tourney. It didn't fall against Texas.

There is always next year. We get to start the season by hanging a banner. They can never take that away from us.

I was amazed to watch those guys win the ACCT, Top 10 moment of my life. Looking forward, CMY needs to find every way possible to keep Maddox on the roster even if it means making some tough PT decisions.

I never thought I'd ever see VT win an ACC Tourney. Winning back-to-back-to-back games against blueblood basketball teams and historical powerhouses like UNC, Duke, Syracuse, Louisville, etc. seemed impossible. Until this tournament, I honestly thought UVA football winning the ACC was more likely than VT basketball winning the ACC (and the chances of either happening were astronomical). Very happy to be proven wrong. Excited to see where this program goes.

Twitter me

Virginia Tech was a laughing stock in January. Now, they are the ACC champions

Virginia Tech to rise from their darkest moment to their finest

This year was "The Ecstasy of Gold": (enjoy link below)

https://youtu.be/ubVc2MQwMkg?t=47

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

This was such a rollercoaster of a season. A year ago my expectations for this season was to win the ACC, make the dance, and go to an Elite 8. After the transfer portal happened I tapered my expectations to: contending for the ACC, making the dance, and anything else is gravy. In early January I was just hoping to sneak into the NIT. Watching the good guys climb out of that hole and win the ACC and make the dance was amazing to watch.

I found TKP after two rails from TOTS then walking back to my apartment and re-watching the 2012 Sugar Bowl. I woke up the next day with this username.

Thank you for the great article.
It validated some of my thoughts watching us play/lose to texas.

We play hard and Coach has a great culture, but it felt like (and I love this team) that we were playing catch up. Strange to say as the ACC Champs, but I think roster differences showed and we HAD to be physically, emotionally drained after the ACC run.

Still proud and excited for the future.

If UT shoots their season average on 3s Tech probably wins. They shot over 52%. If they shot 30% that is 9 fewer points. Just saying it was much closer than you might think.

#Let's Go - Hokies

Virginia Tech Hokies 2022 ACC Tournament Champions

Yep, still feels good

And, when they played those games, that was the ONLY way VT was even going to get into the tournament.

Not that it was a conscious trade-off, but if it had been, I'd do it again.

With the way UNC and Duke have played in the NCAA tourney, I am even more impressed (and surprised) we were able to beat them on back to back nights.

As other people have said, we are a bear to prepare for with less than 3 days.

But for everybody who mocked the ACC as weak. We had 3 in the elite 8, and 2 in the final four, and we will play for the National Championship.

I want Duke to win. It will be a great trivia question as to who was the last team to beat Duke in that event. I have heard with the exception of the 2 hours before, during and sometimes after the game that Coach K is actually a really nice guy.

Also this would make VT the last team that Coach K ever lost to....heheh

If UNC won, we probably would end up being a big trivia answer going forward in the 'what was the last ACC game that Coach K ever lost?' because UNC is technically an NCAA sanctioned game and not ACC.

This is my school
This is home

So we beat half the finalists, half the final four teams this year, and 3/8ths of the elite 8? Be alright to beat the champion to.

Sometimes we live no particular way but our own