The Margin's Too Thin for Buzzketball

The short-staffed Hokies (18-4, 7-3 ACC) drop their first game in Cassell Coliseum, falling 72-64 to Louisville.

[Mark Umansky]

Without Justin Robinson, everything needs to go just about perfectly for the Virginia Tech men's basketball team to win.

They need to force turnovers, contest every opposing shot, and pray like hell that the open shots don't go in.

They need to make their own shots, and limit the number of possessions their opponent sees.

They can't run into foul trouble.

They need to make their free throws.

They absolutely cannot turn it over.

They need to box out and rebound.

They can't let their tired legs get the best of them.

They need to play with heart for 40 minutes.

That's a pretty big list of things that need to go right for the Hokies. And in their 72-64 loss to Louisville, and Tech checked just a few of those boxes.

They played great defense, forcing the Cardinals into 15 turnovers and numerous bad shots. They played with heart, coming back from double digit deficits multiple times in the second half, cutting a wire-to-wire Louisville lead down to six with just a few minutes left.

But the rest of it? They didn't quite accomplish as much.

While the Hokies shot 43% from the field, they shot just 34% from three and shot abysmally in the first half (37 and 20% respectively). They turned it over 13 times, and hit just over 70% of their chances from the line.

They just didn't play well enough to beat a top-15 team in Louisville. And who can blame them? Hokie fans know how devastating it is to lose a quarterback for an extended stretch of time, and losing Robinson is both losing the orchestrater of the offense and a primary scoring threat.

But there are no days to mourn the absent in the ACC, and Buzz Williams and company are doing all they can to remain competitive.

Sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker kept things close in the first half, draining threes when the rest of his teammates couldn't buy a bucket. Alexander-Walker's heroics had Tech down just five going into the break, despite the team scoring just four points in the first six minutes of game time.

And as time wore on, the Hokies continued to feed Kerry Blackshear Jr down low. And while the junior big man scored proficiently (a team high 21 points), he also found the offense running through his place on the block. Blackshear took advantage of one-on-one matchups, but also found the open man when the defense collapsed.

After a cold start, Ty Outlaw drained four of his final five triples, and NAW continued to get to the rack. But it wasn't enough.

Unlike his buzzcut brother Braxton Beverly, shooting specialist Ryan McMahon scored 12 points in less than 90 seconds to break things open. And each time Tech would make a run to get close, something would go wrong to not quite push them over the top.

The Hokies never lead, and the game felt just out of reach the entire way. By the time the final buzzer sounded, the fatigue in Tech's legs showed, and the short bench paired with the short turnaround finally looked like it weighed on Buzz's bunch.

"Our current team has practiced for an hour Friday morning, got back Saturday night, I thought it was the best play for us to be off yesterday," Williams said. "With the third game in 5 days I thought it was the right play. So we did our typical one day before prep this morning before they went to class. And then shoot around.

So I think they've handled it better than any group I've ever seen. What I've told them is that I have the utmost respect for who they are, for the families that they represent, and I thought we hung in there tonight. I just thought we had too many turnovers in the second half relative to what gives us the best chance to win."

Tech gets some much-needed rest, and will head to Clemson on a nationally televised contest Saturday. Though the Tigers have won just three ACC games, it'll be another slog for the Hokies to get through. The last two Robinson-less contests have shown that a win is not impossible, but much more needs to go right to secure it.

A few quick thoughts

These aren't good or bad things that happened tonight, but I just have some thoughts on Buzzketball's life as it currently stands.

And the first? It's going to be like this for the rest of the season.

"We know that right now, with a short staff because of J-Rob, our assist leader," Blackshear said after the loss, "we don't have the same flow. We're really trying to rediscover our identity right now. I think we've got to go back in practice and keep working hard. I think we'll figure it out."

The Hokies are at their best when they're flying up and down the court, making opponents focus defensively the moment possession changes. Due in part to Robinson's injury, in part to the general lack of depth, the team doesn't have the legs to run. They're going to have to milk the clock, run elite half court offense, and (after all that) hope their shots fall. Williams had an interesting comment after the NC State game to this philosophy:

"I thought the only chance we had was to have football style of possession," Williams said in his press conference. "How can we shorten the game? Their average possession time going into today was 16.5 seconds. That's the second fastest in the league and 13th in the nation. We couldn't get into that type of game defensively.
Offensively, our personnel doesn't suggest that that would give us our best chance to win. It is a delicate balance of when to attack their pressure to score, when to attack early in the clock, and that was just part of our prep in a quick turnaround."

For a team that was once one of the most potent scoring groups in the country, they now operate within the thinnest of margins. Each miss is more crippling, each bricked free throw is more rage-inducing, and each turnover that leads to an easy bucket is more devastating.

"It's almost like you have to be perfect," Alexander-Walker said after the game. "It's a bit much to say, but you've got to try your best. Trying to pick (Buzz's) brain as much as I can. I know I can speak for myself, I know my teammates work hard as well. I've just got to do a better job. I'll take the blame for my part, I'm not going to point fingers at anyone, we had 15 turnovers at home. I contributed to a third of those, so it's on me."

Put simply, offense is going to be hard to come by. Jay Bilas made a great point that the Hokies run a lot of great offensive stuff, but it's just harder for any of it to work without their point guard. I mainly agree, though the spacing seems wonky half the time, and the off-ball movement comes and goes.

According to our own Henry Skutt, there were 11 different NBA scouts in Blacksburg to take in the contest. The teams represented? The Nets, Rockets, Kings, Lakers, Jazz, Wizards, Hornets, Heat, Bucks, Mavericks.

Translation for those who don't keep tabs on the NBA standings: those are all teams who will probably pick between 12 and 25 in this summer's draft. In Jonathan Givony's latest mock, he has no Cardinals selected in either round, meaning the man most of these people had an eye on was Alexander-Walker.

Givony currently has him slotted 17th to Miami, I wouldn't be shocked to see him sneak into the lottery (top-14). If one thing's for certain, he's not sticking around for his third year.

This was going to be a tough turnaround for a fully staffed Tech roster, which means it's a borderline miracle for them to go 1-1 vs two top-25 opponents. But Buzz and his staff have prepared perfectly for these two matchups, and if Tech can avoid the slow starts that have plagued them the last two times out, they'll be in a solid spot moving forward.

That's a total testament to Buzz. He's back to his old ways of running all over the sideline with his jacket off, because he knows he needs to give his all (both physically and emotionally) right beside his seven available players.

It's easy to take him for granted due to the talent of his team, but Williams is a great coach who will earn every penny in his contract for the next six weeks.

Comments

If there was a positive to take away, its we still managed to score 64 points in spite of some shooting struggles. Shoot more like we are capable of and it would have been in the 70s and 80s, enough to win most games. I was a little worried after the NC State game seeing just 47 pts, thinking without Robinson things would be very bleak. No other team was gonna shoot as bad as NC State afterall. So seeing as this game was winnable against a pretty darn good Louisville team if we just had some better shooting (and some better refs), I'll take that as a good sign going forward to be able to pick some more wins the rest of the way with Robinson out.

I swear, sometimes it looks like Bede has someone beat off the dribble, then he steps back outside the three point line. The dude needs to start driving when he gets the chance so he can kick it to open shooters. This offense is just so stagnant when we aren't getting paint touches (a Buzz phrase).

Marshall University student.
Virginia Tech fanatic.

Yes sir.. He has some elevation on his J and should easily elevate when he has those chances in the lane. Just needs to be more confident and a little selfish given the circumstances.

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

... And Wilkins needs more pt

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

He needs to take the shot more often so that defenses will respect it and slide help over which opens up the three point shot. Him driving without the threat of a shot is the same as him not driving at all.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

NAW is better with J-Rob. He looks sloppy handling the ball, and no explosive first step to get by opponents. I do like him, just that he's having to take on a different role, now.

We also seemed to have slow ball movement that didn't create open shots.

Hopefully 5 will be back SOON.

I wonder if this little "experiment" is going to hurt his draft stock enough for him to decide to stick around another year.

It would make me question his completeness as a player, but will wait and see. Maybe it will convince him to come back next year.

Worst officiating I have seen in a long time. Wilkins got called for a foul on McMahon's 3 and he was clearly untouched. Cards also receive an Emmy for acting. Their flopping was predicted and they were true to form.

foresthokie
US Navy Vet

They could have look at the monitors and reversed/corrected the call. Oh wait, it was against us, never mind.

Based on the clock there, they are not allowed to review from the monitors unless there is a question of a flagrant foul. Calls on the floor stand until the final two minutes of each half.

Ah, were the commentators the only one who saw it? There was enough time to them to show it several times on TV.

There was plenty of time, because there was a TV timeout right after it happened but its not reviewable by rule unless the game clock is in the final two minutes of the half so the amount of time to review didn't matter.

Two separate instances where the Hokies were on a roll / getting within a score and a poor call made by the official killed the momentum only for it to be a 10 point game again within two or three possessions. It's obviously on Tech as well when you shoot ice cold for large chunks of the game, but it was incredibly disheartening to see all the flopping (as predicted) be rewarded the way that it was.

I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't even NOTICE the refs last night. I didn't see a single bad call or anyone prioritize over-exaggerating a call instead of trying to get it right. Plus it's standard practice for Louisville to get a few calls at home, not that they got any calls of course. /s

This team is missing 3 of its (probably) 5 best players and losing to a good team by 8. It's hard not to think about what could have been this year for a team that is still the best we've seen in a long, long time.

feelsbadman.

21st century QBs Undefeated vs UVA:
MV7, MV5, LT3, Josh Jackson, Jerod Evans, Michael Brewer, Tyrod Taylor, Sean Glennon, and Grant Noel. That's right, UVA. You couldn't beat Grant Noel.

Maybe, but consider what this team could look like next year.

I am not excited at this thought....

Why not? Sure, we're losing JRob and Med to graduation, and possibly NAW to the NBA Draft, but we're bringing back pretty much everyone else and adding Nolley and probably Clarke to the mix, as well as a couple of good-looking recruits.

We may not be quite as good next year as we could have been this year, but we should still be pretty successful.

Also essentially replacing Outlaw with Clarke in the rotation.

I like Ty, but Clarke makes us more complete from that position.

No, I *don't* want to go to the SEC. Why do you ask?

We don't love dem Hoos.

Can we all agree to hate Mack? That dude whined anytime a call went against them, despite the fact that the refs were already giving them every call. I swear it's like he paid off the refs at halftime. (Not to say that any of this is an excuse for how we played and lost)

The last two home games the officials have come out and called a flurry of fouls against Tech to start the second half. It almost looks like they check to see that a check has cleared...

without JRob in the game this team doesn't have the same rhythm and flow. Players who thrive off of #5 are now asked to do a different job and quite frankly collectively they are not as good. And it's hard to win when it is 5 against 8. Every time we made a move to get the lead, the officiating saw to it, that it wasn't going to happen. Worst crew I have seen all year. Buzz needs to black ball this crew.

How many players are dressed for games now including walk one? 6/7?

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

I think we are only dressing 7 or 8. We have Wilkins coming off the bench and Kabongo in case we need him. There might be one more, but if there is, its escaping me on who.

"I regret nothing. The end." - Ron Swanson

Brendan Palmer is also dressing but he's a walk-on.

I might have a new least favorite team/fan base. There was the most obnoxious and disrespectful Loserville fan in our section. Yelling out insults during our players free throws, yelling out insults to Buzz, chanting "cheaters" which I'm not sure if that was a targeted insult to us or words of encouragement to the Loserville players. Mack might be a more fitting coach for them than Pitino.

That guy was in the row behind me. I don't want to overstate how obnoxious he was, however, he made me lose a little faith in humanity as a whole.

What's really disappointing me right now is that some of the fundamentals we have been so good on are just going away right now. Blackshear had multiple passes that hit him in the hands, and he just missed the basketball for whatever reason leading to a quick turnover (which tended to go the other way for an uncontested 3). Bede somehow lost a rebound in crunch time where the ball went through his hands, between his legs, and the UofL guy was there to recover. Hill looks like he's beginning his annual slump, which isn't good. He's 1-14 combined from 3 the last 2 games, and 7-25 from the field, most of those coming off layups or dunks.

I don't know if Robinson being able to play the last couple games solves those issues. We miss his ability to create with the ball. Bede doesn't have that, and NAW is reluctant to even try (probably for good reason, he doesn't have the twitchiness that 5 has). What worries me about this team is that it seems like we really need someone who can make something out of nothing running point, with everyone else spacing to just play off what that person is able to do. Outside of 5, we don't have anyone who can do that, and we probably won't next year, either, that is unless Bede develops an aggressive edge to his game over the remaining games. I knew we would be in trouble with Robinson out, but I didn't think it would be like this.

And you can say that playing too many minutes is contributing to this, and it certainly is, but that isn't going to change from now to the end of the postseason. Even if Robinson comes back, we'll still be without Horne. We'll have to work through that regardless, and if we can't, that drastically shifts our postseason outlook (we'll still make the NCAAs, likely, but the seeding could take a big hit)

"I regret nothing. The end." - Ron Swanson

And you can say that playing too many minutes is contributing to this, and it certainly is, but that isn't going to change from now to the end of the postseason. Even if Robinson comes back, we'll still be without Horne.

You're not wrong, but even just getting Robinson back would allow us to split the 200 minutes ~6.5 ways rather than the current ~5.5. Letting every player get another 5-6 mins of rest during a game would help a good bit. I don't think the poor FT shooting over the last 2 games is any coincidence, nor the sloppiness with the ball down the stretch. Everything becomes more difficult when you're tired.

and we probably won't next year, either, that is unless Bede develops an aggressive edge to his game over the remaining games

He'll be a freshman of course but you should watch Andre Gordons film. That kid is absolutely electric with the ball in his hands and maybe even be quicker than Robinson and drops some serious dimes. Football player attitude too

GORDON

'Its easy to grin, when your ship comes in, and you've got the stock market beat,
but the man worthwhile, is the man who can smile, when his shorts are too tight in the seat'

And in a couple years, I think he could be really good. But I am extremely hesitant to say we'll be ok because of a kid who is still in high school is going to fix it all. Even NAW needed a full season to really get himself ready to dominate in ACC games, and he's probably going to be a lottery pick in this year's NBA Draft.

Unless we're getting a grad or JUCO transfer who can play right away, I do wonder where the spark will be next year. I want to say Nolley will be great, but its hard to tell when he's held out all year, and do we even know if he'll be cleared for 2020? All I know is that, without NAW and JRob, this team this year struggles badly, and both will be gone. On top of that, Med and Outlaw will be aging out as well, and that's pretty much all of our offense, outside of Blackshear.

"I regret nothing. The end." - Ron Swanson

It shouldn't matter that he'll be a freshman, he has the attitude and the abilities let him loose

I think part of that is the fatigue factor. Those are all type of errors that happen when players are tired. All those things happened in the second half. We played 3 games (2 on the road) in 5 days, and only had 6 players in the rotation for 2.5 of them.

I mean, not to downplay how important our lack of depth is, but if we have any postseason aspirations this year, we're gonna have to get over fatigue quickly. To make a run in the ACC Tournament, we'll have to play upwards of 3 or 4 games in as many days. To make a run in the NCAA's, we'll be playing 2 games every week within 48 hours of each other. Its not going to get any easier from here on out to reach our goals, so this is where the preseason boot camp conditioning Buzz puts them through needs to pay off.

"I regret nothing. The end." - Ron Swanson

Agreed. I think the hope is that 5 is not done for the year and can be back for the postseason (if not sooner.) If he is not, we're not looking at a deep run in the ACC Tourney. We could still pull 2 wins in the NCAA the first weekend if the cards fall right on seeding and we can make the games ugly like NCSU.

4 games in 4 days would be the absolute max in the ACC tournament - and that would be if we only got a single bye (finished 5th-10th in ACC standings) and made it to the ACC Champ Game. If we were to do that with 5.5 or even 6.5 guys, yeah, we'll be extremely fatigued and our play will go down. I'm not saying it's what we want, but just being realistic about the situation we are in. Playing a Thur/Sat or Fri/Sun (NCAA tourney) is challenging but doable with a 7 man rotation. I don't think it's realistic to expect to win 2 games in 48 hours in that short of a timeframe with only 6 guys. Not impossible, but I wouldn't bet on it. If we can get a 3 or 4 seed, getting thru the first weekend with 6 guys is at least a little more manageable based on the quality of teams we'd play. Getting through the second weekend would be really tough though. Of course, getting through the second weekend we'd be talking about winning the Regional and getting to the Final 4 ... that is tough no matter how you slice it. It's just a hell of a lot harder when you have no bench.

That was supremely frustrating to watch. Tech kept clawing their way back, poised to push ahead, and then their hopes were crushed over and over again. It's really hard not to wonder how it might have been different had Five been out there.

And Nolley, Clarke, and Horne. The fact of the matter was a combo of all factors (suspensions, injuries, poor officiating, and mental block about beating Louisville). We either couldn't come up with a big shot or had the refs crush momentum with a crap call. But more the the refs (most college basketball refs are garbage) was that Louisville always seemed to have a lucky answer when we got close. For example:

28-20: We go on a 6-0 run to cut it to 2 before half and #23 Enoch, their Center who has hit 7 threes all season, hits an NBA range 3 to push it back to 5.

41-31: We go on 7-0 run to cut it to 3 and then McMahon flops on a 3 to push it back to 6 and then goes on personal 12 point run.

59-45: Go on 13-4 run to cut it to 5, then #24 Sutton banks in a ill-advised three from NBA range to ice the game.

A mix of luck and poor calls doomed us but obviously we dug into those holes each time by playing poor offensively and without much rhythm.

Jesus fuck that goddamn bank by Sutton. Just epitomized the 'this shit aint gonna work out' evening we had last night. With 5 out I've been really trying to manage expectations and emotions, especially for schoolnight games, and that just put me over the edge.

Old sigline: I've been cutting back on the drinking.

New Sigline: lol it's football season.

YES IT WOULD HAVE MADE A DIFFERENCE!

the spacing seems wonky half the time, and the off-ball movement comes and goes.

This is the theme with the offense right now. We have guys constantly running into each other or standing right next to each other, outside the arc, looking for the ball.

Bede plays some great D, but I'm beginning to doubt his future as a P-5 PG.

And I'd love to see Med attacking the basket much more, especially on nights when he's off from outside. The kid can really ball!

Is it basketball season yet?

This year is starting to remind me of Buzz's second year. Needing to grind and outwork on everything to get the W. Not gong to work very often against the top teams, but hopefully enough to keep us afloat against the unranked and give us chance to steal another like we did vs State. They are a fun team to watch, but it's hard for me to enjoy when we are not winning now that I've finally gotten used to us doing so.

Sometimes we live no particular way but our own

I think as much as the physical exertion will take a toll, so will the pressure of thinking they have to be perfect. Probably even more so. When the players are saying they have to be perfect in interviews, I suspect that is likely what they are often thinking when they get that open look. Not good.

As much as squeezing energy out of these 6 guys will be Buzz's biggest task, so will it be getting them to play loose.

Can anyone tell us when the last time was that VT basketball had a full roster?

Is it basketball season yet?

not in the Buzz era. Probably in the Greenburg era.

--
"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

And Greenburg would have a full roster but still stubbornly play his starters like 39 minutes a game then wonder why we couldn't close games

Never the ancient Indian burial ground beneath Cassell prevents it.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

This is exactly what I expected without 5. So frustrating, but has to be even more frustrating for the team and coaches.

Best case scenario, team maintains positive attitude (they will) and we see improvement in the offensive rhythm each game/week. So much of this comes down to Bede improving, being more comfortable, and for the rest of the team to play off of him better and be able to adapt to how Bede is running the offense. And of course, let's hope 5 is back on the floor soon.

It just goes to show that this team is sooo good with 5, because he is an elite PG and because the rest of the team knew exactly how to play off of him.

--
"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

Until we get JRob back in the line-up, I think the result is going to largely depend upon whether Hill's shot is falling. NAW and Blackshear are good for 18-25 each game and will keep us close, Outlaw and Bede are what they are. Hill played good defense and really drove well to the basket but his shot was not there last night.

When he hits the 3, it opens up spacing for everyone else. Not dogging on him because he played well last night, but the next few games we really need his outside shot to count on another 20 pt contributor.

Would like to see Bede taking the ball up the court more... Maybe if Bede runs the offense more often than NAW that'll open up NAW to make some magic. #5 has big shoes to fill. No one can fill them completely.

JP

It was frustrating that there were several times last night that Blackshear got the ball under the hoop and passed the ball away to try for somebody else's three over his two. That happened predominantly in the first half, in the second half he was more willing to finish.

I think you gotta sprinkle it back out a few times...keeps the defense on their toes - makes it harder to defend the big man too. A wide open three, with a good look...is a good thing. Take it if you can get it.

JP

Yes, and late in the game it seemed he had 3 or so shots in the lane that clanged off the front of the rim. If a couple of those go in, and NAW can hit some of those FT's, then maybe we get close enough to try and pull off the comeback. But, can't count on those guys to do much more than they did in that game. If we play with better spacing more consistently, then hopefully things will open up more for Bede and Hill and Outlaw throughout the game.

The guys are being forced to take bad and good shots because they can rarely get open enough for great and perfect shots.

--
"It's time to go play Virginia Tech Football longer and harder than anybody else in America!!" -- Justin Fuente
"I put a brick in Sacksburg today." -- Cam Phillips

Our guys just played 3 games in 5 days with a 6 man rotation (Kabongo hasn't had significant minutes). Their legs were tired and the shots were not falling. I don't know how many minutes he had in the Miami game, but MedHill did not get a rest the last two games.

The guys played their hearts out, but they need to recharge.

via GIFER

.

.
.and Whit puts on his batting gloves and steps up to the plate....

I think Med Hill sat for a total of 30 seconds last night. I remember him going to sit down, and then the next possession there was a foul and he was back.

Buzz also said because of playing 3 games in 5 days, he hadn't gotten a chance to practice how to run the offense without Robinson, giving his players a lot of praise for how they fought and played. I expect them to look a lot better against Clemson this Saturday after 5 days of rest and for Buzz to lay out better game plans (that the team has time to practice on) without Robinson on the floor.

Ok, I take it back. This team really needs Robinson. Today was hard to watch.

The real question, why do we have so few players. Ok, 2 hurt, but we should have more worthy players. Is our recruiting focusing on too few players? Are we sitting on scholarships?

Two hurt, two suspended(more or less), and two are freshman. 1 redshirt. So that's 7 spots not really contributing minutes, 5/6 of which are completely out of Buzz's control.

Let's Go...

We have two potential starters not on the team right now in Nolley and Clarke. Having them now would be HUGE. This isn't a recurring problem.

I'm already drinking, but I'll have another!

I was sure your comment was sarcastic, but maybe you're serious...Khadim Sy, Chris Clarke, Landers Nolley...? Then losing Robinson is the equivalent of losing your QB, A top WR, and one RB at the same time. Top it with PJ Horne, who was beginning to provide some valuable minutes to give KJ a breather and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.

Huh... could that lineup of a healthy 5, Nolley, Clarke, Horne, and Sy beat our starters right now?

"It's always great to beat UVA, that makes us all smarter and better looking for a couple days".

Depends on how quickly KBJ fouls out.

That's insane to think about.

Let's Go...

This is such a good take. Buzz currently has us at #11 in the country despite Mr Georgia Basketball not playing and Clarke getting suspended literally a week and a half before the season started (think how much that changed his substitutions and what sets they were practicing). We were ranked around 12-15 before the season with those rankings believing these two would be part of our squad. We had senior leadership, two stud youngins, and a solid 8/9 man rotation. Instead Buzz quickly got dealt a bad hand and were down to 6/7.......luckily Wilkins who was going to redshirt lost a bunch of weight in a couple of months and could contribute, so we had to play him earlier than anticipated and were able to keep a soft 8 man rotation (and one crazily shorter, and unathletic). Despite this Buzz not only kept us viable, he raised our ranking up to #8 at one point and currently a spot above our best preseason ranking. We will fall in the rankings for sure without 5, but if we get better than an 8 seed Buzz should be cheered hugely for this season