Buzzketball Finally Dances On

Hokies use a hot half to tear apart Saint Louis 66-52, and advance in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.

[Virginia Tech Athletics]

The last time the Virginia Tech men's basketball team had a downright staggering loss, one that befuddled fans and coaches alike, was in November of 2017. The Hokies were in a tournament, playing Saint Louis, and looking forward to grander aspirations against a good team (Providence, in the final) and a great team (a trip to Lexington to play Kentucky in the month that followed).

Had they picked up a win, Hokie fans (and probable team members) had dreams of being undefeated heading into Big Blue Nation, for their official coronation as a force in college basketball. But alas, none of it happened because the Billikens socked Tech right in the mouth. Saint Louis controlled things from the jump, and a team that ended the year 148th in KenPom rolled 77-71.

And now here we are, in the NCAA Tournament. Buzz Williams' squad the fourth seed, preparing for the possibility of playing a good team (Mississippi State) before looking ahead towards grander aspirations against a nearly unstoppable one (a certain Mack Truck in royal blue shorts). But to make matters even more look-aheadable, Liberty upset the Bulldogs and made Tech's path to the Sweet 16 all the more tangible.

But the first step was to not overlook the Billikens.

Again.

And to their credit, Tech did not let history repeat itself. At all.

The Hokies took control early, forcing six turnovers in the game's first nine minutes and sprinted out to a 22-point lead at halftime. Super sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker was rolling to the basket with ease, Kerry Blackshear caused problems down low, and...

...wait for it...

...takes a few deep breaths...

...climbs to top of mountains...

...yells to the heavens...

JUSTIN ROBINSON BACK Y'ALL:

In a matter of minutes, the senior drew a charge (classic OKG move amirite?), threw an oop (see above), drained a triple, and warmed the hearts of thousands of Hokies staying up past their bedtimes to watch him play for the first time in nearly two months. He looked rusty, he didn't move as quickly as he had before the injury, but he was out there.

But as emotionally beneficial as his return was, the catalyst of this win was Alexander-Walker. With the entire basketball world watching (including more than a few NBA scouts and GMs), the soon-to-be draft prospect put on a show. He scored 20 points on 62% shooting, pulled in six rebounds, and was as locked in defensively as he's been all year. He forced two steals within two minutes of each other to break things open in the first half, and was very obviously the most talented player on the floor.

Maybe the most interesting thing about the win? They came in with a game plan unlike anything they unveiled in ACC play. After averaging 25 three point attempts over their last five games, Tech shot just 10 triples against Saint Louis, preferring instead to punish their opponent down low.

It worked splendidly. Blackshear got to the line 12 times, and the Hokies made 27 trips to the stripe, showing that Buzz and the rest of the coaching have some twists stored in the pocket of their suit coats.

Don't be alarmed by the Billikens second half onslaught, though they cut the lead to 10 the game was hardly in doubt. When you get to the tournament, it's rare you see a team completely roll over, even from the smaller schools. Tech took a punch from a white hot conference tournament-winning program, and didn't let things get away from them. A solid performance from a veteran squad.

Up next, Liberty.

(Yes, I did I just embed my own tweet, thank you for asking. It's not self-serving at all.)

(Okay it's a little self serving.)

The Flames are the 12-seed, which should theoretically mean that they're another easy bump on Tech's way to the Sweet 16. But the two schools know each other, the coaches know each other, and they even scrimmaged at the beginning of the year. Does that matter? Probably not, but Liberty won't be scared and the Hokies shouldn't be surprised.

But no matter what happens, let's all take this moment in. A win is a win for a program that hasn't picked up a victory in the NCAA Tournament in over a decade. Let's all appreciate it for just one more second.

We done?

Okay good, because there's more basketball ahead.

Five things to watch moving forward

Fair warning: these aren't going to be observations filled with sunshine and rainbows. These are practical thoughts about what could get in the way of this team heading to at least the second weekend.

If you can't self scout, you can't win much. But if you're reading this still basking in the afterglow of a win, just stop here.

1. NAW, go-to scorer?

Even with Robinson back, the sophomore seems to be Tech's best bet for a bucket. I know I sound like a broken record, but the dude is NBA talent. He's the tenth rated prospect on The Ringer's NBA Draft board, and a first rounder across all mock drafts. And in these games, he's going to have to make some plays.

But the main thing to watch is him owning it. He's averaging nearly 20 points since the Duke game, ending a midseason shooting slump. When Saint Louis came out with an eight-point run to start the second half, Alexander-Walker took it personally. He scored seven points in 37 seconds to put the Tech faithful at ease. And later, when the Billikens cut the lead to 13 in their last gasp of competitiveness, he put his head down and got to the basket for an easy two.

It was the nasty streak you look for in an alpha dog. And while this has always been Robinson's team, it seems like Tech's orbit revolves around Nickeil.

2. What happens when opponents' threes fall?

This one's simple. The Billikens were 4-23 (17%) from deep, and though it's not their strength that's abhorrent for any team. The Hokies are going to let their opponents shoot a ton of threes (they gave up the most three point attempts in ACC play), which isn't a bad move considering:

1. Three point attempts across the sport are up.

2. College kids can't hit their increased number of three point attempts any more consistently than they could when they were shooting fewer of them.

But it's still concerning, considering one of the classic recipes for a March Madness upset is a small school getting hot from deep. Liberty hit 12 of 25 (a tremendous 48%) of their triples against Mississippi State, is that going to cause a problem?

And, when facing adversity against another team they're not supposed to lose to, can Tech persevere and not drown in the moment?

Probably, but it's at least a concern.

3. Does familiarity mean anything?

The Hokies and Flames scrimmaged each other November 4th, with Tech winning 86-70. In my eyes this should benefit Tech, because it'll be harder to look past a lower ranked opponent that they know (as opposed to playing someone like UC Irvine), and Liberty will have less of an element of surprise.

But, should they win, they'll likely play Duke. A team that (as you may or definitely may remember) lost to Tech last month. Will beating them in the regular season actually work to the Hokies' disadvantage, as the Blue Devils will come in with extra motivation?

Maybe, maybe not. Maybe none of this matters and I'm just a person behind a keyboard making up a storyline.

(But it definitely feels like it matters.)

4. Will there be any "Buzz to A&M" blowback?

I know, I know, I know.

"Something about the maturity of an older team that's dealt with this before!"

"You're too negative! He might not even leave!"*

"What about this tweet!"

*haha okay, sure

At some point, this might become an issue. Have you ever been around a couple who's been together for years but things start to fall apart? And while all may seem fine from the inside—they go on like normal, take trips, hang out with friends—there comes a moment where they just can't do it anymore. And usually, the thing that sparks the separation doesn't come right away. It just festers until something breaks.

I'm not saying that will happen to the Hokies, but I'm definitely saying it could. This team has real potential to make the Sweet 16, and go even further should things break right. And it would be a shame to see a potential run in front of a pro-Tech crowd in DC go to waste because the team feels like their coach is about to quit on them.

Most of me thinks that if this was going to happen, it would have come to a head in an embarrassing first round loss. But there's still a chance for things to go wrong.

(Please don't @ me about my negativity or just "enjoying the moment." Look, I'm enjoying the damn moment. These are just things to watch out for. If you don't think the A&M rumors are lingering around the program regardless of if he leaves or not, you're delusional.)

5. Tech's down four with two minutes left. Who gets the ball?

When shit hits the fan and Tech needs a few buckets, where does the offense look? You know where I stand (see point number one), but it might be more awkward of a decision than that. It's the Justin Robinson dilemma. Has the senior knocked off enough rust to be the number one option? Does he have the shot—and more importantly, the legs—to carry the Hokies down the stretch?

It's not that I don't trust him, but I'd worry a bit putting him in that situation. Especially after a month and a half watching NAW and Blackshear carry the team in tight games. It may be a nice problem to have, but Tech may have too many guys who'll want the ball in crunch time.

My gut says Robinson will know when to take the shot and when to set up his guys/act as a decoy in the corner. But will his desire and competitiveness overtake the rational part of his point guard brain? Will he be content watching Alexander-Walker go one-on-one to the hoop with 30 seconds left?

Again, probably. But there could be a little tension there.

Happy hoops watching, and let's do this again on Sunday.

Comments

It's 1:58 am in California, I've been awake for 26 hours, and I just watched VT win. tournament game for the first time since I was 9.

Sunday can't come quick enough.

[*November 2017; this season's head scratcher was @ Penn State. ] edit: article has been corrected!

Excellent summary & commentary!

___

-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.

*2018

Is there a joke or pun I'm not getting?

Either I am overly tired, or Tech lost to Penn State in November 2018.

That's a semi colon not a colon...

Yes; the article said St. Louis was 2018.

___

-What we do is, if we need that extra push, you know what we do? -Put it up to fully dipped? -Fully dipped. Exactly. It's dork magic.

I think Navy's right. The st Louis loss was 2017. The PSU head scratcher was 2018.

The decision to give 5 the ball in crunch time is easy. He may not be the best scoring option at this point but he is the best creator and I believe he is going to make the best play available whether it is him scoring or dishing to an open teammate. As evidenced in the ACC tournament, NAW is going to put his head down and do his best to score, and that usually is not successful late in games against good defensive teams.

Was fun seeing VT dominate in a game in the tournament.

So this is what it feels like to be highly seeded...

On your final point. I actually don't think it matters who gets the ball in crunch time and that is a very good feeling to have. GO HOKIES!

Have you ever been around a couple who's been together for years but things start to fall apart? And while all may seem fine from the inside—they go on like normal, take trips, hang out with friends—there comes a moment where they just can't do it anymore.

Hey Brian, you and the missus doing ok?

Ask me no questions, and I'll tell you no lies

I know that things change fast in sports (and life) but imagine telling someone in 2013ish that in several years tech would be a 4 seed and would cruise to an easy first round win and be favored for the sweet 16.

What buzz has done is incredible.

Damn imagine telling someone in 2012 that the next team to crack the AP top 10 be the basketball team, not the football team

Virginia Tech School of Architecture Class of 2014
Fan of Hokies, Ravens, NY Giants, Orioles

NAW looked better because 5 was on the floor. JRobb takes enough attention that it creates openings for NAW, Blackshear and Hill.

This, 800%.
And this is also why in the last minutes of a close game, even w JRob's current fitness u use him to create and draw attention then dish off to NAW or KJB. Folks, we got options.

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

I've been saying this ever since jrob first broke his toe. 5 is the only truly natural ball handler, NAW is out of his element playing footsie at the top the arc, he's an elbow trigger man.

I'd have to watch the game again, but it seemed like Saint Louis wasn't coming off of shooters to help on NAW. Having an extra shooter in JRob really helps with that- you just can't afford to help off which leaves NAW 1-on-1.

As long as we keep playing defense like we are, I'll take all those 3 pt attempts against us because we weren't giving them any easy shots. That first half was low percentage prayer after contested low percentage prayer and it played right into the run we went on. By the time we dialed it back to conserve energy, it was too little too late for the Bilikins

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

This. We've all become accustomed to VT defense all year. It was interesting listening to the announcers who obviously didnt know us commenting on our intense defense.
Love this!!! Buzz needs to stay and take this to the bank and to recruits.

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

Ahmed Hill is showing out.

When NAW, JRob, or KB get stuck, he comes out of the woodwork with a steal or a fast break layup. Going to make a difference on Sunday.

TKPhi Damn Proud
BSME 2009

Don't sleep on my boy Wilkins. Pure energy when we need it!

Wilkins has been a favorite here at the fish house all season. Wife calls him "Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy" and gets mad at Buzz when he doesn't put him in when we need a lift.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

I mean, she's not wrong.

* Buzz has forgotten more about basketball than your wife and I collectively know.

* You try tellin' her that, I'll get the popcorn and a beer for that one.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

Leg for the nickname "Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy". That's just.....awesome.

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

Brian, another excellent column, thanks for busting it out well past everyone's bed times.

I'm struggling not to look ahead myself. I'd love to watch this team in person against Duke.

I watched the first half from the treadmill at the gym and the second on my couch. Guess I'm running 20 miles each game until that confetti drops and Buzz claims he's staying at Tech 5ever.

5ever

Clever....

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

20 miles in one half!? That is elite.

That game was awesome to watch. Obviously the first half was fun to watch, but even when St Louis started making a run and cut it to 10, I never really felt like the game was getting out of control for us.

Also, the team's reaction at the end was one of excitement but of pure focus. They were already thinking about getting to the locker room, getting rest and getting ready for Sunday. Had we won our 1st round game either of the last two years, the team would have been jumping up and down and running all over the court in excitement. This team knows they belong and they are on a mission.

Not at all worried about A&M being a distraction. The team and Buzz are solely focused on the day that lies in front of them and nothing beyond that.

--
"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

Haha no I ran 5.5 in the first half. I'm no where close to elite. I was joking if I ran throughout the entire game. But 0 chance I keep an 8 min mile for 2+ hours.

Waho's suck
Uva swallows

Buzz breaking out the dance moves, sort of a cross between MC Hammer and James Brown.

And upvotes for the above gif should be locked, as it's at +16.

Edit: WHO UPVOTED THE ABOVE PAST +16?!?! SHAME ON YOU!

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

Time to squash out the Evil Empire (AKA Liberty athletics). Go Hokies!

So cool to see us win a tournament game. Buzz will be giving it to them though for letting SLU dictate the game for the first 10 minutes of the second half though.

Saw JRob limping a bit towards the end of the game, hope he is ok....

You will see this game, this upset and this sign next on ESPN Sportscenter. Virginia Tech 31 Miami 7

In not sure why Buzz didn't pull him before the end of the game. He slipped and fell on the sideline and I thought he sprained his ankle.

Wet stuff on the red stuff.

Join us in the Key Players Club

Agreed, thought he should have come out

You will see this game, this upset and this sign next on ESPN Sportscenter. Virginia Tech 31 Miami 7

Beat Liberty...that is all.

Five things to watch moving forward

"5" things. I see what you did there.

My gut says Robinson will know when to take the shot and when to set up his guys

Your gut must have been watching this team this year. Our odds of winning a tight game are way better with 5 in the game and NAW is way better with 5 in the game.

FAM!!!! Sweet 16!!!!!

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

The ol Texas Two (rounds) Step!

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

Please, please I beg of you...leave Texas out of it for at least another week or two.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

Buzz is from Texas, at this point I have moved on to the Denial phase regarding our coach

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