Date/Time: March 22 2019 / 9:57 p.m.
Opponent: Saint Louis
Site: San Jose, CA (SAP Center)
Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network
Talent: Jon Laaser & Mike Burnop
TV/Internet: TruTV/ESPN app
Spero Dedes, Steve Smith, Jim Jackson & Ros Gold-Onwude
RADIO: Westwood One
Chris Carrino & Mike Montgomery
Talent: Jon Sciambi & Sean Farnham
Live Stats: HokieSports.com
Game Notes: Virginia Tech
SXM 207 (Streaming 974)
Round 1: East Regional in California
Buzzketball must come out ready for a full forty minutes. The Billicans play a high intensity Pressure defense which helped them win the Atlantic 10 conference tournament. There are very assigned roles and a methodology to everything they do. This is a very disciplined opponent that overcame a 15 point deficit in the championship game to upset St Bonaventure.
The Billikens reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. They advanced to the second round in their three prior appearances in the tournament. The Hokies are 7-1 all time with the series, with seven meetings between 1978 and 1981 and a Hokies loss in 2017 at Madison Square Garden.
The Billikens are coached by Travis Ford, who took over the program in 2016. Prior to St Louis, Ford was at Oklahoma State for eight seasons. He is 397-306 as a head coach, with a tough learning curve in his first season at St Louis, going 52-49.
Defensively, the Billikens employ what Travis Ford refers to as Transition Defense with a focus on shutting down screens and passing lanes in the interior. The critical aspect of this defense is a different assignment strategy than most defenses. Ford assigns his players three roles, the first is Stoppers which is his best full court on-ball defender, he then also has Protectors which is a slower player who is least likely to get an offensive rebound, and finally he has Sprinters, which are three players who always crash the boards, then hustle back to stop specific shots. The players role varies based on how the offense chooses to bring the ball up the court. Most of this action is designed to slow the offenses approach, taking time away from running the offense in the half court. Once in the half court, defenders will look to force their opponent away from the basket and towards a baseline or sideline to create trap opportunities. This helps the Billikens cut down on easy transition baskets and drives into the paint. Be prepared for some physical no whistle play tonight. This is the NCAA tournament and they usually let the guys play. That works to the Billikens advantage.
Offensively, Ford's system is aggressive use of a 2-1-2 set. Picture an X on the floor, with the center at the free throw line. It requires a big man that has good floor vision and excellent passing touch, while also being a threat to turn and take the ball to the basket. The Billikens are able to run a multitude of set plays from this look. Ideally they look to create an overload on defense to identify an open shooter.
Senior Javon Bess, #3, 6'6, 220 lbs, a Michigan State transfer is leading the Billikens in scoring at 15.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.8 APG and 1.4 SPG. He is shooting 40% so far this season, a far drop off from the nearly 60% he shot last season. He is hitting 33% from outside and 79% from the line. He uses his big body to get to the rim and will try to get Blackshear in early foul trouble. Bess plays 37 MPG.
Senior Tramaine Isabell, #2, 6'1, 180 lbs is a graduate transfer from Drexel. He splits point guard responsibility with Jordan Goodwin. He is averaging 13.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.7 APG and 1.1 SPG. His shooting definitely leaves something to desire though, currently shooting 41% from the field and 71% from the line but he has been averaging 33 MPG.
Sophomore Jordan Goodwin, #0, 6'3, 210 lbs is the point guard for the Billikens. He is putting up 10.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 3.5 APG, 1.9 SPG, and .5 BPG so far. A bit of do everything, especially defensively which is critical in Travis Ford's defensive scheme. He shoots 41% from the field, 27% from outside, and 51% from the line. He averages 34 MPG.
Freshman Fred Hatch Jr, #20, 6'3, 210 lbs rounds out the main rotation of guards while putting up 4.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1 steal per game. He shoots 36% from the field, 28% from outside, and 61% from the line. In about 20 minutes per contest.
Senior Dion Wiley, #4, 6'4, 210 Lbs graduate transfer from Maryland, is averaging 4.7 PPG and 1 RPG. He suffered several serious injuries while at Maryland that he is still working his way back from. He is shooting 32% from the field, 30% from outside, and 61% from the line. He is playing about 15 MPG.
Sophomore Forward Hasahn French, #22, 6'7, 235 lbs is the Billikens big man down low. He is putting up 9.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.5 SPG and 1.5 BPG. He is shooting 48% from the field and a cringe-worthy 35% from the line. He is not the typical big for a Ford offense, so expect to see Bess operate at the free throw line quite a bit.
Senior D.J. Foreman, #1, 6'8, 240 Lbs transfer from Rutgers, is averaging 5.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1 APG. He is shooting 49% from the floor and 54% from the line.
What to expect from St Louis?
The Billikens play defense the whole length of the floor while not necessarily a press but more a stalling technique with attempts to turn the ball over, while employing double team traps, and other pressure plays to try to force turnovers. They allow the 22nd fewest points per game this season.
This team embraces strong defense with a steady offense. Not quite the slowdown of a UVA squad but the pace of the game could be frustrating. The depth of this team though is in question so should the Billikens get in foul trouble it could change the entire face of the game. They currently rely on four starters for over 30 MPG.
This will be the worst free throw shooting team the Hokies face this season currently ranked 352nd of 353 teams. This team has two players that shoot better than 70% from the line. They manage to get to the line about 23 times per game which is fairly high for college basketball this season, but then proceed to only make about 13.5 of them. This could be a major factor in what is bound to be a close game.
The free throw shooting is not the end of the Billikens trouble, as they are 299th from the floor and 329th from outside this season so far shooting the ball. If it wasn't for their ability to turn people over to get transition baskets, this team would struggle to win at all. One other area they thrive is offensive rebounding, which gives them quite a few second chances to score. They average almost 14 offensive rebounds per game.
The biggest question on everyones mind is going to be how much and what version of Justin Robinson will we see on the floor in San Jose. If he is 100% and the stamina is there, then this contest could be over quickly. If he is limited than the focus returns to the rest of the roster which should still be capable of winning this game.
In the rebounding game, the Hokies need to be ready to score transition baskets on defensive rebounds, as St Louis focuses hard on getting offensive rebounds with their three Sprinters looking to extend possessions. If the Hokies can get out ahead of the Sprinters than they will find a much easier time scoring rather than allowing St Louis to get into their half-court game.
This is a game where Virginia Tech needs to make sure the team plays with energy regardless of the pace of play. The Hokies have struggled when the pace of play bogs down, letting their performance suffer, especially in the half court offense.
Clean crisp passes, limiting turnovers, and hitting open shots are the keys to success for this team. The Billikens break opponents by turning them over and limiting easy buckets. Get in behind them or beat them down the court and things get much easier against this opponent.
The Hokies will have to be more careful with the basketball especially in transition passes to prevent setting St Louis up for easy baskets. This is a defense that will look to stop the dribble so ensuring that teammates are moving without the ball will also be important to finding open opportunities on offense.
This game could prove challenging for the Tech big's because they will play a major role defensively, ultimately controlling how St Louis approaches the basket. If they can prevent the dribble drive by the Billikens bigs, then St Louis will be forced to jump shots much more, which will reduce their scoring. The other critical aspect of this is that Kerry Blackshear must avoid early foul trouble.
The Hokies and Billikens are fairly similar size wise although the Billikens have a deeper bench in terms of guys 6'8 or 6'9. Crisp passes and getting open looks will be critical for both sides but Tech needs to find a way to beat the Billikens down the court and score in transition.
Very similar rosters, although the Hokies have better size in the starting five. The groupings on the floor though should look the same with a ton of guards and one "big man" down low. The key to this game will be controlling the defensive rebounding and not playing into turnovers.
The Hokies will need to stay out of foul trouble early on. This could be challenging with how the Billikens guards like to get to the basket. Fouls could determine this game on both sides of the court as the Billikens struggle at the line but also struggle with fouls. Six of the eight rotation players for the Billikens average 2.3 fouls per contest or more.
Hill is in rhythm, Alexander Walker still manages to go for 20 points and Blackshear will be the turning factor against the Billikens Bigs. Justin Robinson is likely limited compared to his normal 35 minute per game output but contributes several key assists on perimeter shots that help to build the Hokies lead.
Hokies win 71-61.