Date/Time: March 24 2019 / 7 p.m.
Site: San Jose, CA (SAP Center)
Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network
Talent: Jon Laaser & Mike Burnop
TV/Internet: TBS/ESPN app
Talent: Spero Dedes, Steve Smith, Jim Jackson & Ros Gold-Onwude
Live Stats: HokieSports.com
Game Notes: Virginia Tech
SXM 207 (Streaming 974)
Round 2: 2700 miles to play Liberty
Buzzketball came out high energy on both ends of the floor and held St Louis to the lowest half of scoring in any modern NCAA tournament game. A quick 22 point lead at halftime though dwindled in the second half as the Billikens pushed back to get within ten. That was as close as the Hokies allowed the game to get. Now they get a second helping of Liberty on the season, after playing the Flames in the preseason scrimmage back in early November. The Hokies won that scrimmage 86-70 with some hot perimeter shooting, five Hokies reaching double figures, including 16 from freshman Isaiah Wilkins. Liberty reached the second round by upsetting Mississippi State.
This is the 18th time the Hokies and Flames will meet on the floor. The Hokies are 14-3 in the previous contests. The Flames are 29-6 and won the Sun Conference in their first year. The Flames are coached by Ritchie McKay, who took over the program in 2016. Prior to Liberty, McKay was the Associate Head Coach at UVA under Tony Bennett for six seasons. Before that he was a head coach at Liberty, New Mexico, Oregon State, Colorado State, Portland State. He is 288-240 as a head coach, while 123-82 between two stints at Liberty.
Defensively, the Flames employ the pack-line defense that Coach Ritchie McKay took from his six years under Tony Bennett. Think UVA version .75, as they employ the principles nearly as effectively as UVA. So far this season, Liberty allows the 8th fewest points per game at 61.2 PPG. Opponents only manage to shoot 32% from the perimeter. The one major difference in how McKay employs the pack-line is that he does utilize some man to man tendencies more than UVA does.
Offensively, McKay's system is mainly an inside-out offense that uses the bigs receiving the ball and then passing to open shooters on the perimater. 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 Flames 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.
Junior Caleb Homesley, #1, 6'6, 205 lbs is the Flames second leading scorer, playing more the role of small forward than guard. He is averaging 12.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.7 APG and 1 SPG. He shoots 59% inside, 32% from outside, and 71% from the line.
Senior Lovell Cabbil, #3, 6'3, 170 lbs, at scoring 11.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.8 APG and 1 SPG. He is shooting 52% inside so far, primarily because he uses his big body to get to the rim. He also hits 46% from the perimeter so this is the one Flame the Hokies really need to extinguish to control this game. He also makes 86% from the line.
Sophomore Elijah Cuffee, #10, 6'4, 185 lbs is putting up 7.7 PPG, 2 RPG, 1.9 APG, and1.4 SPG so far. A bit of do everything, especially defensively which is critical in Ritchie McKay's defensive scheme. Cuffee shoots 50% inside, 42% outside, and 87% from the line.
Freshman Darius McGhee, #2, 5'9, 160 lbs rounds out the main rotation of guards while putting up 7.5 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.1 APG and 1 SPG. He shoots 57% inside, 31% outside and 91% from the line.
Junior Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, #11, 6'1, 170 Lbs is the sixth man. He averages 7.1 PPG, 1.6 RPG, and 2.3 APG spelling the primary ball handlers in Homesley and Cabbil. He shoots 46% inside, 48% outside and 88% from the line.
Junior Scottie James, #31, 6'8, 235 lbs is the Flames leading scorer and a major contributor on second chance opportunities, averaging over 4 offensive rebounds per game. He is putting up 12.9 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.5 SPG and 1.5 BPG.
When James is unable to go, or the Flames are struggling against a team with size, then they utilize two additional forwards.
Senior Forward Keenan Gumbs, #5, 6'5, 230 lbs will spell James down low. He is averaging 5.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1 SPG and 1 BPG.
Junior Myo Baxter-Bell, #0, 6'5, 255 Lbs is also utilized in this role. He averages 5.1 PPG, 2.5 RPG, and 1.4 APG.
What to expect from Liberty?
The Flames play the pack-line defense with man to man tendencies, utilizing larger guards and a single forward to shut down the lane. Cabbil and Homesley typically clear the perimeter shots. Shortening the shot clock and forcing opponents into turnovers and challenged shots is the ultimate goal. The forced Mississippi state to miss 10 of their last 11 shots in the first round game.
This team is the polar opposite of the Hokies first round opponent from the free throw line. While St Louis was second to last, the Flames are 12th in the country in Free Throw Percentage. This likely doesn't play a major role, as the Flames only go to the line an average of 15 times per game but if the Hokies find themselves behind late, having to foul this could be a determining factor.
The Flames do not get into foul trouble, with only one starter averaging over 2 fouls per contest this season. They also do not rely on starters for heavy minutes, with 29.9 MPG the highest of any player and seven players playing more than 20 MPG.
The Flames average over 24 attempts beyond the perimeter, shooting 37% on the season, so the Hokies need to ensure they close out or face giving up quick baskets that will keep the Flames in the game.
In the rebounding game, the Hokies need to be ready to score transition baskets on defensive rebounds, as Liberty focuses hard on preventing transition and getting set in their half court. If the Hokies can get out ahead of the Flames than they will find a much easier time scoring rather than allowing Liberty to get into their half-court game.
The pace of play could vary greatly in this contest, so the Hokies need to be steadfast in finding their way to the basket or finding open shooters. If they are able to consistently get good looks than much like the last contest, they should build an early lead and be able to repel surges in the second half.
Blackshear, Blackshear, Blackshear, Blackshear.....get him the ball. The more possessions that he touches the ball the more likely the Hokies are to win.
The Hokies need to not let the opponent get in their head. Play this game as if Duke was across the aisle rather than an opponent they should beat and will cause major embarrassment back home if they don't.
How did Justin Robinson handle the first game and the tweaks to his leg that showed him shaking them off? How much is he able to contribute in this game. There is a noticeable difference in the passing with him on the court rather than off it.
Get out and move. Aggressive defense throughout, not just the first half. Find and make the open shots as they should be in short supply on both sides of this game.
The Hokies have better size in the starting five but both teams primarily employ four guards and one big. The key to this game will be controlling the defensive rebounding and not playing into turnovers. Once in the half-court, crisp passing and lane penetration are key to success.
Hokies win with a big game from Outlaw and normal contributions from Nickiel Alexander-Walker and Kerry Blackshear. Defensively Isaiah Wilkins will create a couple momentum plays that help separate this team.