There are games that allow a coach to make mild tweaks to his roster, and then there are games against a team like Alabama A&M that allow for an overhaul in approach.
The Hokies beat the Bulldogs 65-55 in Cassell Coliseum on Sunday. Tech used an odd and deep rotation that saw Christian Beyer lead the team in both points (13) and rebounds (9).
Buzz Williams played the walk-on Beyer and little used Will Johnston for the entire first half, while a gaggle of players never took off their warm ups. Devin Wilson, Malik Mueller, Jalen Hudson and Satchel Pierce didn't see a minute of action in the opening 20, while Joey van Zegeren played a mere two.
"We've got to figure out how to play better, we've got to figure out who plays best together and we've got to figure out who plays hardest the longest," Williams said. "And that's not any name specific, that's just our program. We have to establish that regardless of the final score and regardless of the opponent. We've got to figure that out."
It was quite apparent that Williams wanted to mix things up after last week's debacle against Radford. What better time to do it than against a Bulldogs team that was 1-5 and hadn't won a game against a division one opponent all year?
Eventually, every active player on the roster eventually saw the floor, with Wilson and Mueller playing the final 11 minutes. But it was easy to notice that Tech was doing a ton differently and much of it worked.
The most noticeable change for the Hokies was the decision to play freshman Justin Bibbs at point guard for the majority of the game. Bibbs has had a small ball handling roll at times this season, but it was clear that his coach was throwing him into an entirely different position this week.
"I don't think Bibbs has a position," Williams said. "And the history of my career says those are the guys that are the best in how we play."
Though it looked awkward at times, Tech had the majority of their success when Bibbs was running point, including closing the half on a 17-0 run. I'm going to write about this more this week, but Buzz experimenting with his point guard spot is very interesting and possibly telling.
The Hokies moved the ball incredibly well in the first half as Bibbs ran alongside Beyer, Johnston, Ahmed Hill and Shane Henry. Those five were whipping the ball around, making Alabama A&M chase them all around the court. It was a clinic on not over dribbling and it lead to a slew of layups and close shots (including a driving layup for Johnston).
Another interesting move was that the Hokies played more zone than I've seen them play all year, especially with the five players mentioned above. Tech forced nine turnovers in the first half as a combination of the zone and their athleticism caused big problems for the Bulldogs.
Though zone is not particularly comfortable for Williams, his team was trying some different things to see what worked defensively. They played some man, some traditional 2-3 zone, some pressing zone and a hybrid zone/man. I'm not sure there's an answer as to which one worked the best, but it's clear that Buzz is trying to put his players in the best position to succeed, even if it makes him uncomfortable.
What should have made him comfortable, however, was the final tally. The Hokies were able to come away with a victory and still let Buzz experiment with many different looks on offense and defense. Williams doesn't have many more games to do this, so hopefully he was able to see a few things that can be successful down the road.
It's hard to take much away from this game; playing time was heavily dispersed, the opposing team was dreadful and I have absolutely no idea which changes will stick moving forward. Basically what I'm telling you is not to bombard me with questions about Beyer being the missing piece of the puzzle.
However there was enough in Cassell on Sunday to make you wonder exactly how all of these puzzle pieces will fall into place. But if the future holds any changes like we saw today, we may not find out what those all of those pieces look like for quite some time.