What a bucket of garbage.
Like, a literal bucket of garbage.
My grandparents used to have a bucket they kept by the sink where they threw things like fruit pits and vegetable peels together to get funky, so they could use it as fertilizer. It stunk. It was gross inside and out. It was something no one wanted to go near, not to mention catch a whiff of.
The Virginia Tech men's basketball team's 52-49 win over Georgia Tech was that kind of bucket of garbage.
Sure, all you people in the comments will hit me with "well a win's a win!" while moving on about your merry day, but I think it's important to consider at what cost a bucket of garbage comes.
At my grandparents' house, they got great fertilizer for their vegetables, but it came at the cost of my nose.
The Hokies won the basketball game, but it came at the cost of our eyes.
Their 52-49 victory in Atlanta was what we can call an outlier(let's hedge our bets here and say "probable outlier). The Hokies shot 17-57 from the field (29.8%), 5-27 from three (18.5%), and 13-19 from the line (68.4%). They missed open shots and contested shots. Shots from near and shots from far. Shots from right and shots from left. You could write a damn Dr. Seuss book about the number and type of ways they missed.
But luckily for them? The Yellow Jackets were even worse. Georgia Tech hit at a decent clip, but took 20 fewer attempts than the Hokies, due to their 18 turnovers and 50% rate from the free throw line.
If ESPN had a sense of humor, they'd set this entire game to Yakety Sax and put it behind their paywall.
The Hokies won for two reasons. Kerry Blackshear Jr was everywhere in the first half. Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker couldn't buy a basket (4-23 combined), but their big man bailed them out, taking Yellow Jacket defenders down low with glee.
The post player had 12 of his 14 in the first 20 minutes, keeping what was otherwise an atrocious team offensive performance afloat. But even when he stopped scoring, Blackshear crashed the glass, was a force inside, and drew so much attention that the Hokies collected 13 offensive rebounds.
They may not have been able to make many shots, but because of the rebounding effort they were able to take (and make) enough of them to win.
Secondly, their defense was impenetrable, and forced the Jackets into uncomfortable positions all night. They were physical, and caused chaos to the point where it was surprising any time Georgia Tech did something positive. With Paul Johnson in the building, you could say it was reminiscent of a Bud Foster-led performance. At least, any one before the 2018 season (if you can't laugh about it now, when can you? Right?)
Even when Josh Pastner's club had the chance to tie or take the lead, the Hokie defense never faltered. In fact, their intensity grew.
Everyone is on a string. They communicate through every pick (both off and on ball), and Wabissa Bede won't let the ball get within five feet of primary option Jose Alvarado.
Bede's defense is so good there, it's unreal. Alvarado ran through two picks to set up a one-on-one situation with the defense overloaded to one side (with the possibility to run a two man game with Abdoulaye Gueye, who's to his left).
Should Alvarado simply catch the ball, Pastner has what he wants (his best player, away from much of the defense with a chance to win). But Bede simply doesn't let it happen. Chaos ensues, and the Yellow Jackets don't know where to go with the ball. Hokies win one that they would have lost in seasons past.
It may have been an awful game, but it was an incredible defensive performance from the Hokies. And with Virginia next on the schedule, hope to see that kind of play continue.
The Starting Five
Unlike last time, these are the five most concerning things I saw tonight.
5. The depth problem
I'm not concerned that Buzz only has eight guys to pull from. Eight players is a pretty normal rotation both collegiately and professionally, and barring anything catastrophic they should be fine against most teams.
But the worry did creep into my brain as I watched the full court sprint between UNC and NC State on Tuesday night. Both squads ran up and down, played nine dudes a piece, and made me tired watching from the couch.
How will the Hokies manage games not only against the Tar Heels (an obvious ACC contender), but against deep squads like the Wolfpack and Florida State (two teams on Tech's talent tier)? Duke/UVA/UNC were always going to be tough, but those other games have peaked my concern as well.
4.The top-10 talk-up
Virginia Tech being a top-10 basketball team is great. Amazing. Unheard of. Borderline unsettling.
But I forgot how annoying it is to go into an opposing arena with the fans going crazy and the announcers talking about how good the Hokies are, and then acting like it was an insane thing for them to come out ice cold. Announcers, by their nature, want to call an upset. It's just more fun to see an unranked underdog like the Jackets take down their big bad opponent, and I think we'd all want the same thing to happen if we were in that position.
But since this is the first time the Hokies have ever been on the receiving end of the old "insert ranked team here has to be careful! Things could get dangerous in insert literally any opposing arena tonight!", it makes games extra stressful. Especially close ones like this, and I hate it.
Could announcers just go back to loving Buzz Williams and calling his team a scrappy underdog again? Is that too much to ask?
3. The Penn State parallels
Road game against a trash power five team with a good defense. It wasn't a coincidence that we saw similar struggles against the Nittany Lions. Both squads are in the top 20 in defensive efficiency, and can give anyone problems on that end of the floor.
But it was disheartening to see both Alexander-Walker and Robinson no-show, but to their credit they were playing a great defense! It's not like they'll face something that stingey every night, right?
They play a whopping seven games against teams with top-20 defensive efficiency (UVA twice, Duke, UNC, Syracuse, Florida State, and Georgia Tech again). Three of those are on the road.
Will Tech be able to do enough against some of the tougher defenses to eek out a win like they did tonight, when the Yellow Jackets basically wrapped it up and gave it to them with a gift receipt?
I think so. But it deserves some thought.
2. Ahmed Hill in ACC play
We all know the numbers don't look great, but let's check them out again.
Sophomore year: 45% pre-ACC, 34% post-ACC/NCAA Tournament
Junior year: 51% pre-ACC, 30% post-ACC/NCAA Tournament
Senior year: 49% pre-ACC, currently 5-17 (29%) in his first three ACC games.
I don't believe in curses or bad luck when it comes to this much data. Hill missing so many shots in conference play is an interesting trend, especially considering not only how well he's shot (even in specific moments against conference opponents) at times, but how deep he hits many of those shots.
Here's my theory: Hill has a hitch in his shooting form.
That pause he takes with the ball down by his torso as he gathers, then moves into his shooting motion, that's his comfort zone. When he can do that, he's a 48% shooter.
But here's the thing about the ACC. These coaches play you two or sometimes three times a year, and they know your scouting report. Close out quickly on Hill, and he rushes his shooting form, turning a 48% shooter into a 34% shooter. In order to defend Tech, opponents have to do that every time.
The one difference this season is that Hill isn't defined by his corner threes. Yes, he needs to hit them to keep the offense in its flow, but he's a pesky defender. He gets out in transition. He can dribble baseline, force a defensive rotation, and find the right teammate. He's still the best version of himself, even if the triples in conference play still don't fall.
1. When're we going to start talking about Justin Robinson?
I'm not sure if he's injured or just in a bit of a slump, but the senior point guard has played pretty poorly since the team came back from Christmas.
Yes, he wound up banking in the go-ahead triple with three minutes to go, and had a chance for a game-icing dagger moments later, but he hasn't looked right for a while. His scoring has been down since Purdue (the only time he broke 20), but that's due largely to his shifted role in the offense—he's a true floor general, his job is to get everyone involved and operating at a high capacity.
It's the other stuff, however, that concerns me. His turnovers don't reflect it, but he's been more careless with the ball. His passes aren't always putting his teammates in positions to succeed (a completed bounce pass to Blackshear's ankles, for instance), or are downright risky.
Against both BC and Georgia Tech, he seemed gassed at points in the second half (not great for a team without a pure backup point guard just three games into conference play), and just hasn't been particularly effective.
As much as I rave about Alexander-Walker, Tech needs Robinson more than anyone. He's vital to everything they do on both ends of the court, and if he's not playing well there's always a potential for disaster.
And considering their next opponent is Virginia, that's a problem.