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StLou's Previews: Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia Tech Hokies

What once looked to be a pretty run-of-the-mill home date with VT has taken on major significance with the arrival of the ESPN GameDay crew and a Villanova loss putting the #1 national ranking in the team's reach. The Hokies have plenty of reasons to want this one too, and will come in upset-minded. Are the Hoos ready for one of the most intriguing regular season games in years?

Game Details:

Date/Time: Saturday, Feb 10th, 6:00 PM
Location: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
TV: ESPN

What 'They' Say

Vegas: VIRGINIA -12, O/U 130.5
TAPE: Ranks VT #41, predicts a 77-61 UVA win, 92% confidence
KenPom: Ranks VT #43, predicts a 71-56 UVA win, 91% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters

PG #5 Justin Robinson, 6-2 190, JR
30.7 mpg, 13.6 ppg, 5.6 apg, 41% 3P%
SG #13 Ahmed Hill, 6-5 205, JR 
29 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 1.2 apg, 43% 3P% 
SF #4 Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 6-5 210, FR 
25 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 1.6 apg, 39% 3P% 
PF #10 Justin Bibbs, 6-5 220, SR 
32.6 mpg, 13.8 ppg, 1.7 apg, 40% 3P% 
C #24 Kerry Blackshear Jr., 6-10 260, JR 
24.3 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 6 rpg, 60% FG% 

Key Reserves

PG

#3 Wabissa Bede, 6-1 195, FR
8.3 mpg, 2.6 ppg, 0.7 apg, 53% 3P%
G #11 Devin Wilson, 6-4 195, SR
14.8 mpg, 2.9 ppg, 1.5 apg, 9% 3P% 
F  #14 P.J. Horne, 6-5 215, FR 
10.4 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 2 rpg, 65% FG% 
F #15 Chris Clarke, 6-6 210, JR 
25 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 57% FG% 

 

The ABC's of VT:

A) This is a pretty typical Buzz team, both ends of the floor. They're still playing 4 guards/wings around 1 post, looking to spread the floor on offense, and look to penetrate off the dribble to either finish at the rim, draw a foul, or kick to a shooter. And so far this year, the offense has been pretty effective at that. In fact they're leading the ACC in 2P FG%, finishing successfully on 57.5%. They're taking immaculate care of the ball as well, giving up the 3rd fewest turnovers and 2nd fewest live ball steals. Their 3P-shooting has regressed some in conference play, hitting over 40% as a team before ACC play started but only 35.7% since, but can get hot on certain nights, such as when they went 14/25 (56%) against Notre Dame, so their shooting still has to be respected. They even have a solid true big man now, as Blackshear has emerged as the team's #2 scorer in ACC play, knocking down 60% from 2, and even averaging 1/2 from three-point on a nightly basis. The two weaknesses to their offense are their offensive rebounding (the lack of size has left them dead last in the ACC here) and FT accuracy (a league-low 67% from the line).

On defense, rather than have one defensive system that he's drilled into his team, Buzz tries to slow teams down by constantly switching between zone looks. We'll see 2-3's, 1-3-1's, traps, and varying degrees of pressure. They're not particularly effective on the whole, with the ACC's 12th ranked defense to date. Teams have been able to score at all levels against them, both knocking down wide open threes at a 40.6% clip and at the rim (allowing 50.8% on 2's, and dead last in block rate). The only thing they do well is generate turnovers, sending their guards to pressure passers to the tune of creating a TO on almost 1 out of every 5 opponent possessions (18.9%), 4th in the ACC.

B) The Hokies need some wins to get off the Bubble. This season started off with a double-dose of bad news for the Hokies roster when sniper forward Ty Outlaw (last year: 49% from 3 on 117 attempts!) was lost for the year to injury, and backup center Khadim Sy decided to quit the team for the year (both are expected back next year). This meant pressing some true freshmen (Alexander-Walker, Bede, and Horne) and little-used reserves (Jackson, Wilson) into advanced duty, while also bringing Clarke and Blackshear back up to full speed after major injuries ending their 2016-17 seasons. Some struggles were to be expected, such as dropping a game to KenPom #143 St Louis in a November tournament. But with that said, it's somewhat of an accomplishment that as of today, they have a winning ACC record, tied for 7th with NC State, slugging it out with a crop of other near-.500 squads and trying to gain an edge before Selection Sunday. The close of their schedule is brutal, with @ Virginia, Duke home-and-away, Clemson, Louisivlle, at @ Miami over the next 3+ weeks. Wins aren't going to be easy in that stretch, so they'll be going into every contest with an edge, hungry to score 2 or 3 of these games as wins to be comfortable going into Brooklyn. 

C) Justin Robinson has been on fire. The PG has scored in double digits in every ACC game (with a high of 32 this week over NC State), 5th in the conference in assist rate (a 5.5:2.6 A:TO ratio, and has dropped double-digit dimes twice already in ACC play), and scoring his 17.3 ppg every way he can. He's shooting 56% from 2 (18th in the ACC) and 40% from 3 (14th), both on significant volume. And to top it off, he's getting to the line constantly too, 10th in the ACC at drawing fouls (over 4 a game), getting to the FT line at a high clip, shooting 5.5 FTAs  a game. Hopefully Nigel doesn't have too much rust, because we could really use his fresh legs to lead the on-ball defensive effort on Robinson; slowing Justin down, both as a scorer and a facilitator, will go a long way to securing the win. In our Jan 3rd win, Robinson was held to a relatively quiet stat line of 12 points on 9 shots, 4 boards, 1 assist against 4 TOs, and a large part of that was 15 great minutes Nigel gave us off the bench.

Their season to date:

Virginia Tech is 17-7 on the season, 6-5 in ACC play. They've scored one big win over North Carolina in Blacksburg, and haven't suffered any bad losses in ACC play. They're 3-2 on the road in the ACC, with losses at Syraucse and FSU, and wins at Wake, Notre Dame, and BC. Most recently they scored an 85-75 win over NC State at home. 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Play aggressive and confident on offense. Nothing particularly fancy is required here. No creative attacks to score over rim protection, or reverse motions to counter effective pressure defense. Just play our game with confidence. We protect the ball so well (still 1st in the ACC) that I'd be really disappointed if they can use their pressure defense to get us out of rhythm. Once we get into our half-court sets, we need our guys to either drive strong to the hole or find the open shooters to knock them down. This should be a great game for our 4's to work in the post, as they'll have a size advantage over Clarke, Hill, and Alexander-Walker. This was exactly the game plan last time around and it worked effortlessly, as we shot 50% close in and 48% from deep. This goes double anytime Wilson, Bede, Jackson, or Horne are in the game, four guys who have no business being on the floor in ACC play (at least not yet, for the freshmen). Just like Ty Jerome identified when he was being guarded by Alex O'Connell and Ryan McMahon in consecutive games and immediately went right at them, we should do the same any time the Hokies choose to play beyond their Top 6.

2) Don't let the whistles be a factor. The Hokies aren't quite as notorious this year for their kamikaze strategy on offense as they have been in previous years, actively hunting contact on the dribble-drive. But they'll play downhill and Buzz knows that free throws can be an equalizer against a defense like ours. They shot 26 free throws against us in their 2OT win last year, and 22 attempts in their 2016 win. We've really tightened up in this aspect this year, best in the conference at limiting shooting fouls. But that's not to say we can't occasionally see teams make the strategy work; FSU this week earned 19 shots from the line in a close loss, Wake and GT got to the line 14 times apiece, and in our first matchup VT earned 23 FTAs. The common thread in those games was they were all away, so hopefully we play our usual tight home game defensively, where we almost never put opponents on the line (giving up only 7.3 FTAs a game in ACC play at home); if we do, VT is going to need to be real hot to hang in there.

3) Take away the drive-and-kick. The more one-dimensional we make their offense, the better. Yes, they can, and to some degree probably will, get some points going downhill. But we can challenge those enough, without fouling of course (see #2), that it won't beat us by itself. They'll need to use that downhill action to create drive-and-kick opportunities for their jump-shooters. In our first matchup, we executed this brilliantly, with our perimeter defenders staying close enough to the shooters to harass them into a 2-12 shooting night from deep, while also picking up 9 steals off their ball movement.

 

GameDay!

Updated on February 8, 2018 by Seattle Hoo

ESPN College GameDay is in town.  The #1 ranking is on the line.  Win and the Hoos are #1 in the AP poll for the first time since Ralph Sampson trod the hardwood.

And I'm willing to bet the players don't care. On some level, I'm sure they want to be #1 - who doesn't? - but I'll bet the only thing on their mind is winning the game.  Nigel Johnson probably has an even simpler desire: to play.  It's been three games since he last played, and he undoubtedly wants to get out there and contribute.  I'm sure he feels he let his teammates down, and he wants to make it up to them.  He can start by playing good defense on Justin Robinson, who torched NC State for 32 points.  Robinson will not find the PacklineTM as tame as the Wolfpack, however.  This pack hunts as one.

Minutes from Johnson would be a great help on Saturday as the Hoos deal with Tech's frenetic pace.  The three starting guards played 116 of a possible 120 minutes in the Tucker Sauna on Wednesday night.  Johnson played well overall in the first contest with the Hokies.  His dribble penetration and ability to pick up the dribbler 94 feet from the basket are valuable weapons in the Cavaliers arsenal.

Isaiah Wilkins spent much of the first Hoos-Hokies game the way he has spent much of the ACC season this year: in foul trouble.  He fouled out Wednesday night.  Fortunately for the Hoos, De'Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite have picked up his slack.  Wilkins is the best Cavalier for manning the post against the quick, small, perimeter-oriented Hokies.  He is a good match for Chris Clarke, who is more undersized than he is and not a meaningful three-point threat.  He also can guard starting center Kerry Blackshear.  His ability to be disruptive on the perimeter and come back to protect the rim is valuable against Tech's offense.

Devon Hall was a big reason the Hokies perimeter players made more turnovers than field goals.  He also contributed 12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and a 2:0 S:TO ratio, with the only down mark on his performance being sometimes questionable shot selection.  Wednesday night against Florida State Hall was sensational as he continues to recover from pneumonia.  Yeah, the kid played with pneumonia against Louisville.

For the Senior Focus, we've reached the point of the season where what the games might mean to the seniors becomes more interesting than what they need to do or how they might match up.  For the analysis, just read our preview of the first game.  For Nigel Johnson, this is his one chance to really be part of this rivalry.  As a Virginia kid, he grew up in the middle of it. This is his one chance to take the floor against the Hokies with 14,000 Hoos around him willing him to victory.  For Devon Hall, this is his fifth and last home tilt against the Hokies, and the third with his former Cape Henry Collegiate teammate Clarke on the other side. Hall has never seen the Hoos lose to the Hokies in the JPJ - and you can be damn sure he doesn't intend to see it happen his last time.

Now it's real.  Remember Darion Atkins three years ago having the game of his life and completely dominating the last few minutes against Tech?  That's a senior realizing this is it.  For Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, this is it.  Last game with the Hokies.  One of only three home games left.  For a team that cherishes the moments, these are the moments Hall and Wilkins will cherish the most.  Fuck pneumonia, to hell with sore backs.  It's the last February of their college careers.

Hall, Wilkins and Johnson know they have to defend the drives without contact, then get a body on the man to monopolize the boards. The PacklineTM needs to move as one, not allowing the Hokies to collapse it or distort it for open looks from the arc.  They know that on offense they need to be patient and sound, take the ball into the paint and attack the undersized Hokies defense.  Do what the Hokies want to do: collapse the defense and kick it out.  Watch for Hall going downhill.  Expect them all to hit the floor when the ball is loose. Listen for the sound of their voices leading their teammates.

Virginia Tech at the JPJ for a chance to be #1 in the nation - it simply doesn't get any better than this.

 

Predictions:

I'm going to come right out and say we have no business losing this game. We're deeper, more experienced, more disciplined, and at home. This is a team Virginia pummeled barely a month ago, and Virginia has won the JPJ visit in this series by double digits in 5 straight contests, going back to Bub Evans' senior year. Nothing fancy is required here, just come out focused and hungry. VT has put up 80+ points in 8 of the 9 games since we held them to 52 (and reminder, they had to full-court press our walk-ons in garbage time to even break 50), so they will come into this confident their offense is going to travel. But there's nothing they're going to throw out Saturday that we haven't seen before. The question becomes can Virginia shut out the distractions (ESPN GameDay; #1 on the line), and weather VT's best shot in the 1st half, to take care of business the way we've done before.

The off-the-court implications do give this game a bit of a March feel, and this will be an intriguing look into how well this team plays with something on the line. Today it's a #1 national ranking. Next month it could be a Final Four trip on the line. I'm confident the closer this team gets to a prize, the more tenacious we're going to see them get after it. I don't see this as the utter blowout it was last month; the start of ACC play shellshocked VT (their offense was similarly shut down the game prior at Syracuse as well), so I do expect them to be somewhat better prepared this weekend, and our legs on offense do seem to be wearing down slightly as ACC play drags on (remember 5 of our last 7 were on the road). But either way, I'll shut up now. The streak of double-digit wins over VT at home gets pushed to 6.

Hoos Win - 68-55