Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
After a 78-73 loss to the Georgia Southern Eagles Saturday, in what will go down as one of the worst in modern Tech basketball history (hopefully), the Hokies fell to 8-2 and jeopardized much of the goodwill they had built up over the course of the first month of the season with the media, college basketball experts and the fan base. For a look into what caused this brain fart of a performance, simply read below. I'll do my best.
The number one reason the Hokies lost this game is effort. Many 2012 Tech basketball and James Johnson apologists have said something to the effect of, "well, this team is tired and needs a break," but the reality is that they were coming off of nearly a week of no games. Often teams will play every two or three days (at least twice a week) in conference, and on occasion less than 48 hours from the starting tip of the last game. The real reason isn't that this team is tired (or if so, there are some issues), but rather that they didn't show up. Not for this game, and not for the previous game. Perhaps 15 or even 10 years ago, that would have been acceptable. But in this day in age, where the line between a mid-major (I'm being generous there) and a high-major team is blurred, no team can reasonably expect to walk through a game and come away with the win, no matter how poor the opponent.
While the oft-used Frank Beamer line of "give them credit" usually irks me to no end, it is appropriate here, as Georgia Southern worked their asses off in this game, and rose to the occasion. Should the Hokies have lost to them? No. But the way the Eagles played all game long showed their desire to win and the effort they were putting into it, while Tech on the other hand was content to win by whatever they could and was busy playing fundamentally bad basketball.
C.J. Reed and Cleon Roberts bombed away from deep, hitting five and four 3-pointers respectively, representing nine of the Eagles' 11 made 3-pointers. Not surprisingly they were the Eagles leading scorers at 22 and 20 points respectively. But even had the Eagles not been ridiculously hot from beyond the arc, I think that their energy and hustle would have kept them in this game until late.
The Hokies did force 17 turnovers, and committed a negligible amount of their own (officially 13, though it seemed like more). But that total doesn't account for the number of empty possessions the Hokies had in which they forced up contested and out-of-rhythm shots (too often 3's) or didn't move the ball or move enough off the ball. The result: Tech shot under 40% from the field and 22% from behind the arc. In their best 2011 Duke impression, they also chucked up an unwieldy 27 3-point shots, 13 of which by Jarell Eddie who was fishing for offense via the longball.
The Hokies offense set a new low in the first half as well. For the first time I can remember in many years of watching college basketball, the Hokies failed to record a single assist on a basket in the first frame. ZERO assists. In total, they managed seven for the game, many of which came during the two or three mini-pushes the Hokies made during the early and middle parts of the second half.
The loss is a big one, as the Eagles only had one previous victory over a Division I team, and drops the Hokies to 8-2 on the season, and although that doesn't appear a big issue, the loss was as bad as the win over Oklahoma St. was good, effectively canceling out the effect. Therefore, the Hokies will have to win more games, essentially 2/3 of their conference games and to go undefeated throughout the rest of their non-conference schedule to make the NCAA Tournament, whereas if they had won their remaining out of conference games, it may have lowered the number of conference wins needed by two games. And for a program that has been on the wrong side of the cut more than any team over the last decade, Tech fans should appreciate how important one game can be. If the Hokies fail to make the tourney, we can look back at this game as either the cause of the start of the cause.
James Johnson must find a way to re-instill the confidence in the team, the kind that they exhibited while running up a 7-0 record. In the three games since, they have played with little confidence, twice no sense of urgency and reverted to their old tendencies (particularly Robert Brown and Jarell Eddie). They need to trust the process that got them to this place. Passing, moving the ball with a purpose, moving off the ball, hustling and boxing out to clear a rebound, and fewer isolation-dominated possessions that ended in hoisting up terrible shots. Those are tendencies of previous years, ones that this team cannot afford to do even more so than previous renditions of this team.
It is also exceedingly apparent how lost this team is without Erick Green on the floor or in possessions where he doesn't see the ball. What were thought to have emerged as second and third scoring options in Brown and Eddie have proven their ineffectiveness when they are taken out of their game, and how that frustration leads to absolute and complete breakdown of the offense.
But all is not lost. The Hokies are 8-2, much better than any of us expected at this point. The team should not however rest on their laurels, because in the grand scheme of things, they have done essentially nothing. Yes, they inspired the fans to believe in them for over a month, but without changing some disturbing tendencies, that is all it will be, at least for this season. Remember, the disastrous team of 2011-12 was 7-3 at this point a year ago and would end out of conference play at 11-4. The season is far from over, but until these changes are embraced and implemented on a consistent basis, it's hard to tell what Virginia Tech team we're going to see on a given night. We just have to hope that it isn't the team that showed up (or didn't show up) to play Georgia Southern.