Through eleven games, the Hokies sit at 8-3. Given the strength of their opponents, that’s about where most expected them to be prior to the season. The Hokies have won the games they were supposed to, and have been competitive and showed grit in every game aside from a 99-77 loss against #5 Iowa State. With the ACC schedule coming up in less than 10 days, now is a good time for Buzz Williams and his staff to self-scout in order to best prepare for some of the top teams of the country. Without further ado, here is a quick reflection of what we’ve seen for the Hokies so far:
Zach LeDay is the easy answer here. He’s been averaging nearly a double-double a game, and has been absolute terror on the offensive glass, ranking 5th in the entire country in Offensive Rebounds. You could certainly make the case that he’s been the team’s MVP. However, a less obvious “big” surprise has been the rebounding in general. Virginia Tech has a +9.5 rebounding margin per game, which ranks 18th in the country. Last season, the Hokies 308th in the nation in total rebounds, so it was an offseason emphasis to get bigger to better compete on the glass. Needless to say, that strategy has paid off. Virginia Tech has won the boards battle in 10 of 11 games this season.
Studs and Duds:
Seth Allen was supposed to come in here and have the spotlight on offense. While he has done that to some extent, the true star of the offense (aside from LeDay) has been Justin Bibbs. The 6-5 sophomore has been lights out shooting the ball this season. His 64% 3-point percentage ranks second in the country, and the Hokies average an excellent 1.44 points per offensive possession with him on the court. Buzz and his staff would be wise to give Bibbs more opportunities because he’s only averaging 8.6 FGA per game, which is a number that should go up very soon.
Another guy which has stood out has been Chris Clarke. The prized recruit of the offseason has shown us his talent. Although his stats aren’t great, he has shown the ability to beat him man one-on-one and take it to the basket. He needs some work on his perimeter shooting, but his defense has been solid and he should improve when he gets minutes against some of the best players in the ACC.
There haven’t been absolute duds on this team. A lot of that can be credited to good coaching because Buzz seems to get the most out of his players. However, the biggest disappointment of the season is probably Seth Allen. On paper, he hasn’t been bad. Allen puts up nearly 14 PPG, but he just hasn’t been the playmaker the Hokies are looking for. His Assist-Turnover Ratio is less than 1, and too often it feels like he looks for his own shot. And he hasn’t been a good perimeter shooter either. At Maryland, he was a threat opponents had to respect, shooting 38% from beyond the arc. That number has dropped to 24% this season, and if Bibbs is the only perimeter threat the Hokies have, they will struggle. Allen needs to find his range and make opponents respect him. In addition, his defense has been good, but not great. There have been too many times his man is able to penetrate the middle of the defense leading to open shots.
Things to Improve Upon:
The free throws. They might as well rename them “expensive throws”, because they sure aren’t free for Virginia Tech. Although they’ve taken the 3rd most free throws, they rank 281st in free throw percentage. Anybody can tell you that’s not a winning formula. ACC opponents also won’t foul as much due to better defense, so the Hokies need to make their trips to the charity stripe count.
Losing Adam Smith may have hurt the Hokies than most initially thought. The three point shooting was atrocious to start the season, but has improved over the last five or six games. Over the first five games, the Hokies shot just 26% from beyond the arc. However, that percentage has jumped to a solid 40% since then. The Hokies have also taken a lot more threes, attempting at least 14 in five of the last six contests. A lot of it has to do with better ball movement and player movement, which are keys to getting open looks. But keep in mind, the last few teams the Hokies have faced aren’t solid defensive teams. Whether or not this trend is fool’s gold is something to keep your eye on.
The turnovers will also become a big factor in ACC games. The Hokies have been careless with the ball, gifting opponents with easy buckets in transition. They rank 143rd in turnover margin, but only LeDay and Bibbs have turnover percentages (amount of times a player turns it over per 100 possessions) that are less than 10%. A lot of that has to do with inexperience. Buzz has to reinforce the value of the possession in order for the Hokies to compete with their conference opponents.
Buzz was brought in here to build a program, and so far it looks like he's on the right track. The greatest coaches are the greatest motivators, which is a mantra which fits him well. This season, the Hokies haven't really put together a complete game on offense and defense against a quality opponent (some in part due to a lack of quality opponents). But Buzz has done well with a young, growing squad. If I had to give him a letter grade, it would be a solid B. He's been good with his personnel adjustments, but at certain points of the game the team can lose mental sharpness. Hopefully, as the team gains experience and chemistry, that will make life easier on Buzz.
Overall, Virginia Tech certainly does pass the eye test this year more so compared to years past. Their +14.1 scoring margin ranks 35th in the country. However, there is plenty to improve upon. Right now, it seems like the Hokies will be outmatched once more by most teams in the ACC. But that’s why they play the games, right?