Thanks to heroic efforts from Zach LeDay and Jalen Hudson, the Hokies can thank their lucky stars they escaped with an 86-81 overtime victory against Princeton. In the second round, it gets much, much tougher as the Hokies face BYU in Provo. For BYU (24-10/13-5), the first round probably went as well they could've wanted. The Cougars were able to get a relatively easy 97-79 win over 7 seed UAB, while the Hokies had to expend a lot of energy in their contest as it was a close one that required an extra period. Add in the fact that the game is on the road for Virginia Tech, it likely means they'll need every single energy reserve in their bodies.
Hopefully the last 9 minutes of the Princeton game serve as a wake up call for Virginia Tech. They stopped playing their game and lost their concentration multiple times, leading to turnovers and bad defense which allowed Princeton to come back. Against BYU, a nine-minute stretch like that could be game. BYU absolutely owned teams on the offensive end this season, scoring 84 PPG, ranking 8th in the NCAA in that category. With their 113.3 Offensive Rating, that means in 9 minutes BYU averages 18.9 points (84 PPG x (9/40 minutes)). A bad start would mean the Hokies would be in an even worse deficit than 12-2.
The Cougars are loaded with scorers everywhere. Four players average more than 12 PPG. The most notable of those names is Kyle Collinsworth. The 6-6 senior is a true a stat-stuffer and has been a triple double machine (12 triple doubles in his career - an NCAA record). His average stat line is tremendous: 15.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 7.5 assists. Collinsworth is at his best when penetrating; he has the ability to get to the rim and can also get the ball to his bigs once he draws attention towards himself. And because of his size, he's not afraid of tough finishes or mixing it up in the paint.
The Bob Cousy award finalist isn't a great deep threat, however, shooting just 25% from behind the three-point line. That's where the rest of the scorers pick up the slack. Chase Fischer is the leading scorer on the team, averaging 18.2 PPG on 41.4% shooting which isn't that efficient. However, he takes more than 8 three pointers a game (hits 36.8% from downtown with a relatively high .624 3-point attempt rate) which drags down his efficiency. His TS% is 57.9%, which is actually very good. Nick Emery is another high-volume 3-point shooter knocking down 38.5% of his shots from behind the arc. Earlier this year, the freshman hit 10-12 three pointers and scored a season high 37 points. so he can wreck a game plan if left open from deep. Emery has a greater propensity to attack the basket then Fischer, and can be effective from midrange and in the paint. The backcourt duo of Fischer and Emery is also dangerous from the free throw line, each of them knocking down about 83% of their free throws.
BYU also has the size and skill in the front court to match their wing players. Kyle Davis plays the 4 spot in the starting lineup for BYU. Averaging 12 PPG, he does a lot of his damage around the rim, capitalizing on great feeds from Collinsworth and being active on the offensive glass. Davis can also be effective in the pick-and-pop game from close range so he's not just a one-dimensional threat. Their starting center, Corbin Kaufusi, doesn't play a lot of minutes but he does make an impact on the boards, grabbing 4.4 rebounds per game. At 6-11, Nate Austin also rotates in frequently and provides solid defense on the interior. It will be a difficult task for the Hokies to counter BYU's size in the paint, but I don't anticipate any changes to Buzz's lineup on Friday.
One of the most important things that a road team has to do in a high-pressure game is control the pace of play. With their ability to get to the free throw line, the Hokies have one of the more unique play styles in the tournament. It doesn't let the other team get into a flow offensively due to all the stoppages it creates, and allows the Hokies to get set on defense. BYU on the other hand, loves to push the tempo. They rank 15th in the nation in Pace, averaging 73.4 possessions per game. That's not how the Hokies will want to play, especially on the road and coming off an extended game just two days ago.
How the Hokies will want to play is how they played for the middle 26-ish minutes of the game against Princeton. During that time frame, the Hokies outscored Princeton 55-34. By my count, they only took 7 three pointers during that span, and one of them was Devin Wilson's Hail Mary prayer which was somehow answered. They were able to get to the basket and draw fouls, and if the refs were actually competent, they would've had a lot more than 37 free throws. Surprisingly, Seth Allen and Justin Robinson were awfully quiet, and the Hokies were lucky that LeDay and Hudson essentially were able to win that game on their own.
It will take much more of a team effort and a much better shooting night. Against Princeton, Virginia Tech shot 44.4% and 23.5% from three-point range. At some point in this game, BYU will go on a run and the Hokies will need to be able to answer. With those shooting numbers, it will be hard to do so. Three-point shooting has got to get better. Justin Bibbs only went 1-6 from deep, and when he can't hit shots from the perimeter it severely limits the offense. It gets even harder considering BYU ranks 57th with a 97.7 Defensive Rating. Playing weaker WCC teams contributes to that, but as the Hokies learned against Princeton, you can't underestimate anyone, especially a team that has as much experience as BYU.
Personnel-wise, it's hard to see where the Hokies have a mismatch in this game. The Cougars have length all across the board, with 4 of 5 starters being 6-6 or taller. Instead of posting up on the low block, I would imagine LeDay to get plenty of opportunities to drive into the paint from the free throw line to take advantage of his quickness on Kyle Davis. Jalen Hudson, as inconsistent as he can be, might be the key to this game. His explosiveness and strength when going towards the rim was outstanding Wednesday, and at 6-5 he won't be bothered as much by the length of BYU's defenders. His confidence should be sky-high and hopefully he plays like it.
If there was one reason the Hokies should have lost against Princeton, it was free throw shooting. The Hokies somehow pick the worst times to revert back to December when they were shooting 68% at the line. On Wednesday night, Virginia Tech shot 70% at the charity stripe. That won't win many games, especially on the road. It's maddeningly inconsistent considering they shot 85% from the line in the ACC tournament. Maybe being on the road will help the Hokies concentrate better. Sometimes the home crowd's silence can put pressure on shooters to make free throws. Whatever it is, Buzz probably spent shoot around yesterday entirely at the line.
The Hokies likely will have a tough time on the glass in this one. Aside from the length and size factors, BYU has been very good at rebounding this year, posting a 53.4% Rebound Percentage which ranks 46th in the country. They are a smart team with experience and they know how to box out. Giving second chance points to a deadly offense on the road is not a winning formula, so it will take a team effort to rebound the basketball. Taking care of the ball is another thing the Cougars are excellent at. They rank 29th in the NCAA with a 13.6% Turnover Percentage. At home, it's not likely they'll lose their composure, so the Hokies may have to force the issue. Against Princeton, I liked how the Hokies mixed in the full-court press (even though Buzz kept doing it too long in my opinion). We may not see as much of that, but ball pressure will be key to forcing turnovers. I think the Hokies will need to force 15 or more turnovers to win this game because BYU's offense will be too much if they can get at least one shot each possession.
The road has not been kind to Virginia Tech, and Utah is certainly unfamiliar territory. The one thing the Hokies must emphasize is not letting BYU move the basketball with ease. In every loss, the Cougars haven't posted more than 15 assists (they normally average nearly 17 per game). If the Hokies can take away the team mentality from BYU and instill it in themselves, then they have a chance to win. But honestly, I don't have a great feeling about this game. BYU is much better than Princeton on both sides of the ball and the Hokies had to go to OT to take care of the Tigers.
The Hokies' marvelous season comes to a close, as they lose 84-74.