Happy New Year’s to all of Hokie Nation. We all got to watch a treat at the tail end of 2016 with the Hokies shellacking the Blue Devils, 89-75. Funnily enough, the game was nowhere close to that score line. Virginia Tech led wire-to-wire in one of the most impressive performances by any team in the early stages of conference play. They moved the ball around like a hot potato, finding not good shots, not great shots, but “perfect shots” as Buzz Williams likes to call it. This led to a commanding 16 point halftime advantage and the Hokies never looked back.
1. #4 Virginia. #7 Miami. #4 Duke. All three fell to the Hokies in the confines of Cassell Coliseum over the last two seasons. And the last two were not even close. At ACC Media Day, Jim Larranaga said the Cassell crowd was the best road environment he’s seen in his 5 seasons in the ACC. This is not a coliseum, it’s a fortress. Check the calendar. It has been 339 days since the Hokies last lost a home game (91-83 to Louisville). The players have voiced their appreciation for the fan base, and this Zach LeDay quote sums it up fairly well.
“They were incredible,” said the redshirt senior. “It made us play better. We hope teams recognize this will be a tough place to win.”
Well Zach, this team has proved that there is a home court advantage in Blacksburg. One more thing to note: the ACC scheduled UVA last year and Duke this year over winter break, which really is not fair to this program. The students deserve to be there to watch this special group.
2. When you look at how each of the two rosters are composed, they could not be more different. From his time in Blacksburg, we know that Buzz does not go for the ultra-talented phenom of a kid who has had people tell him all his life he has a future in the pros. He wants the player with something to prove. Look at Duke’s roster and you’ll see the exact opposite. Krzyzewski’s squad is composed of five 5-star recruits, while the Hokies do not even boast one. Yet Virginia Tech still won by 14. There is something to be said about experience, as well as the comradery of this group achieved through the journey of clawing their way out of the basement of the ACC to being a respected opponent in the best conference in the country.
3. Speaking of rosters, the Hokies might be fielding one of the most interesting and unique teams in the NCAA. Look at the roster and you will find three things in common with every player. Athletic – check. Ability to get to the rim off the bounce – check. A willingness to put 120% night-in, night-out? Check. The versatility of this group compares to the “death lineup” pundits bring up when they talk about the Golden State Warriors. They can all defend 1-5, shoot the ball, attack the rim, and pass. In 2014, Buzz Williams didn’t use a big half the time because he just didn’t have one, but now he doesn’t even need one. It is impossible for a defense to cover all that ground when the Hokies are on their game like they were Saturday afternoon. Not even Duke’s McDonald’s All Americans could keep up with the pace and speed Virginia Tech possesses. Very telling.
4. The confidence and effort of this team never wavers, which is somehow still surprising to see. They play with an underdog mentality every single possession. Every drive to the rim is a full commitment. Every defensive possession is hard fought. Every loose ball belongs to the Hokies. With every grind-it-out play, they become more confident, and then you look at the scoreboard and they are up big. And when this team’s confidence grows, you end up with plays like this:
5. The guy who finished off the alley-oop, Chris Clarke, has been the Hokies’ best player by far in the last four games. Buzz Williams has labeled 5 as the engine and LeDay as the heart and soul of the team. Clarke has been the fuel this team needs to succeed. He is a dynamic athlete who has all the physical talent in the world to be great. He does it all for the Hokies. On one sequence, he defended future lottery pick Jayson Tatum beautifully, scooped up the rebound, and went coast-to-coast for the lay-in. He has fit in perfectly with Buzz’s downhill attack offense. Over his last five game, he’s averaged 15.4/9.2/4.2 on 75% shooting. This has been a remarkable run for the young forward. Look for him to continue to grow and receive national praise for his play as the season wears on.
6. Meanwhile, the guy who threw the oop, Seth Allen, has lost just once to Duke in his career. Allen had a career game, and while the numbers may not show it (14/1/5), even Buzz Williams admitted that this was one of his best performances as a Hokie (video). While Allen has not been the most consistent performer during his time here, he has been lights out through thirteen games this season, especially from behind the arc where he’s hitting 44% of his shots. Williams (in the video linked above) acknowledged that he has never learned more from a player than he has from the redshirt senior. His impact on the team as a leader and a playmaker is difficult to quantify. Allen is certainly giving it his all in his final collegiate season.
7. Remember when the Hokies had a chance to win the Coastal at home against Georgia Tech and they blew the opportunity away? That night was not helpful in recruiting with all the big-time talent watching the game. However, Buzz Williams was not going to fall into that trap again. With an extensive list of recruits and commits visiting Blacksburg, the Hokies did not disappoint. A signature blowout win on your home floor, one of the best places to play in the ACC, the best conference when it comes to basketball (and football)? Sells itself. Really good win in that aspect as well.
8. Let’s travel to the bad guys in blue for a second and talk about Grayson Allen. No, not the suspension. The fact that some think that the Hokies would not have won if he had played. There is some credibility – Allen has been one of their better playmakers and it was evident that the Blue Devils were solely reliant on Luke Kennard to win this game. But the Hokies had pretty much everything on lockdown. I sincerely doubt that Allen could have made a impact on this game, although you can never really pinpoint the impact of a leader’s presence. It is a moot point anyhow. Duke had more than enough talent to win this game, but instead were utterly outmatched.
9. Tonight’s leading scorer, Justin Bibbs, had been going through a recent dry spell, hitting just 38.5% of his three-point attempts. It was not troublesome at all for the Hokies given the fact that they still had a bevy of shooters to pick up the slack. However, Virginia Tech needed someone else to step up today to deliver a top performance and Bibbs did just that. He finished 4-5 beyond the arc and totaled a team-high 18 points. He can be a streaky shooter, but against ranked opponents, Bibbs has been extraordinary. In the last five games against ranked opponents at home – yes, that is kind of cherry picked – Bibbs is a combined 16-24 from deep.
10. You just know UVA saw the score and said to themselves, “man, now we got to worry about these guys?” The Hoos dropped one at home to the surging Seminoles just a few hours after the Hokies trounced the Blue Devils. The rivalry with Virginia has become tighter over Buzz Williams’ tenure, and this Hokies side already has one win over the Cavaliers. With Virginia Tech likely to be ranked in Monday’s AP Poll, the two rivalry games against UVA will be very, very interesting. Maybe not at the level of the Duke-UNC clashes, but something close to it.