Without two key players injured and playing on short rest, the Hokies fell once again on the road to #12 Florida State. During their two game slide, Virginia Tech has failed to defend, rebound, shoot, and take care of the basketball – not exactly a proven recipe for success. The most concerning part of the last two performances has been the lack of response when the opposing team goes on a run. This has led to double digit halftime deficits with little momentum to seize after the break.
1. Watching FSU player after player come off the bench and perform well was incredible and at the same time envying. While the Hokies were forced to play walk-on Matt Galloway as their eighth man in the rotation, the Seminoles played an astonishing eight players on their bench. Just crazy. Obviously, Virginia Tech is dealing with more than a few critical injuries. But as Bill Belichick would say, it’s next man up. Right now, the Hokies are struggling to find a next man to contribute. The ACC is the arguably most talented league in college basketball, which is why it’s been so unpredictable this season. Even if the Hokies are able to rebound from a mediocre start to conference play, Buzz needs to focus on building depth over the next offseason through recruiting.
2. That depth is a major factor when on the road, playing off a short week, against one of the top teams in the nation. Virginia Tech has been disappointing to start road games, but they had a 22-20 lead over Florida State at one point. For once, they set the tone and threw the first punch. But you could see the effect of tired legs – once the Seminoles notched a 27-20 lead it was over. By halftime, Virginia Tech faced an 11-point deficit and were already running on fumes. Due to foul trouble, Buzz did not have many options left. However, it was certainly encouraging to see the fight in this team even when it was obvious they were gassed.
3. The most detrimental injury to the Hokies this season has been Kerry Blackshear’s. And I don’t think it’s close. Seth Allen is no doubt an important piece, but the Hokies have plenty of depth in the backcourt to at least lessen the blow – although it did not really show against FSU. It has become painfully obvious that Virginia Tech is missing a post presence. Sy has been very stout for a freshman. However, Blackshear is longer and runs the floor very well for a big, something crucial for Buzz Williams’ system. LeDay can’t do it all by himself down low, and Virginia Tech cannot continue afford to get pounded on the glass like they did Saturday and against NC State.
4. Another loss, another poor showing of ball security. The Hokies have turned it over and over again, and scarily do not seemed to have learned their lesson. After turning it over 20 times in Raleigh, Virginia Tech had 16 giveaways Saturday afternoon, but it felt like 30 because they did not even seem remotely capable of holding onto the ball. FSU stripped the ball on every drive to the basket, leading to sloppy basketball. Some of the turnovers are just horrific. For example, Justin Bibbs tried to push the ball quickly after a stop but just lost his dribble out of bounds. These types of turnovers have happened more than once. Furthermore, this team has been excellent in the drive-and-kick game this season, no question, although all too often they get caught in the air without any idea what they are going to do. That is a cardinal sin of basketball. Valuing the possession is a fundamental that the Hokies need to understand the importance of.
5. Virginia Tech has failed to play team basketball the last two games and the offense has been nonexistent as a result. The Hokies have impressed with their ball movement and ability to make extra passes this season. They have gotten away from that. On the season, 59% of the Hokies’ field goals have been assisted. Only 25% of their buckets were from assists against the Seminoles. In fact, the only player movement the Hokies generated were simple dribble hand offs. No pocket passes, no weakside corner passes, and almost no cutters to at least shift FSU’s zone. For a team that likes to spread the floor and attack from all angles, the Hokies have seemed hell-bent on making it a one-on-one game.
6. Speaking of one-on-ones, the only player to win his matchup was Chris Clarke. I don’t think you can say enough about his impact on the team. If you had to vote right now for team MVP, he would win in a landslide. Against the Seminoles, Clarke was the one who was relentlessly attacking and was somewhat consistent with his finishing en route to tying his career high of 22 points. Clarke may not put defenders on posters like LeDay, make flashy passes like Justin Robinson, or splash threes like Ahmed Hill. However, he does the little things well – sets hard screens, finds weak spots in the zone, and finishes at the rim with excellent body control. He leads the team in Win Shares and Box Plus/Minus. Buzz has gone on to say that he is the team’s best passer as well. Clarke has plenty to improve upon, but he is playing at a really high level right now, even though the team is struggling.
7. In retrospect, the Hokies’ two losses were unquestionably bad by scoring margin - although when you glance at the standings, the Wolfpack and the Seminoles are in the top 6 in the ACC through the first 10 days of conference play. Both games were on the road and one was against arguably a top 10 team. The pressure is on Virginia Tech to return the favor when teams visit Cassell. They evidently have the ability to do so judging from the way they stomped the Blue Devils.
8. I never like to complain about officiating. I have essentially accepted that officiating is mediocre and have come to expect it. I believe that good teams are able to overcome adversity, whether it be a bad call or an injury, and still find a way to win. And let’s not sugarcoat it: the Hokies deserved to lose the last two games. Nevertheless, when I see Robinson, LeDay, or Hill attack the rim and get absolutely mugged by someone a foot taller and fifty pounds heavier and not get a call, it continues to baffle me. Teams encourage players to get to the rim because they expect to be rewarded with free throws. That has not been happening lately for the Hokies. Robinson has to flail around while in the air to embellish contact so he can get just a little love from the refs. It’s ridiculous. Maybe this is why home court has become such a huge advantage in 2016 – away teams just aren’t getting calls while the home teams are.
9. There have been 21 conference games played so far. Home teams are 15-6 in those games, and no matter who they host, it always seems to be a blowout. Just before the Hokies took on the ‘Noles, Syracuse blew out Pittsburgh who took down UVA in overtime just three nights prior. As an away team, it is more likely you will get blown out than any other result. In their 15 wins, home teams are averaging a 15.2 point margin of victory. The four teams that sit at the top of the conference – FSU, Notre Dame, Duke, and Syracuse – are a combined 8-0 at home in ACC matchups. The teams that make it to the tournament out of the ACC will be the ones that have maybe one or two home losses and find a way to win just three or four road games. The Hokies still need to figure out how they are going to beat teams away from Blacksburg. They have not found the secret formula yet.
10. The good news is the Hokies won’t be on the road for awhile. Their next three opponents are Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech gets to play all three at home. That does not mean this team can relax – although the Hokies desperately need to get healthy. All three are winnable and at this point, they are must-win games. Virginia Tech needs to be at least 3-3 before they hit the road again to take on Clemson and North Carolina. With students filing back in from break, Cassell will be as loud as ever. It is up to the team how they respond to this stretch of adversity.