Not quite ready.
That was the biggest takeaway on Big Monday, as the #10/#8 Virginia Tech Hokies went on the road to the Dean Dome and got obliterated 101-82 at the hands of #11/#12 North Carolina.
Much like the loss to UVa less than a week ago, atrocious three point defense was a factor. Quite frankly, the Tar Heels were having a hard time keeping up with the Hokies early on, as Virginia Tech hit six of their first seven three point attempts from the field.
However, the ‘Heels settled in and started making shots late in the first half, especially from three, as both Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker went to the bench with early foul trouble for the Hokies. With Wabissa Bede acting as Virginia Tech’s primary ball handler, North Carolina ratcheted up the pressure, and before Buzz Williams blinked, his team surrendered a 27-7 run, turned the ball over 12 times, and trailed on the road in Chapel Hill 45-31.
And that was all she wrote.
The Hokies concluded the game with 16 turnovers, gave up 16 North Carolina threes (which is tied for the most in a North Carolina game under Roy Williams), and allowed the Tar Heels to shoot nearly 54% from the field overall in the 19-point loss.
On a larger scale, this loss is emblematic of a major issue for Virginia Tech that has been chronicled for quite some time. The Hokies have depth issues, which manifests itself against top-notch competition in the ACC. While the frontcourt depth behind Kerry Blackshear has been the easiest aspect to point to, now made easier by P.J. Horne’s indefinite absence due to a knee injury, the depth at point guard is also a major issue for the Hokies moving forward.
Throughout the season, we’ve seen Alexander-Walker act as the team’s ball handler when Justin Robinson goes to the bench. That works well when NAW isn’t in foul trouble, but when he is, the Hokies don’t have a reliable point guard to turn to when Robinson exits the game.
Bede held his own briefly, but once North Carolina extended their defense and ball denial well outside the three point line, Virginia Tech began turning the ball over at will. North Carolina loves to get out on the break and run their opponents into the ground, which was made easy by the frequency of the Hokies’ live-ball turnovers late in the first half, as well as the depth issues that Virginia Tech possesses on its roster.
The Hokies were gassed, Roy Williams knew it, and it was a major factor in the outcome of the game.
“They only had eight guys warm up. It’s hard to do that over the course of a game, as fast as we like to play, and they like to play fast, without the bodies. I was worried to death about the game because I think they’re really, really good. They showed it the first few minutes, and then we went crazy for a while. And that was it, after that.”
Without Chris Clarke (suspension) and Landers Nolley (eligibility), the going was sure to get tough sooner rather than later for Virginia Tech. After a relatively light non-conference schedule that saw the Hokies get off to an 11-1 start, some were quick to forget how big of a deal those two losses were to the team’s depth.
With blowout wins against teams like South Carolina State and VMI, it’s easy to forget about what good depth means to a team throughout the course of the season, especially once a team enters conference play in the nation’s toughest league, the ACC.
With P.J. Horne, the team’s only other “big man” outside of Kerry Blackshear, sidelined indefinitely, it will only get more difficult starting on Saturday in Cassell Coliseum, when the Hokies take on Syracuse. The Orange boast three players who are 6’10” or taller, which will serve as a major test for the vertically-challenged Hokies, who are searching desperately for a meaningful ACC win as they head towards January’s homestretch.
Near perfect basketball is what is needed out of the healthy, active players on the roster for the Hokies to get where they want to go. Until then, fans will need to settle with the reality of the situation at hand.
Virginia Tech’s best roster in 30 years is simply just good. They’re good enough to get to the NCAA tournament, and good enough to be in the top half of the ACC. But when it comes to playing the blue-bloods of the ACC, breaking into the upper-echelon of the conference, and making a deep run into March, one thing comes to mind at the present: