HOW. ABOUT. THEM. HOKIES.
It was the start of a new era. With a new coach and nearly a brand new roster. Someone apparently forgot to tell that to Mike Young and these Virginia Tech Hokies. After opening the season with a road win over Clemson, and rattling off four victories at home, Tech headed to Hawaii to take part in the 2019 Maui Invitational.
Expectations were low, if nonexistent. Why? Because the Hokies were opening the tournament against #3 in the country Michigan State. The team that odds makers in Vegas have as the favorites to win the national title this season. (Had?) Mike Young clearly had his team ready to play from the opening minute, as they went toe to toe with the Spartans. Virginia Tech pulled off the result winning 71-66. We learned a lot about the Hokies on Monday, but here are a few key takeaways.
1 - This isn’t a rebuild. VT is ready to compete now.
14th out of 15. That’s where the Hokies were predicted to finish in the ACC by the media during the preseason. A few of those voters may want to amend their ballots after Monday evening. Mike Young is a new coach to Blacksburg, but is a very experienced leader. Tech have a lot of new and young faces, but they don’t need time to acclimate to this level. Like much of the college basketball landscape these days, freshman come in ready to not only play, but start and win.
While it wasn’t the first time VT knocked off a top team, it’s an important milestone nonetheless. As Hokies Sports noted, this was the second straight win for Tech over the #3 ranked team in the country. (VT beat then #3 Duke last season) VT has made a recent history of knocking off high-ranked Duke and UVA teams, but against a non-ACC title challenger, on the road, with a new team, is unique. The last time VT played Michigan State was back in 2013, with the Spartans winning by 19.
Now at 6-0, with two massive early wins under their belt, Hokies fans will believe they are ready to compete in the ACC this year. Something that Mike Young and his team clearly already felt.
2 - It’s not just the three.
Mike Young loves to move the ball and create open shots behind the three point line. And when Tech is hitting their shots, they will be very difficult to beat this year. The previous game saw the Hokies hit a school, and ACC, record 21 three pointers. But against the toughest defense they’ve faced so far this year, VT displayed versatility.
Tech still connected on 10 three-pointers, but used the spread offense to drive the lane consistently last night. P.J. Horne maintained a presence down low to keep the Spartans honest on defense, while we saw drives from a variety of players. Wabissa Bede, Hunter Cattoor and even Jalen Cone took the attack right at Michigan State helping the Hokies hit 23 shots from inside the arc. The more Tech can produce in the paint, it will force defenses to cheat inside, thus leaving shooters open deep.
3 - The Hokies looked like they belonged.
You would have excused the team for appearing over-awed. National Champion Tom Izzo, a Michigan State program that has made eight Final Fours, and the preseason favorite to win it all this year. But from the opening tip Tech looked unfazed by their opponent’s reputation. Instead, they let the play on the day talk for them.
The Hokies not only held their own during the game, but maintained the lead throughout the majority of the night. Michigan State’s biggest lead was four points and that was in the opening minutes, at 5-9. Shooting the three, driving inside, and dealing with the Spartans press defense, the Hokies never lost their composure.
Landers Nolley had his first national spotlight game and delivered once again. Four three pointers, a perfect 8 of 8 from the free throw line, leading the Hokies with 22 points. Four rebounds and five assists, Nolley is the complete package.
Perhaps the best moment on the night came at the end. Up by 10 with under 5 minutes to go, Michigan State stormed back cutting the lead to one point, with just over a minute remaining. A young team might have folded then and there under the pressure. But Landers Nolley calmly nailed the three that effectively ended the game. This young Hokies team already feels confident, and that should make for an exciting season ahead.
Tech is back in action in the Maui semi-finals taking on Dayton tonight at 8 pm ET. How will the Hokies respond after a massive upset?