On Saturday Virginia Tech hosted Syracuse in the two sides second game against one another in under two weeks. Riding high on a three-game winning streak and sitting 4th in the ACC, the Hokies had risen up to contention for for a bubble team in the NCAA Tournament. How would they respond to the Syracuse zone this time around?
A start-stop game for Tech saw them drop a close one 67-63 after battling back multiple times. The Hokies now sit in a four way tie in the ACC with a 4-3 record. Saturday was a disappointing result, especially coming at home, but a reminder that this team is already a solid mid-level ACC squad. Well ahead of where most predicted they would be when the season started.
1 - Disjointed Offense Halts The Winning Streak
It was a hot and cold game for Virginia Tech. Opening with three early threes, only to see the two sides trade a series of offensive runs. Syracuse led by 16 at one point and the Hokies would close the gap. The Orange would push their lead, then Tech would make another run.
Quick shots, forced shots, and late hopeful heaves seem to interchange with quality passing to find an open look to a confident shooter and penetrating into the middle to open up space out wide. In the road game, Tech found consistent luck by being aggressive on offense, either drawing fouls or creating wide open three point shots. Early on Saturday the Hokies drew multiple fouls on Quincy Guerrier - a plan that would have worn down the Orange by late in the game. But too often they settled for contested threes or would go away from putting the Syracuse defenders under pressure.
The rematch starts now #StoneByStone | #Hokies pic.twitter.com/tnfyBZQzLn— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) January 18, 2020
2 - Dealing with Tech’s Lack of Height
The Hokies lack of a true center, since John Ojiako is not ready for 20-30 minutes of ACC level competition, massively undercut Tech’s chances on Saturday. Against the zone, Mike Young was unable to get players the ball along the baseline. When they drew up plays for that result the receiving player either was overwhelmed down low or put up a bad shot. Syracuse knew they could cheat along the three-point line because Virginia Tech had no option down low, they weren’t concerned with the players rotating in the middle, and the Hokies were hesitant to drive to the basket.
Despite the height differential the Hokies can rebound against anyone. However, with no defensive answer in the paint (Syracuse outscored Tech there 34-to-12) or threat in the low post on the offensive end, the Hokies too often are reliant on threes keeping them in the game.
We fall short in our rematch with Syracuse— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) January 18, 2020
• @Nahiem10 tallies a team-high 17 points, four assists & three boards
• We posts our second-most 3s (15) & assists (22) this season
» https://t.co/viLqRTrOel#StoneByStone | #Hokies pic.twitter.com/Mz5IEKImyy
3 - Mike Young Has a (Good) Starter Problem
The two best takeaways for Coach Young on Saturday were Jalen Cone responding to his first career start and Nahiem Alleyne breaking out of his recent scoring slump. Now the Hokies have six legitimate starting options. Hunter Cattoor and Isaiah Wilkins are quality bench players, and have the ability to break into a starting role, but at the moment are filling in nicely as squad options.
Jalen Cone kick-started his season in the first Syracuse game, earning his first start and now averaging 14.5 points per game over this four game run. Cone saw 32 minutes on Saturday, a season high, and has now hit 18 three pointers during this stretch.
Meanwhile, Alleyne hit a career-high 22 points against Chattanooga before failing to get more than six points in any of the next six contests. Nahiem saw his starting role taken away, but did not fail to deliver when called upon from the bench on Saturday. 5-for-6 from deep and providing four assists, Alleyne kept the Hokies in the game, much like Cone did the first time around against Syracuse.
Landers Nolley, Cone and Alleyne are your scorers, Bede and Horne are your experienced leaders, and Tyrece Radford is the all-around useful utility man (points, rebounds, defending). Great options for Coach Young - so you are you leaving on the bench against UNC at the tip?
The Hokies stay in Blacksburg for their next matchup as UNC comes to town on Wednesday night sitting 1-5 in the ACC.