It’s a holiday period that I’m sure many Hokie faithful will be happy to move on from. But in both the Belk Bowl and this latest basketball game, it’s important to remember how young both teams are. Both squads are talented and competitive, but with young rosters you’ll get close losses or performances that are truly off the mark.
The Hokies traveled to Charlottesville on Saturday to begin the second half of the regular season and the long ACC stretch of the schedule. (Side note: The game was shown on ACC Network Extra, and blacked out for portions of the state. The era of splitting TV rights and paywalls is not ideal, but hopefully just a step towards eventual full access on the ESPN app - via the ACC Network.) It wasn’t pretty for Virginia Tech, but let’s think through a few key topics before moving on to Syracuse Tuesday night.
1 - Like the Michigan State result, don’t overreact
Saturday was an important reminder that six of Tech’s nine players in the rotation are freshman. And besides Landers Nolley, these aren’t ‘on their way to the NBA’ freshman, but ‘continue to develop and improve over the course of a four year period in college’ freshman. When your roster looks like that and it’s the first year for a head coach, you are going to see some inconsistency.
Heading into Saturday Virginia Tech’s worst scoring performances were in the 62/63 point range. Their 39 against UVA was their worst shooting night of the year. On the other side, UVA has become known as a defensive, low scoring team. The Cavs scored 65 points, which ties their season best. UVA had one of their best games of the year, while VT had their worst. Put those together and it makes for a lopsided result that doesn’t reflect exactly where either of these squads are. Acknowledge the outlier, learn from it, and move on.
We fall to in-state rival No. 19/19 Virginia despite a team-high 18 points from @NolleyLanders— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) January 4, 2020
» https://t.co/f1yFQdEoEX#StoneByStone | #Hokies pic.twitter.com/96xhQ4QQlq
2 - Tech has to win as a team
It’s an obvious point, but one that is worth revisiting. Earlier this season the Hokies saw Landers Nolley and Nahiem Alleyne both put up impressive solo performances. Ultimately, winning those games for Tech on their own. But against ACC opponents and NCAA Tournament caliber teams, this Virginia Tech squad has to have everyone contributing.
Against UVA, Landers Nolley led VT with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. Tyrece Radford scored 8, with 3 rebounds, but was the only other player to score more than four. The other three starters had a combined six points, while the bench only had a total of seven points. No blocks, 13 turnovers, and the team only hit 4 threes from 25 attempts (three of which were by Nolley).
The Cavs focus on the defensive side of the game, but Tech simply could not find another solution besides hoping Landers would hit every shot. The film review sessions with the team will be an important learning lesson for these young players, as well as for the coaching staff and how they can better manage in game adjustments.
Starters vs. Virginia pic.twitter.com/jaJ2z4JQ1b— Virginia Tech Men's Basketball (@HokiesMBB) January 4, 2020
3 - Mike Young needs to solve Wabissa Bede’s struggles
Bede began the season as the leader of the team, and the starting point guard. Tech’s game runs through him and for the most part it’s worked well. Against Michigan State and BYU he put up 11 points each, and 12 at home versus Duke. However, for two games now, Wabissa has scored zero points. He’s only taken six shots combined over those two games. Against UVA, maybe that is understandable, but against Maryland Eastern Shore, that is surprising.
Young can’t simply shift to true point guard Jalen Cone, or quality 6th man Hunter Cattoor, while Bede is going through a rough spell. Although Cone has been willing to step up when given the chance. Jalen has taken 16 shots and scored 20 points over the past three games. It’s not as if Bede can’t score or typically struggles from the floor. Perhaps the pressure of running the point for this young team has gotten him out of the rest of his game and his willingness to find his own shot.
Between now and Tuesday Mike Young and his staff need to work with Bede to get him back in the habit of driving to the basket. His success there, opens up more three point shot opportunities for the rest of the team. When those two things happen, Tech will be in most games this year.
The Hokies return to action Tuesday night against as they travel north to take on Syracuse. You can watch the game at 9 pm ET on the ACC Network.