Let’s look at the week that just past and what VT needs to do in the week’s ahead…
The past week: VT had to go at least 1-1. wake was an awful team, and it was at home, so that had to be a win. So VT at least gets a ‘B’ for the week taking care of business there. But this could have easily been an ‘A’ had Tech been able to close out the unc game. They’d be sitting in a first place tie in the ACC at 3-1 at the ACC season quarter-mark. One game away, the story of Hokies’ basketball.
There are a lot of positives to take from the last week. Let’s grade out the Hokies…
Defense – Grade A: Tech’s defense was outstanding this week. In the first 4:32 of the unc game, the Hokies caused 6 turnovers with their 2-3 zone and led to several points. Tech jumped out to a 12-2 lead thanks to their python-like pressure. unc finished the first half with 11 turnovers. What ended up costing VT the game? They created just 6 turnovers in the second half. This was, in part, due to the heels adjusting to the zone. But it is also because the Hokies were down to 6 healthy bodies for most of the second half with Green and Atkins injured. So I’m not blaming Tech for that, it was simple bad luck when Tech absolutely cannot afford injuries. Still, causing 17 unc turnovers (13 steals) and 41% shooting is pretty darn good. Plus, they limited the heels to just 17 free throw attempts.
Against wake, I loved the defense again. Tech caused 16 turnovers off 8 steals, leading to a 26-11 edge in points off turnovers. Tech even showed a Box-and-1 defense to limit wake’s Gary Clark (Atkins guarded him). The Hokies showed man again, though I think they are best in zone and expect to see mostly zone the rest of the season. wake shot just 40%. fsu, unc, and wake all shot under 42% against Tech.
What I liked most against wake was Tech put their foot on the deacons’ throats and didn’t let up. We’ve seen the Hokies blow an 18-point and a 16-point first half lead of late (st. bonnie and unc), but there was none of that in this game. Even in the second half with Tech up by 20+, they kept working hard on defense. That shows that even with just 8 guys, they can work hard. The question is can they keep it up for 40 minutes when they have to?
Offense – Grade B: Cannot give them an ‘A’ because of the unc game. Tech shot 11/23 (48%) from three-point range, which is awesome, but it was the other aspects that did them in. VT was just 10/30 (33%) on two-point shots and 8/15 (53%) from the foul line. Delaney and Davila also missed front ends of one-and-ones, so that’s 4 points wasted. Tech had 17 turnovers, which is just too many.
Allen was limited to 25 minutes in the unc game, and even when he was in there he wasn’t productive. Allen had been a beast, with 9 straight games of 11+ points and 9+ rebounds coming in, but just tallied 4 points and 7 rebounds. The problem is Jeff is not your prototypical power forward. He’s listed at 6’7″ but is more like 6’6″ or less. John Henson is 6’10” with the wingspan of a 747. Allen would make a post move, lean in to shoot, and go-go-gadget-arms would reach around him and block it cleanly. That’s been the knock on Jeff – against bigger teams inside he struggles to get his shots off. He has to be able to hit mid-range jumpers to draw the bigger defender out, then beat them off the dribble and with quickness.
Against wake we saw some good things. Namely, VT was able to finish when they had numbers on the break instead of shooting a stupid pull-up jumper or forcing it when the one man back engages you (instead of passing). Also, Delaney did an excellent job of penetrating inside the arc and finding a sliding perimeter player who knocked down a three. Good ball movement. Inside, Davila was a beast, but many times there was no one around him. You want to see him finishing when he has a body on him.
I think VT is better offensively now, in large part because they are creating turnovers and pushing the ball. But I also think wake is a terrible defensive and rebounding team. Tech isn’t going to be able to shoot 59% many more times this season. We’ll see if Tech can keep up the improvements they showed Saturday.
Bench – Grade A: Gotta love what you saw this week from Atkins and Eddie. They are contributing now, which is huge. Manny and Jarell scored 25 and 18 points respectively and shot 5/7 and 2/4 from three-point range (Eddie was 2/19 heading into the wake game). Manny is a serious three-point threat off the bench, which Tech sorely needed. The only downer was Tyrone Garland struggled against unc, not scoring and committing 3 turnovers in 8 minutes. But not many freshman do succeed in their first trip to Chapel Hill.
- Erick Green reached double figures for the 8th straight game – every game he’s started. What’s impressed me the most is his ability to hit pull up jumpers. He’s deadly from 12-18 feet, even on the break.
- Since Green moved to the point, Malcolm Delaney has 44 assists and just 16 turnovers. He had 26/42 before that point. Malcolm had a season high 9 assists (1 turnover) against wake.
- Tech was 19/40 from three-point range last week. They were just 1/8 against fsu.
The Hokies will be on the road a lot in the next three weeks in ACC play. 4 of their next 5 are on the road (not including the final out of conference game against longwood in that). Tech has at maryland, (longwood), at georgia tech, miami, at nc state, and at boston college coming up before a long layoff. The Hokies have to go 3-2 in ACC play during this stretch to keep any hope alive of competing for an ACC Tournament First Round bye. That means coming up with two ACC road wins. At georgia tech is the easiest on paper, though they just waxed unc by 20. But the jackets are the 2nd worst team in the ACC, I have no doubt. The other three road contests can all be won. At maryland is always tough and I’d have to pick the terps in this one, but they are very beatable if you can limit Jordan Williams and limit turnovers. nc state still has Sidney Lowe as their coach, and that makes that game very winnable. And at bc might as well be a neutral site game — they drew just 3,600 (that’s tickets sold) for their conference game against nc state last week.
Point is, Tech has to find a way to take at least two of those AND beat a decent miami team at home. Get through this at 5-4 (or better) and things will get interesting. Tech has 4 of 6 at home after that, plus very winnable road games at uva and wake.