Wind: 5.75 m/h
This is one of those times where after watching a Virginia Tech basketball game, I don’t really know what to say.
Yeah, they lost to a North Carolina team with more height and a bigger number of talented bodies. Yeah, they ended up being that No. 3 seed who was one and done like everyone said they would be with an 81-73 loss to the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament.
But if you watched closely, they also did some things that really paint what could be a very bright future. Mike Young had a brilliant game plan to neutralize the big height advantage North Carolina had, and the Hokies ended up leading at halftime as they continued to play tough defense, slash the middle and run double back screens that got their big men open for layups.
But what impressed me the most was while doing so – at least until the team ran out of gas in the second half – was that Virginia Tech played with a noticeable edge. Mike Young has managed to find a number of components that he’s melded into a very good team, but if there’s been a concern, it’s that the team has played at times a little like the first part of Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary.”
For the majority of the season, they played – like Tina sings the first verse – nice…and easy. Too easy at times it seems, and big physical teams could knock them not only around, but also knock them mentally out of their game.
Against North Carolina, the Hokies were more like how Tina sings the second verse, where they do it nice…and rough. Virginia Tech played with an edge that I haven’t seen very often this season, as Justyn Mutts – who led all scorers with 24 points – had a breakout game and showed offensive skills that were equal parts aggression and nasty.
He and Tyrece Radford both played that way. They didn’t just take it to the basket; they took it down the lane and slammed it in your face. They didn’t just score when an opportunity presented itself; they did it in such a way that they let you know that once they were done with this bucket, they were coming back for more.
It’s the toughness winning teams have. It’s Rocky Balboa getting his face pounded in while saying “ain’t gonna be no rematch.” It reflects the personality of their coach, and Radford and Mutts brought it Thursday night.
While impressive, however, it just wasn’t enough, as the Hokies suffered in the same two areas that have affected them in losses before. One was Keve Aluma’s tendency, despite an incredible season, to get knocked around early and temporarily lose his confidence. He can be a lethal shooter from the floor, but against North Carolina, could not get the ball to fall. He was 4 of 13 from the floor, and he struggled early, going only 1 for 8 in the first half. Had he been able to shoot his normal percentage from the floor, the 8-point deficit probably never happens.
Then there is the season-long backcourt dilemma that the Tar Heels also recognized and took advantage of. Wabissa Bede is a gifted defensive player who is excellent at running the point, but his ability to shoot is a well-known liability. At a time where a couple more buckets from Aluma or the backcourt could have made all the difference, Bede was 0 for 5 from the floor and didn’t score a single point.
Hunter Cattoor can at times be the offensive answer, as he’s a better shooter, but he’s not as good running the point. That didn’t really seem to matter against UNC either, as he only took three shots from the floor and made one. It’s a weakness I’m sure Young is well aware of and knows he needs to address going into year 3.
Depth probably ended up being the deciding factor as UNC was able to sub out five players at a time when they were struggling. Virginia Tech played nine different players, but three only saw 5 minutes or less, so it was essentially the same 6 Hokie players against North Carolina’s full roster, and they eventually tired in the final minutes.
It may be the end of the ACC Tournament, but it’s not the end of the season, as the team will get a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The question now involves how low they drop in seeding, as the Hokies were once predicted as a No. 6 seed, then started dropping down to a 9. I believe this potential loss was already factored into the predicted drop to as low as a 9 seed, but we will see.
So yeah, it was a loss to the hated Tar Heels. But as I sit up late at night typing this story, I can't help but think about how if this style of play continues, it might be the beginning of something that could carry the program to much higher levels. Imagine a team that can be nasty, mean, play with an edge, or whatever terms you choose. All they'd need then would be to add a few more components
They’ve already got the coach who knows how to use them.
I'm not a basketball guy but I picked up on the PG issue several weeks ago. Imagine this team W/a multi-skilled JR-type 1 who can score from the edge or drive the paint and draw fouls.