Returns to homepage

Inside the Numbers: The Key Ingredients to Tech's 10-1 Start

By Shelton Moss | December 15
Darius Maddox
Credit: Jon Lopez/Virginia Tech Athletics

It’s safe to say that Virginia Tech has made the most of their non-conference schedule.

The Hokies secured a huge victory over Oklahoma State on Sunday afternoon, grinding out a 70-65 win in the same Barclays Center where they won the ACC Tournament last March. With a 10-1 record, Tech is off to its best 11-game start in 13 years. Only a final non-conference tuneup with Grambling State looms before they begin the brunt of ACC play on Dec. 21 against Boston College.

Save for a lone hiccup at College of Charleston, the Hokies have done just about everything necessary to enhance their NCAA Tournament resume in the non-conference. They have quality wins over Penn State (KenPom No. 33) and Oklahoma State (No. 36), in addition to the victory over North Carolina (No. 24).

In the interest of expanding our statistical coverage of Virginia Tech men’s basketball, we here at Sons of Saturday have great news! Recently we obtained access to the advanced stats site ShotQuality, which tracks every field goal attempt for every college basketball team and assigns an expected point value based on the quality of the attempt. This data is extremely valuable because it allows us to see which players are getting the best looks, how often they are hitting those looks, and otherwise assess what Tech can do to be a more efficient basketball team.

Today marks the first installment of my weekly Inside the Numbers column, where I’ll do a deep dive of Tech basketball from an analytical perspective. I’ll start by discussing the key ingredients to Tech’s 10-1 start to the season, and give some additional insight on where things can improve.

Without further ado, let’s talk some Hokie hoops.

Winning in Multiple Ways

Virginia Tech’s offense currently ranks 15th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency. That’s great — but what I think is even more impressive about it is that the Hokies aren’t even playing their best.

Tech is currently shooting 35.3% from three as a team, which ranks 105th nationally. That’s the lowest mark since Mike Young came to Blacksburg, and it still ranks top-five in the ACC. While Darius Maddox has struggled to find his three-point stroke, both Grant Basile (43%) and Hunter Cattoor (39%) have been on point from downtown. The good news is that Tech has made up for a slight underperformance in three-point shooting with an increase in two-point field-goal percentage: the Hokies are connecting on 57% of their 2P attempts, good for 24th nationally, and the highest percentage of the Young era.

That increase is largely due to the dominance of Justyn Mutts in the post. The sixth-year senior has taken his post-up game to a new level, as he’s converting a career-best 65% of his two-point field goals. Basile has done much of the same, and at point guard, Sean Pedulla has shown a new dimension to his game in his ability to drive to the basket and score off dribble penetration. While I am certainly no fan of midrange jumpers, you can’t deny Pedulla has been money. ShotQuality’s “points per possession” (PPP) stat gives an expected point value for a specific type of field goal attempt. Pedulla’s long- and short-midrange jumpers rank above the 90th percentile in PPP this season.

What we’re seeing is a change in style of play. The Hokies aren’t as reliant on the three-point shot as they used to be; in fact, their three-point attempt rate is down about 3% from last year, by far the lowest of the Young era. Instead, Tech is forcing the ball inside and letting their talented big men go to work.

Darius Maddox: A Case Study in Resiliency

It’s no secret that Darius Maddox has struggled to shoot the ball this season. But if anything, his play on the court is a glowing endorsement of the culture Young has built, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

Let’s get this out of the way: Maddox is still getting good looks. The Bowie, Md. native has taken 25 catch-and-shoot threes this year and ranks in the 97th percentile of PPP on those attempts. He’s also been very effective in the midrange, attacking the rim, and avoiding turnovers. Maddox is getting open looks from three; he’s just not hitting them. At some point, those shots are going to start falling. He’s too good of a shooter to believe otherwise.

Obviously, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. I still think he’s taking too many mid range jumpers because he’s oddly hesitant to shoot threes. I also think he could do a much better job of getting to the rim: Maddox in the 10th percentile of rim frequency. Last year, he ranked 88th. He’s not been as aggressive, but it’s possible that being a starter has forced him to focus on other responsibilities, specifically defense. It’s important to keep in mind that although this is Maddox’s third year in the program, it’s only his first as a full-time starter. He’s still far from a finished product.

But what I do see from Maddox is a willingness to hustle on a nightly basis. He’s gone after loose balls and almost flown out of the gym trying to save a rebound. The fact that’s exerting maximum effort on those types of hustle plays, despite his shooting struggles, is proof of his maturation as a player, and I can only think Young has to be proud.

No Turnovers For Dinner

In a recent interview on Tech Talk Live, Mike Young said there are two major components to winning: shooting the ball and getting more shots. We know the Hokies can shoot the ball, but this season, they’ve also taken great care of it, and that has allowed them to maximize possessions.

Tech currently ranks third nationally with a turnover rate of 13.1%. (For a brief time before the Oklahoma State game, they actually led the country in that stat.) They also rank third in non-steal turnover percentage, a stat housed by KenPom that takes out turnovers caused by steals, to see how well a team avoids unforced errors. The Hokies just don't make many mistakes, and as a result they get more shots.

On an individual level, Pedulla has been masterful with a 9.9 turnover rate (for perspective, league average is around 16-18, but it varies by position.) Mutts is on the opposite spectrum with a 22.6 turnover rate, but you have to accept that’s who he is as a player. He is going to make great passes, and he is also going to force some unnecessary ones.

Overall, I thought Tech’s win over Oklahoma State was by far the most impressive victory of the season. The Cowboys are long, athletic, and physical — similar to Texas a season ago — and made life very challenging for the Hokies on the offensive end. Tech had their worst shooting game of the season and still found a way to win. As fate would have it, the Hokies won the turnover margin 17-10, and that proved to be the difference.

It wasn’t pretty, but it doesn’t always have to be. Winning at your worst says a lot more about a team than winning at your best.


Second-generation Hokie. Graduating from Virginia Tech in 2021 with a degree in Sports Media and Analytics. I work for the VT Strategic Communications department and am a member of the sports journalism group 3304 Sports. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. Product of St. Christopher's School, along with Hokies' baseball star and future MLB Hall of Famer Nick Biddison. Twitter connoisseur. Diehard lover of D.C. sports.

Read More of Shelton's Articles