Sons of Weekly Basketball Columns! Week One
Hey there, sons and daughters.
Basketball season is in full swing, and the Hokies are 3-0 and ranked #16. What a time to be alive!
We know basketball can be a little more difficult to follow at times, as there is usually more than one game per week. You may find yourself waking up on a Tuesday morning and saying, “Wait, we played Longwood last night?!”
In addition to Grant Mitchell’s postgame summaries of every game and Mike McDaniel and Ed Williams’ basketball podcast, the Sons of Saturday are going to hit you with a weekly column released every Monday, written by yours truly.
In this column, I’ll briefly recap the previous week’s games, pointing out the things I liked and disliked, as well as looking ahead to what games are in store for the Hokies that coming week.
Without further ado, let’s jump into what was as jam-packed a first week as we have ever seen for the men’s basketball team, which included three wins in three games, including a major upset against #3 Villanova.
In each of the Hokies’ three wins, they faced some sort of deficit. They overcame each deficit, often going on 6-0 or 8-0 runs in response.
Most notably, against Villanova, the Hokies were down 12 points with less than nine minutes to play. In a situation where most underdogs would roll over and allow the powerhouse opponent to take control, the Hokies responded.
They showed tremendous passion and perseverance as they slowly chipped away at the Wildcats’ lead, finally taking a lead of their own with 1.2 seconds left. But what happened next is what really showed just how resilient Mike Young’s team is.
Up two points, the Hokies were defending Villanova’s inbound pass in their attempt to tie or win the game on a buzzer-beater. As Justyn Mutts sprinted to the right side to try to keep his hands in the Villanova inbound passer’s face, another Villanova player stepped in front of him and drew the ticky-tack foul, giving the Wildcats two free throws to tie the game.
That was as frustrating an end to regulation as possible, and frankly, I fully expected the Wildcats to run away with it in overtime. Especially since the Hokies were also without their starting point guard, as Wabissa Bede had fouled out.
But Mutts, the same guy who had just been bamboozled into giving the Wildcats another five minutes to try to win the game, scored the first five points of overtime while also pulling down two huge rebounds in the first minute. Mutts set the tone for overtime, and the rest of the Hokies followed suit.
The most blatant sign of a well-coached team is how they handle adversity, and boy, are the Hokies well-coached.
The offensive statistic that jumps off the page is field goal percentage. In their three games this week, the Hokies shot 49.7%. Last season, that would have been good for the fourth-best percentage in the country!
Young’s teams have always been known to take smart shots, and his offensive system sets them up to do so. It was rare to see a Hokie take a bad or contested shot in their three games this week.
Leading the way in terms of field goal percentage was F/C Keve Aluma, who was just named ACC Player of the Week. Aluma is shooting 65.6% (21-32) and has been the key to Virginia Tech’s success so far. Which leads to the next thing I liked…
3. Big Men in Blacksburg?
Since the 2015-16 season, do you know how many players 6’8 or taller have averaged 11 minutes or more per game for the Hokies before this season?
One. Before this season, Kerry Blackshear, Jr. was the only majorly contributing center the Hokies had on their roster since Joey van Zegeren transferred after the 2014-15 season.
This week, the Hokies had two centers in the regular rotation, as Cordell Pemsl backed up Aluma (both are 6-9). Keep in mind, the Hokies still have John Ojiako (6-10) to bring into the fold once he returns from injury.
That is three centers who will likely regularly contribute, which is a luxury the Hokies are not used to having. Buzz Williams was known for playing four-guard lineups with one big man in the middle, which caused depth to always be a question at center.
Aluma was the Hokies’ most valuable player this week, averaging 18 points, five rebounds and 1.3 blocks. Pemsl also contributed quite a bit, especially against South Florida, when he racked up 10 points and six rebounds.
Also, Mutts has brought an additional presence as a power forward, leading the team in rebounds so far. Not only is it nice to have more than one center on the roster, but having a stretch forward who can rebound like Mutts adds even more versatility to the team.
Last season, the Hokies were fully reliant on their guards either getting to the basket or making jump shots. Now, Young can stress a little less watching his big men go to work in the post to create good opportunities for the Hokies to score.
1. Not Enough Shooters on the Floor
Who would have thought it could be said that the Hokies don’t have enough three-point shooters on the floor? Just like everything else in 2020, expectations change.
The numbers would tell you the Hokies are doing just fine shooting threes, as they made 41.9% of them this week. But if you look a little deeper, these numbers may not be sustainable at the current trajectory.
13 of the Hokies’ 26 made threes this week were by Aluma, Mutts, Bede or Tyrece Radford. Coming into the season, those four players had a combined 27.7% (49/177) career three-point percentage.
I believe each of these players has improved his jump shot in the offseason, but they combined to shoot precisely 50% this week. A 22.3% increase is unlikely to hold, which means the Hokies could see a significant downturn in made three-pointers if they continue to rely on these four unproven shooters to make half of them.
The other 13 made threes came from Hunter Cattoor and Naheim Alleyne, who both are close to 40% three-point shooters for their careers. Getting these guys open looks is good, but when they are rarely on the floor together as they were this week, it will make it more difficult for those looks to be found.
At this point, the Hokies are rolling out with one true shooter in each lineup, which is not sustainable. Eventually, defenses will try to limit Cattoor/Alleyne from getting good looks and will dare the other shooters to beat them, which is hard to believe can regularly happen.
What the Hokies need is more contributions from more of the pure shooters on the roster. Getting Jalen Cone back from injury will help, as he is probably the best shooter on the team. Still, the Hokies could use more shooting help.
Where must that come from? The freshmen, particularly Joe Bamisile, must step up.
Bamisile, Darius Maddox and David N’Guessan are all unproven college players, but each showed a solid shooting stroke in high school. Bamisile is the only one of the three to see somewhat significant minutes thus far, so it is crucial for him to shake off his freshman jitters in order to make the Hokies more versatile.
If the Hokies cannot find enough consistent shooters, it could lead to some dry spells for their offense down the stretch.
The Hokies get a few days off before returning home to take on VMI on Thursday. This is a much-needed break, as the Hokies are likely very tired from their back-to-back games against Villanova and South Florida.
Young has already said Cone will be making his season debut in that game, so the Hokies will have a little more depth against the Keydets. It is unclear if Ojiako will set foot on the floor in this game.
VMI is 1-1 on the season with a win over NAIA school St. Andrews and a loss at Penn State (whom the Hokies will play on the 8th). The Keydets are likely the least-talented team the Hokies have played so far.
The Hokies should have an easy week ahead of them, allowing players to recuperate and cruise to an easy victory on Thursday night.
Should that go to plan, the Hokies will have plenty of energy leading into their matchup against the Nittany Lions in the ACC/B1G Challenge.