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What’s Poppin’, Mike Young?

By Grant Mitchell | November 09
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Ryan Hunt: USA Today Sports

The Virginia Tech Men’s Basketball team kicked off their season with an 82-47 victory over the Maine Black Bears in Cassell Coliseum Tuesday evening.

The win marked a sensational start to the 2021-22 campaign and third season of the Mike Young era as the Hokies dominated nearly every aspect of the game, so much so that many of the young players were already able to play impactful minutes in their first live-game appearances. This was also a contrast to last year’s season opener, a 77-62 victory over the Radford Highlanders, which was a 12-point contest with just over four minutes left on the clock.

A cloud of excitement swept the VT crowd within the first few minutes of the game as the Hokies played with focus and determination on defense and a crisp effortlessness on offense, leading them to finish with a 46-22 lead at the intermission. Whether this more deliberate pace of play was a demand of head coach Mike Young or a concentration of the players, it resulted in a 2.25 assists-to-turnover ratio at the end of the game, 1.02 higher than their season average last season.

The eye-catchers of the game were two power forwards— Justyn Mutts and David N’Guessan— who finished with 15 points each, with Mutts also racking up seven rebounds, six assists, two steals, and a block. His energy could not be hidden in his first game in front of the Cassell guard who were absent last season, his first in Blacksburg, as the big man was flying all over the court.

N’Guessan, nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman” for his Dutch heritage, was the talk of the town over the summer, starring in multiple social media clips from the team’s official account and being called the “most impressive” player of the offseason practices by his head coach. Interestingly enough, however, John Ojiako was the first big man to come off the bench and showed a nice bit of finesse and strength during his stints on the court, winding up with nine points on 50% shooting.

Newcomer and Wofford grad transfer, Storm Murphy, did not finish with a tremendous box score, but his presence alone showed how important he will be to the Hokies’ style of play this season; aside from the opening minutes, during which he was trying to get his teammates involved, Murphy was constantly looking to blow by his defender, either to kick the ball out to the perimeter or pull it back for his own shot. Although he put on a few ankle-shaking moves, none of them were better than this beauty of a step-back snatch.

The new starting point guard’s shiftiness and speed make him a tough cover for teams that also need to bring help for Keve Aluma and Mutts in the post, as defenders still need to honor him beyond the perimeter. This quality has been missing in recent iterations of the Virginia Tech team and is now more aligned with coach Young’s philosophy that helped him rise to prominence at Wofford.

Now, if there was a reason to pause, it was found on the glass; the maroon and orange did a poor job of boxing out and using their numbers to gang rebound, frequently allowing a less athletic Maine squad to leap in and secure 10 offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes. This discrepancy ended up basically cancelling itself out by the end of the game, however, as VT only finished -2 on the boards.

Defensively, the most impressive aspect of the team’s performance came in their basic understanding and chemistry— the help defense and rotations were mostly spot-on, and the Bears wound up with a whopping 19 turnovers.

Overall, what this game showed was a progression in roster construction and development compared to this time last year; the Hokies looked well-drilled, efficient, and confident. They dominated the proceedings while playing around half-speed on offense, showed an impressive early-season understanding and, most impressively, won without imposing their athletic advantages— they won with smarts, professionalism, and execution.

One game down, many more to go. One game never defines an entire season, or even a month, but it defines the starting point for this highly anticipated chapter in Virginia Tech basketball lore.

You know how this story goes: Mike Young is poppin’, just like he always is.