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THE BIG PREVIEW: Hoos get back into ACC play with home game against Hokies

Virginia looks go to 3-0 to start conference play.

NCAA Basketball: VMI at Virginia Tech Michael Thomas Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past couple of years, Virginia Tech has become a real player in NCAA basketball. Under Buzz Williams, the Hokies made three straight NCAA Tournaments for the first time ever and made its first Sweet Sixteen since 1966. But, Williams left for Texas A&M at the end of last season. Combined with a number of personnel losses, the outlook was bleak for the Hokies heading into the season.

Nothing really seemed different with a bunch of early season wins over bad teams, but then the Hokies went to Maui and knocked off Michigan State in the team’s event opener. They then lost to Dayton, BYU, and Duke. They’re a bit of an enigma right now.

For one thing, this Hokie team is more like a mid-major than an ACC squad, in terms of rotations. They are often going with four and five guards on the floor, and the tallest member of the starting lineup is 6’7. All five starters are a threat from deep, and the team is shooting nearly 40% from downtown.

The two “bigs” are Landers Nolley and PJ Horne. Nolley is a freshman and leads the team in scoring at over 17 points per game. Second on the team is fellow freshman Naheim Alleyne. In fact, three starters and six rotation guys are freshmen. The Hokies graduated three off that Sweet Sixteen team, plus lost Nickeil Alexander-Walker to the NBA and Kerry Blackshear to transfer.

Horne is a junior, along with PG Wadissa Bede. Add in sophomore wing Isaiah Wilkins, and that’s the extent of the experienced Hokies. Horne is third on the team in scoring, but doesn’t do a whole lot on the offense end other than shoot. His assist rate is almost comically low. Well over half his shots come from downtown, and often on plays like this:

This is a little slip pick ‘n pop with Horne showing screen but sidestepping the defenders. Both Spartan defenders go with Bede for just a split second, and Horne is open for the jumper. The Hokies will show various different looks off that screen and roll action.

This is a different look, though a similar action. It comes on the sideline, and the screener is Nolley who also initiates the action. He slips the screen, steps to the corner, and has a good look at a baseline three.

Horne and Nolley aren’t the only ones who live outside. Five Hokies take over half of their shots from downtown, and most of them do it well. Freshman wing Hunter Cattoor has taken 77% of his shots from downtown and made 45%. Backup PG Jalen Cone has taken about 60% of his shots from downtown and made 56%. He’s averaged just seven minutes per game against the five top-100 teams the Hokies have played and scored just nine points. It’ll be interesting to see if Mike Young plays Cone to get another shooter out there or if he remains on the bench against better opposition. Bede can’t shoot, but runs the offense efficiently, doesn’t turn the ball over, and can score a little bit.

Bear in mind that came against Duke’s Tre Jones, one of the top perimeter defenders in the nation, and Bede has a lot of size on Virginia’s Kihei Clark.

During Williams’s tenure, the Hokies were often a very fast-paced team. That wasn’t the case last season though. And this year, despite all those guards, they’re pretty slow. They’ll run if given the chance, but in the half court they run a pretty slow game.

They’re 22nd in the nation in three point attempts (as a percentage of total shots), 11th in three point shooting (percentage), and third in lowest turnover rate. That’s how you end up with a pretty good offense, despite no size or interior play.

Virginia, as we know, has tons of size. They Hoos are 82nd nationally in Average Height and the Hokies are 337th. That should mean Virginia can dominate inside. A lineup with two legit bigs (Diakite, Huff or Caffaro) should cause problems for the Hokies. They’ve never faced a lineup that big, not even Duke. Of course, that leads to mismatches on the other end. Jay Huff’s ability to finish inside would be valuable, but can he guard anybody on the perimeter?

Virginia likely goes with Diakite, Clark, Braxton Key, and two of Woldentensae, Stattmann, and Morsell for most of the game. The Hokies are not a good defensive team, which is partially due to the lack of size and partially due to the lack of experience. They allow a ton of threes, and nearly every team that beat them knocked down shots. The Blue Devils didn’t shoot it well, but shut down the Hokies perimeter shooting (just 5-for-20 from downtown) and forced the Hokies to play inside. The Hokies led at halftime, but Duke’s talent advantage showed in the second half as they pulled away.

That’s Virginia’s game plan. They aren’t going to be able to win a shootout against the Hokies (unlike the football team). So they need to defend like hell on the perimeter. That didn’t go particularly well against either South Carolina or Navy. The Hokies have far more offensive firepower than either of those teams. If the Hokies shoot 40%+ from downtown, they probably win.