Friday, January 21, 2011

Thanks Hokies

Well, thanks for making me look like an idiot. Here I am predicting that Maryland is going to come out like their hair is on fire and really take it to Virginia Tech, and instead they are completely dominated by the Hokies from the opening tip. Virginia Tech beat Maryland 74-57, handing the Terps their worst loss ever at the Comcast Center (opened in 2002), and Virginia Tech led the entire way. It was a good old-fashioned butt-whooping, complete with icy staredowns courtesy of Malcolm Delaney and a career night from Erick Green. Green shot 12-16 from the floor, good for 24 points. He crushed his previous career high. Some notes:
  • I couldn't be more happy for Tech's players. Maryland's fans really are some of the worst in the country, and they were hurling some pretty nasty insults at the Hokies from start to finish. Luckily, the insults only seemed to fuel our team as they tore apart Maryland and shut their usual high-scoring offense down.
  • Jordan Williams may have gone for 11 points and 11 rebounds, but when you watched the game you saw that he was basically a non-factor in that game. 9 of his 11 rebounds were on the defensive end, and almost all of his points came off situations where the ball just happened to land in his hands when he was close to the basket. Victor Davila and Jeff Allen did a great job of denying post feeds to Williams so that he could never seem to catch the ball in a dangerous area.
  • The game seemed closer than it really was. I remember that my wife and I were glued to the TV thinking that Maryland was going to make a run and get themselves back into the game, but it just never really happened. Even when VT got burned by the exact same inside-out play three times in the span of about a minute where MD's Cliff Tucker ended up making uncontested threes each time, the Hokies still managed to stay calm and execute on the offensive end so that Maryland couldn't get close. I'm not kidding either, the exact same play where Dino Gregory caught the ball in the high post and slipped it back out to an open Tucker when the Hokies tried to collapse on Gregory. It was stupifying, but our players stayed composed and finally adjusted.
  • You could tell that Jeff Allen was pressing in that game. He missed a bunch of shots close to the basket that I think he would usually hit if he wasn't so amped up. Allen got so frustrated with Maryland's fans that he flipped them off two years ago in the Comcast Center and got suspended for the next game. He didn't make any mistakes like that this time, but he took some bad shots and struggled to finish plays on offense. Fortunately, he had a nice game defensively and rebounded the basketball well.
  • I'm excited about Erick Green. I don't see him as a true scorer the way Delaney is... he's just not a very good 3-point shooter and with his quirky shot, it's hard to imagine he ever will be. What Green does do well is drive to the basket and work the mid-range game. That's how he killed the Terrapins last night. Every drive to the hoop seemed to end in either a layup or an assist. Green has a knack for finding holes in defenses and exploiting them. Not to mention, he's an incredible defender, good rebounder (for a guard), and he rarely turns the ball over. Oh, and did I mention we get to see him play for two more years at VT? SWEEEEEEEET!
  • Delaney's offensive game has changed this year, and I think it's going to serve him well as far as his NBA draft stock goes. In his sophomore and junior years, Delaney was pushing hard to draw fouls every time he had the ball in his hands. He was shooting contested jumpers and trying to lean into fouls. He was driving the lane hard looking for contact. He was doing lots of things that were getting him trips to the foul line, but were really hurting him considering that he wouldn't be able to get away with those things at the next level. The fact that the referees really decided to clamp down on his acting and stopped awarding him for his behavior has led to Delaney being forced to take smart shots (in other words, shots that have more than a snowball's chance in hell of going into the basket). Just look at his shooting percentages this season compared to the last 2... he has a field goal percentage of 44.5 this season and a 3-point percentage of 43.6 this season. In 2009-2010 he was at 38.7 and 30.6, respectively. In 2008-2009 he was at 38.5 and 35.4, respectively. It's way more than shooting extra shots in the gym, it's a change in his offensive philosophy. I love it.

Next up for the Hokies is a game against Longwood at home on Saturday. That's not even really a game, so let's just go ahead and say the next game for VT is on Tuesday at Georgia Tech. GT always plays better at home, so I would anticipate the Hokies getting more of a run for their money than you would expect considering the talent for the Yellow Jackets and their abysmal head coach.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beat Those Twerps!

I was taking a look at tomorrow's game against Maryland, and I just can't figure out who I expect to win this game. If you look at the stats sheet, it seems like Maryland is completely reliant on their 6'10" center, Jordan Williams. The guy is averaging a double-double with 18.1 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. He's an absolute terror on the offensive glass, averaging 4 offensive rebounds per game. So even though Victor Davila has improved defensively to the point where you can see he's a very good low post defender, Davila is not a good rebounder for his size and is likely to lose that battle to Jordan Williams several times in this game. So you are probably thinking to yourself, "Well you should just go hard at Williams and see if you can get him in foul trouble!" That's an extremely difficult task. The guy only averages 2.2 fouls per game. That stat is completely absurd for a center who averages 31.2 minutes on the floor per game. Maryland is very good at spreading around their fouls, so you have to expect that none of their players are likely to be in foul trouble during this game. Couple Williams' dominance in the post with the fact that Maryland will be gunning hard for a win at home to avoid going 1-3 in ACC play, and you have a likely loss for the Hokies.

However, there are some reasons for optimism as well. Tech will likely mix up their defenses playing a lot of 2-3 zone with a little bit of 1-3-1 trap and man-to-man mixed in to keep Maryland guessing. Why play mostly 2-3 zone? For one, VT will want to keep their big men from getting in foul trouble, and the 2-3 zone collapses quickly on interior players, forcing them to pass back out (although often to an open shooter). This could work to the Hokies' advantage since Maryland is a crappy 3-point shooting team. If they are bombing jump shots, they are playing right into the Hokies' hands. I could also see the 1-3-1 trap being successful against Maryland because the don't seem to have a true point guard. Adrian Bowie is more of a combo-guard and Sean Mosley is also a fairly poor ball-handler. I could see a high pressure 1-3-1 trap leading to several turnovers for the Terps. If VT had more depth in the post (i.e. more fouls to spare), I would want to see them play man-to-man in this game. I like how our guys match up defensively man-for-man with the Terrapins... it seems like our best on-ball defenders would be guarding Maryland's best offensive players, and our best help defender (Jeff Allen) would be free to roam around the paint a little bit.

Offensively, I think Delaney is going to come to play tomorrow. He grew up in nearby Baltimore and will want to show up Maryland for not bothering to recruit him. I would think that Erick Green could be in line for a big game if Maryland plays man-to-man. He'll likely be guarded by freshmen Terrell Stoglin and Pe'Shon Howard most of the game, both of whom are shorter than Green. If Jeff Allen stays focused in this game and doesn't let Maryland's classless fans get to him, he could also be in line for a high scoring game.

In the end, even though I usually like to match player against player in order to determine who will have a big game, that's rarely how it works out. Defense is a much more team-oriented thing, so you have to look at how Maryland plays team defense in order to determine who will have a big game, and honestly I don't know if Maryland plays more man-to-man or more zone. My best guess is man-to-man, so I would assume our most likely scorers will be Delaney and Green (created by pick and roll situations). Jeff Allen will have a hard time scoring points in the post against Dino Gregory, but if his mid-range jump shot is falling, then he can be effective. I think there's also a chance for a shooter like Manny Atkins to put up some points as defenders come to help on Delaney.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Basketball Update

Woah, it's been a while since my last blog post! Several things have happened since I last talked about the Virginia Tech men's basketball team. The Hokies have gone 2-1 against their last 3 ACC opponents, and had a real shot at going 3-0 with a late loss to North Carolina in Chapel Hill. There's been a lot said about that game, and despite the awful calls from that referee crew and the perceived cronyism between Tyler Zeller and an official after a brutally bad blocking call on Jeff Allen, the real reason for the loss was all of the cramping that was happening with VT's players. When you only have 8 players, it's definitely going to hurt you if 3 of them are having cramps during the game. Unfortunately, the NCAA tournament selection committee does not use "cramping" as a reason to view a loss as a win, so the Hokies will have to continue to battle with their emaciated roster. Here are some quick hits regarding the team:
  • The win over Florida State at home was a good one for VT. FSU has been playing beneath their talent so far this season, or at least they were right up until their meeting with Duke in Talahassee last week. The Seminoles played tough defense on Duke, particularly Chris Singleton on Kyle Singler. Almost all of Singler's points came when Singleton was on the bench with foul trouble... if you were to argue that Chris Singleton is the best defender in college hoops right now, I would not have any problem with that statement. The other factor for Florida State against Duke was senior guard Derwin Kitchen. Kitchen is not really known for being a prolific scorer, but he has had a quietly solid season scoring the ball for the Seminoles. He shoots 50.8% from the field and averages 10.8 points per game (the combination of the two is almost unheard of for a guard... you rarely see a guard put up over 10 points per game with a field goal percentage that high). Kitchen is also a decent foul shooter at 78.3% and a decent 3-point shooter at 35.7%, although I don't think he shoots a lot of threes. He is also a fantastic defender, so Duke's guards really had their hands full on both ends. At any rate, I think that FSU may finally start to right the ship now, and if they do, that win could turn out to be a quality win for VT.
  • With that said, I am trying hard not to get my hopes up this season. Virginia Tech has been playing really good basketball over the last month or so, but can they really challenge for a spot in the NCAA tournament this season like they were supposed to? You know, before the injury bug bit us and laid eggs in us? I think the answer is unfortunately, no. With only 8 players in the rotation, and with only two of those players being true post players, it's tough to imagine that VT will be able to compete consistently enough with ACC-caliber opponents. The one team that would go the farthest as a win for VT would obviously be Duke, which VT plays at home on February 26. This is the only meeting between the two teams this season. Tech will be facing a Duke squad that routinely plays 9 players, and they have 10 solid players if Kyrie Irving can get healthy. Of those ten players, 4 are true post players going 6'8", 6'10", 6'10", and 6'11". VT's two post players are 6'8" Victor Davila and 6'7" Jeff Allen. The size disparity will ultimately lead to a lot of offensive rebounds for Duke, and when you couple that with the high intensity that Duke always plays on defense, I just see them wearing the Hokies down eventually rolling over them. Without a win against Duke, the Hokies will be sitting squarely on the bubble yet again (assuming they are somehow able to go 8-8 or better in the ACC). It's a tall order.
  • I know it's looking ahead a long ways, but I'd like to see VT use predominantly man-to-man defense against Duke and mix it up with some of the 1-3-1 trapping zone. If the Hokies attempt to use a lot of 2-3 zone against Duke, they're going to get burned. Duke is an excellent 3-point shooting team and their guards love to drive the lane and kick to open shooters. That's exactly the kind of offense that beats a 2-3 zone. Man-to-Man makes the most sense. Davila will be defending purely in the post against the Plumlee brothers, and he doesn't really have to worry about them shooting from the outside, which is well within Davila's comfort zone. Allen has the potential to be destroyed by Mason Plumlee, as he has very good offensive moves in the post and does a good job of battling for position, and Allen is defensively susceptible to players like that. I'd rather see Allen on Miles Plumlee, who isn't as good of an offensive player. Davila and Allen are also comfortable hedging high screens, so I don't see the Dukies burning the Hokies too bad there as long as the guards go high around the screen to try to cut out the 3-point shot. Assuming Kyrie Irving is still out, I think Nolan Smith versus Erick Green should be a very good match. Green is a superb defender and does a great job of cutting off the dribble-drive, and Smith's game is primarily the dribble-drive and shooting threes. Duke uses a lot of 3-guard sets with 6-4" Andre Dawkins playing along with 6'2" Seth Curry and 6'2" Nolan Smith... size advantage has to go to VT there. Duke can also "go big" with Smith, Curry/Dawkins, Kyle Singler, Ryan Kelly/Miles Plumlee, and Mason Plumlee. This lineup would also have it's advantages for VT as you would see Terrell Bell guarding Singler, rather than Jeff Allen.
  • Okay, I need to stop meandering. That game is still over a month away, and there's plenty of basketball to play between now and then. I think the thing that has been most encouraging is the emergence in the play of sophomore forward Manny Atkins, and freshman forward Jarell Eddie. After a (very) briefly nice start, Eddie was really looking like a freshman for most of this season. He was being intimidated by the opposition and failed to understand the level of activity required to play ACC-level basketball. The confidence is starting to come. After shooting 2/19 from the 3-point line, Eddie made 2/3 attempts in his last game and contributed 18 points in his last 2 games. Eddie definitely looks like a player with a smooth shooting stroke and the ability to rebound the ball, so confidence is the only thing keeping him from setting the ACC on fire. On the other hand, you have another VT player starting to emerge in Manny Atkins who is brimming with confidence. He just needed the opportunity to take some shots. Atkins is getting that opportunity as the Hokies are sharing the ball more than ever on offense. Malcolm Delaney is sacrificing shots for assists when the game calls for him to do so, and it's working out to Manny's advantage. Atkins hit 5-7 shots from the 3-point line in his last 2 games. His shot is a little more unorthodox than Eddie's, but it works very well for shooting jump shots. He has a quick release that he keeps high and in front of his body, which seems to confuse defenders as they go to block the ball. If you have ever seen the Celtics' Ray Allen shoot a jumper, it's somewhat similar in form, although Manny takes more time loading up the shot than Ray-Ray. Both guys are scrappy and can grab rebounds in traffic. Both guys are becoming better defenders (especially Atkins), and Eddie can handle the ball in space a little bit, so you can use him at the 2, 3, or 4.
  • It's tough to talk about the improvement from those two guys without looking ahead to next season. VT returns a lot of talent, and also adds a lot of talent. Seniors like Dorenzo Hudson and JT Thompson were originally slated to be moving on after this season, but will return next season instead. I'd imagine Hudson will keep his starting spot at shooting guard, although I would be surprised if JT Thompson wasn't coming off the bench again. A projected starting lineup for Virginia Tech (if they are all healthy) would be PG Erick Green, SG Dorenzo Hudson, SF Jarell Eddie (although I wouldn't be surprised to see either Atkins or stud recruit Dorian Finney-Smith contend for this spot), PF Allan Chaney, and C Victor Davila. That leaves a bench of PG/SG Tyrone Garland, SF Manny Atkins, PF JT Thompson, C Cadarian Raines, and our 4 stellar recruits, SF Dorian Finney-Smith, PF CJ Barksdale, SG Robert Brown, and PG Marquis Rankin. I am known to put higher expectations on the Hokies than should be expected, but I have a hard time seeing how that group of guys wouldn't dominate. Of course, that all changes when Raines' foot starts to act up again, Allen Chaney's heart keeps him from playing, one of the freshmen transfers due to lack of playing time, and another random Hokie goes down with a season-ending injury. Ahhhhh, now that's more like it! That's a VT basketball team that I'm more familiar with. Maybe I just need to go back to focusing on this season and hoping for the best.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Post-season Thoughts on Hokie Football

There's a lot of room here to cloud this blog with negativity, so I'm going to try to do my best to avoid that. I find the best way to get negative stuff out is with bullet points.
  • The loss last night can be attributed mostly to two things. First, our defense was unable to corral the big play. They gave up 9 plays of 20 or more yards... that's just terrible. Our guys made a lot of mental errors and tackled poorly, which is the same reason they lost the games against Boise State and JMU. Where were our safeties on those long running plays by Stanford? They seemed awfully close to the line of scrimmage despite being our last line of defense. What's worse is they were burned by the same kind of cutback lane 3 times and never learned their lesson. Secondly, our offensive line imploded. They were subpar in both run blocking and pass protection. It's tough to write anything positive about the way they played... there were no holes for the running backs to run through and Tyrod was constantly having to sidestep blitzing defenders. The running backs do share in the blame a bit on that second point as they did not do a good job of picking up the blitz.
  • There were also some minor contributing factors to the loss. This one is a little more subjective but I think Bryan Stinespring reverted to his old self and got uber-conservative in his play-calling. The offense was having problems running the ball between the tackles, but our boy BS didn't care. He kept calling straight running plays up the gut despite what looked to be a consistent effort to stop the run from Stanford. The few run plays that did seem to work were misdirection plays and option plays, but we didn't see many of those despite their success. With that said, I refuse to believe that the Stanford defense is anything special and I think our standard offense should have been able to create holes if they were playing up to their abilities... they just weren't.
  • Tyrod Taylor picked a bad time to have a mediocre game. He wasn't terrible, but for maybe the first time this season, he just didn't have it yesterday. His receivers didn't drop any passes (as far as I can remember), but he was still only slightly over 50% for his completion rate. Tyrod did an exceptional job in sidestepping blitzing defenders throughout the game, but then failed to make throws once that happened. He did make some good passes and did some good things, but didn't show his usual ability to read defenses and determine the right time to pass and the right time to take off and run. His mobility hurt him a couple times where he should have been sacked for a minor loss, but got free and ran backwards only to be eventually sacked 15 yards deeper. But like I said, this was a minor factor.

So that's my review of the problems with our team from last night's game. There were a few bright spots, like Tyrod's scramble and throw to David Wilson for the touchdown, and the special teams doing and exceptional job in picking up on the fake punt. I loved seeing them shut that down. Jarett Boykin made some great plays as well. John Graves had a nice game... probably one of his best of the season.

There are some pieces to build on for next season. 4 of the 5 offensive line starters will be back, and the player being lost is not considered to be talented enough for the NFL (sorry Beau Warren). The group may actually end up being better with Andrew Miller in there at center, but we'll see. They weren't that great this season, so it's tough to imagine they'll be a lot better next season unless they learn to play with a mean streak.

A lot of the Hokies' success hinges on the development of Logan Thomas. He is an impressive athlete and a smart guy, so I think odds are good that he will be at least serviceable. Defensively, there is a lot of talent coming in and a lot of key players coming back.

The coaching staff is likely to look exactly the same, and I think that only hurts us. This staff has been together a long time and seems to have some obvious problems preparing our team for big games. We won't get to see a new offensive coordinator since the VT offense was considered to be very successful this season. So the FireBryanStinespring web site will not be dying any time soon.

I am optimistic about next season for the most part, but I'll be happy to focus on basketball and rest on VT's football laurels for a while.