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Previewing Virginia Tech: Hokies playing through attrition with newfound emphasis on the paint

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

How to watch or listen to the game

Tip time: 2 p.m. ET, Saturday, Jan. 2

TV: RSN (Fox Sports) -- affiliates

Online streamingESPN3

Radio: Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

Virginia Tech vitals

Record: 8-5
RPI: 164
Pomeroy ranking: No. 137
Best win***: 82-77 over UAB (KenPom No. 105)
Worst loss: 85-82 to Alabama State (KenPom No. 278)

(***Best win or loss based on opponent's Pomeroy Rating, not the scoring margin.)

Adjusted tempo: 72.2 poss/40 minutes (ranks 74th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 103.5 (ranks 151st)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 100.5 (ranks 134th)

VT roster
VT schedule
VT stats 2016

The Virginia Tech offense and starters

VT Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2014-15 51.5 (76) 18.1 (106) 25.9 (318) 31.9 (303)
2015-16 49.8 (160) 19.5 (227) 37.0 (28) 51.4 (2)

Virginia Tech looks a bit improved after an 11-22 campaign in 2015, but Buzz Williams' reclamation project is being being denied a breakthrough thanks in large part to the usual attrition in college basketball (transfer, graduations) and some plain old bad luck (injuries). The changes to the roster have the Hokies profiling quite a bit differently in Williams' second season.

The most painful loss was leading scorer Adam Smith, who opted to transfer to Georgia Tech. Smith was an excellent high-usage player, a 42% three-point shooter who hit a lot of big baskets for the Hokies. Virginia Tech also lost rotation players Joey van Zegeren and Malik Muller to transfer. (Though van Zegeren missed the majority of last season anyhow.)

A patella injury cost Virginia Tech guard Ahmed Hill over the summer, and he's yet to get back into action. Hill logged a lot of minutes as a freshman and shot well from outside. Junior college transfer wing Tyrone Outlaw is sitting out the season with an injury. Most recently, the team lost starting forward Chris Clarke to a broken foot he suffered while working out at home over Christmas break.

The most obvious casualty in all of this has been Virginia Tech's perimeter scoring. Smith, Muller, and Hill each hit better than 38% from three last year, and they accounted for the bulk of the outside attempts, with Justin Bibbs the fourth member of the perimeter gang. With three of the four either gone or sidelined, Virginia Tech's options are few, and it shows, not only in how the Hokies are shooting threes, but in how often they're taking them.

In 2015, the Hokies 3FGA/FGA percentage was 35.4, which was above the national average. This season, it's way down at 26%, which ranks 338th nationally. The Hokies are also hitting only 33.5% from outside after shooting 38.9% a season ago. Just too many holes to plug at guard, even with Maryland transfer Seth Allen in the lineup. (It doesn't help that Allen is off to a terrible start shooting.)

With fewer scoring options outside, the Hokies are focusing on more of an inside-out approach, keyed by USF transfer big fella Zach LeDay and (before he was injured) wing forward Chris Clarke. Those two both have been drawing a lot of fouls and cleaning up the boards at impressive rates. LeDay's offensive rebounding percentage ranks 22nd nationally.

Five Virginia Tech players have an OR% over 10.0, and anything over 10% is getting into good-to-great territory. By comparison, NC State has two guys over 10 (Abu, Freeman). Williams has his team hitting the glass hard a year after offensive boards were mostly an afterthought for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech's drastic improvements in the rebounding and free throw factors is helping to mask its shortcomings  elsewhere--namely the drop in overall shooting ability. It's not a perfect solution, but the Hokies are doing almost everything they can under the circumstances.


Justin Robinson (6-1, 180) -- This is a tough situation for Robinson, who might not otherwise be logging so many minutes so early in his freshman year. The shooting touch is not there yet, inside or out--small sample size alert alert--and he's struggling with turnovers. But he's not eating up an unhealthy number of possessions trying to force his offense, either. That's half the battle sometimes.

Seth Allen (6-1, 195) -- After hitting 38% of his threes in his final year at Maryland, he's just 17-68 (25%) this season. Allen is benefiting from the new rules by getting to the line more often, but his numbers are down in several categories. For now he looks a lot more like freshman Seth Allen than breakthough-sophomore Seth Allen, though he'll probably start coming around at some point. Part of the problem is that he's shouldering a much larger workload, and that tends to come at the cost of efficiency.

Justin Bibbs (6-5, 220) -- Allen might not be stepping up just yet, but Bibbs has been up for the challenge. He's quietly having an insane season scorin' the ol' shoot-ball--dude has knocked down 33 of 55 three-point attempts, making him the second-most accurate three-point shooter in the country. Obviously few players, if any, are true 60% three-point shooters, but Bibbs is a legit shooter; he made 41.3% of his threes last season.

Zach LeDay (6-7, 235) -- He was never more than a secondary scoring option in two seasons at South Florida. That's completely changed now. LeDay is the team's leading scorer and second on the team to Allen in workload. He's never been an exceptional interior scorer, which remains the case, though he is hitting a career-best 48.4% inside the arc this year.  We'll just have to see how that holds up now that we've reached the serious part of the season. He's been outstanding on the glass at both ends while bothering plenty of shots and getting himself to the free throw line often. The free throws have been big for his value--he is a career 74.4% FT shooter.

Kerry Blackshear (6-10, 240) -- Fancies himself an occasional outside shooter (ditto LeDay), which has not been a good thing (ditto LeDay). Other than that, pretty solid freshman debut season so far. He is hitting 60% of his twos and rebounding well, with some of the usual freshman caveats.

The Virginia Tech bench and defense

Reserves: Jalen Hudson (6-5, 195), Devin Wilson (6-4, 190), Shane Henry (6-8, 190), Satchel Pierce (7-0, 255), Johnny Hamilton (7-0, 230). Hudson looks capable in spurts of giving Virginia Tech effective scoring, and he's good at getting himself to the line. His shooting numbers across the board are unremarkable, though. Wilson is capable of filling some minutes at the point but is not likely to factor much into the scoring. This season he's taking only six percent of VT's shots while he's on the court, and that is a cardboard-prop level of involvement.

Henry, Pierce, and Hamilton have played only sparingly, so this is an area that could end up becoming trouble with Clarke unavailable. These guys can grab some rebounds and block a few shots but beyond that it's difficult to expect much.

VT Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2014-15 50.8 (240) 18.9 (177) 36.6 (340) 33.8 (111)
2015-16 46.5 (80) 19.8 (101) 30.6 (180) 25.4 (18)

Virginia Tech was essentially a team of guards and wing players in 2015, which created some glaring issues at this end of the floor. The Hokies were not disruptive as a group and suffered in the paint, where they routinely got killed on the glass. It's not easy to get stops when your top-six players run 6-5 or shorter.

That's changed now that the Hokies have some viable bigs. They're blocking more shots and forcing more turnovers. The interior defense is vastly improved, even if their defensive rebounding has only been average. (It's still a major improvement over the year prior.) At least opponents now have some reason to be wary of hittin' the paint.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Virginia Tech by one point.