Date: Saturday, 12/15/18
Tip-Off Time: 4:00 pm PT
Radio: KOMO 1000 AM/97.7 FM and TuneIn
Location: Atlantic City, New Jersey
Betting Line: Washington +8.5
Virginia Tech 2018-19 Statistics:
Points For per Game: 82.0 (33rd)
Points Against per Game: 57.6 (6th)
Adjusted Offensive Efficiency: 117.0 (6th)
Adjusted Defensive Efficiency: 94.8 (34th)
Strength of Schedule: -2.82 (263rd)
Virginia Tech Key Players:
F-Kerry Blackshear, Jr. 6’10, 250: 12.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.0 apg, 54.9% FG, 40% 3pt, 56.3% FT
The Virginia Tech big man is the only player on their roster taller than 6’6 so his ability to stay in the game and protect the rim will be paramount. He’s a very well-rounded player and is at least an average rebounder, passer, shot blocker, and shooter although I wouldn’t say he’s exceptional at any aspect.
F- Ty Outlaw, Sr. 6’6, 220: 8.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 50% FG, 51.2% 3pt, 33.3% FT
Outlaw shifts to center when Blackshear is out but he’s essentially the rich man’s Dominic Green. He was 11th in the country in 3-pt percentage last season and has only improved so far this year to the point that he’s making more than half of his shots behind the arc despite taking about 5 per game.
G- Nickeil Alexander-Walker, So. 6’5, 205: 17.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.0 apg, 55% FG, 46.2% 3pt, 79.2% FT
The stellar sophomore out of Ontario is putting up Jaylen Nowell-like numbers and has taken over as the leading scorer for the Hokies after finishing 4th on the team in Year 1. Literally every efficiency statistic has improved for him from a year ago but the two most notable elements are that his assist rate and steal percentage have both more than doubled. He’s gone from just being a scorer to also being a distributor and defensive menace and yet still managed to become a better scorer.
G- Ahmed Hill, Sr. 6’5, 210: 12.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 43.8% FG, 47.2% 3pt, 87.5% FT
Hill is still one of the best shooters in the country and he’s making almost half of his 3-pt shots. But his efficiency inside the arc has dipped by 12% from last season in the early going so UW should force him to drive if possible where he’s less effective. He has taken about a 50/50 split between 2 and 3-pt shots so he isn’t solely a sniper from deep.
G- Justin Robinson, Sr. 6’2, 195: 15.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 6.2 apg, 50% FG, 44.7% 3pt, 80% FT
Robinson can do it all as a shooter, distributor, and defender as he ranks in the top-175 nationally in 3pt%, assist rate, and steal percentage. If you could pick any player in the country to magically add to the Husky roster then Robinson might be the best possible complement to their existing talent. He’s what every frustrated UW fan wishes David Crisp could be.
2018-19 Virginia Tech Shot Chart
The shot chart looks about how you would expect for a team that starts 5 players shooting at least 40% on 3’s. The Hokies have embraced the Houston Rockets philosophy and are allergic to midrange shots. It’s always Washington’s goal to force opponents into those looks but it will be a true battle of wills to see if they can do it against Virginia Tech.
You don’t usually see a pair of power conference teams that play each other outside of league play in consecutive seasons but that’s what Washington and Virginia Tech will be doing on Saturday. In their last meeting the Huskies were absolutely annihilated in a 103 to 79 loss that wasn’t even that close. Virginia Tech led by 31 points at halftime and the final 3⁄4 of the game was essentially all garbage time. The Hokies were an incredible 15 of 22 (68.2%) from 3-pt range including making 10 of their first 11 from deep to almost instantly bury the Dawgs.
There are reasons to think that a similar outcome is both likely and unlikely. We’ll start with the negatives. Virginia Tech’s offense may be even better than it was a year ago. They only play an 8-man rotation but 7 of those 8 shoot at least 38.9% from deep and 5 of them shoot at least 45% from 3-pt range. As a team they shoot 40.2% on guarded catch and shoot opportunities and an astounding 52.9% on unguarded catch and shoot opportunities. If the Huskies aren’t able to get to shooters in time to close out hard then they’re in serious trouble. And if you focus entirely on the shooters then Kerry Blackshear is capable of beating you 1-on-1 inside. The Hokies are in the 100th percentile on spot up shots, 98th percentile on post ups, 97th percentile with the ball handler keeping it in the pick and roll, and in the 90th percentile in transition (all numbers courtesy of Synergy Sports).
Now for some optimism. Last season the Husky 3-pt defense got markedly better following the Virginia Tech game and it appeared they changed their approach afterwards to emphasize stretching out the zone against great shooting teams. Only about 20% of VT’s possessions have come against a zone so far this year but they’ve shot about 6% worse than they have against man (although that’s negated by their turnover rate being much lower). They don’t want to take any shots that aren’t behind the arc or at the rim so being left wide open at the free throw line will force them to make decisions counter to their offensive philosophy.
While every indication is that Virginia Tech is in fact a good team, they have played a pretty lackluster schedule which may inflate some of their raw numbers. The Hokies have only faced 2 top-90 opponents per KenPom and they won by 6 and lost by 1 in those games. They’ve absolutely decimated teams that are 200+ in the rankings which helps their analytics numbers but they haven’t played a game that’s any more impressive than UW’s last second loss at Gonzaga. In their one loss at Penn State they still managed to shoot better than 50% from 3 but shot worse than 40% on 2-pointers, had 15 turnovers, and gave up 14 offensive rebounds.
So far the focus has been on Virginia Tech’s offense and that makes sense for a team shooting 45% from 3-pt range. But the defense is excellent as well. While their small lineup gives up size at the 4 and 5 positions, they counter it with length and quickness on the perimeter. Virginia Tech is 2nd in the country in turnover percentage at 26.7% so they wreak havoc on teams with shaky ball handling situations (gulp). Normally that would suggest they gamble for steals and are prone to committing fouls but they’re also 2nd in the country in free throw attempts per field goal attempt which suggests they very rarely let opponents get to the charity stripe (double gulp). Opponents only score 1 out of every 8 points from the foul line against Virginia Tech which is last in the country.
In order for the Huskies to come out ahead in this one they’re going to have to stay disciplined and hope for some support from whichever ref crew is out there. I’m not saying that they need to have calls go blatantly in their favor to win (although that’d help) but rather that it’s an advantage for Washington against a team with only 1 big man that’s generally content to bomb away from the perimeter and usually doesn’t foul if the refs get a little foul happy.
The UW game plan should be simple. Emphasize getting the ball inside to Noah Dickerson and having him get Kerry Blackshear in early foul trouble as well as driving to the hoop with Jaylen Nowell. Virginia Tech will counter that by packing the paint as well as double teaming Noah and pressuring ball handlers to prevent them from making solid entry passes. UW will need to punish that over-pressuring as well as the double teams by hitting a few wide open shots and making Virginia Tech respect the outside shot to free up room inside.
On defense the Huskies need to pull off a game similar to Kansas last season. Matisse Thybulle and David Crisp should go over the top of screens and follow shooters several steps beyond the 3-pt line to contest every 3-pt look at all cost. Virginia Tech hasn’t shown a comfort level hitting the midrange shot so give them that look and hope it either flusters them or they miss the first few and are faced with indecision when presented with that look throughout the rest of the game. Whoever is playing center needs to stay at home on Blackshear and give up the 10-footer over the bounce pass to the guy hiding on the baseline. Putting that many great shooters on the floor at once puts so much pressure on a defense and it will take an effort equal to how they played against Gonzaga to withstand it.
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