What UVA Basketball fans need to know about Virginia Tech

Clemson Virginia Tech Tyrece Radford

Tyrece Radford drives the lane in Virginia Tech’s 66-60 win over Clemson on Dec. 15. Photo courtesy Atlantic Coast Conference.

Virginia Tech jumpstarted its 2019-2020 season with an eye-opening win over Michigan State. Eyes turned again a few weeks ago when Mike Young’s Hokies notched an early win over Villanova.

They have two ACC wins since, but Saturday’s game at #23 Virginia – the preseason ACC favorite – is the first true road game of the 2020-2021 season for Tech, if there is such a thing as a true road game this season.

The handful of fans and cardboard cutouts aren’t proving to be all that menacing, you know.

The Hokies (8-1), ranked 24th, have improved substantially on both ends of the floor in Year 2 under Young. They’re scoring 1.103 points per possession on the offensive end, ranking 37th nationally, per KenPom.com, up from last year’s 1.043 points per possession, and on defense, they’re giving up .933 points per possession, 46th nationally, down from the .980 points per possession they allowed in 2019-2020.

The best player is Keve Aluma, a 6’9”, 235-pound junior who followed Young from Wofford, had to sit out last year as a transfer, and has become Tech’s go-to guy, averaging 16.0 points per game, shooting 54.3 percent from the field, 39.1 percent from three, and also leading the team in rebounding, at 6.7 per game.

Aluma has dramatically upgraded his game since his sophomore season at Wofford in 2018-2019. He was a fourth or fifth option on that team – you may remember the prolific three-point shooting guard Fletcher Magee keying a first-round NCAA Tournament upset of Seton Hall, and that Terriers team then taking Kentucky into the final moments of a second-round loss.

Aluma only got four shots per game on that team, but he’s putting up a team-leading 10.2 per game for Virginia Tech.

He’s Tech’s best weapon in the post, shooting 54.2 percent on post-ups, and a deadly 78.9 percent on screen cuts, per Synergy Sports.

That will be the challenge for UVA center Jay Huff (89.5 defensive rating, per sport-reference.com), who has responsibility in the Pack Line to double the ball-handler in pick and rolls, then needs to rush back to the rim to touch his big, assuming he’s had help from behind slowing his man down.

Virginia did a much better job of that in its 66-57 win at Notre Dame, limiting the Irish to 13 shot attempts at the rim, and just seven makes – after getting torched in the 98-75 loss to #1 Gonzaga last weekend, in which the ‘Zags were 21-of-29 on shots at the rim, the culprit being awful defense on the back end of screen cuts.

To say that the challenge from Aluma will fall mainly on Huff is understating it. He also needs help on the back end from guys like Sam Hauser (DRtg: 101.7), Trey Murphy III (DRtg: 99.9), Casey Morsell (DRtg: 99.2) and Tomas Woldetensae (DRtg: 100.4), the guys at two, three and four who will be tasked with slowing the screen cuts to give Huff time to recover.

The other guy to account for in the post is 6’7”, 230-pound junior Justyn Mutts (6.6 ppg, 5.9 rebs/g, 44.4% FG, 31.6% 3FG).

He’ll be a load for Hauser one-on-one – and if you try to cheat off him to double Aluma in the post, he’ll make you pay, as he did in Tech’s wins over ‘Nova (12 points) and Miami (15 points).

Note that the interior duo is solid defensively: Aluma’s DRtg is 91.8, Mutts’ is 92.8.

The other guy who will get your attention game-planning-wise is 6’2” guard Tyrece Radford (10.8 ppg, 50.7% FG, 26.7% 3FG).

You look at those counting numbers, and you think I’m crazy, and I get you – and then point you to these numbers courtesy Hoop-Math.com: 59.0 percent and 66.7 percent.

The first is the percentage of his shots overall that come at the rim; the second is his shooting percentage at the rim.

And then a third: six.

Radford is 24-of-36 on shots at the rim this season, and only six of those baskets came off assists.

Kid is a beast getting himself into the paint, though curiously, it doesn’t translate to getting him more trips to the line – he’s averaging 3.1 free throw attempts per game, roughly half of what Aluma (who is 30-of-46 at the rim this season) gets on a nightly basis.

Radford plays the two for Tech. He probably gets Morsell, maybe freshman Reece Beekman (DRtg: 96.2) as his primary defender.

Radford and Aluma score in the paint. They’re surrounded by shooters – 6’4” sophomore Nahiem Alleyne (11.1 ppg, 42.1% FG, 40.9% 3FG), who shoots a team-best 55.2 percent on spot-ups; 5’10” sophomore Jalen Cone (10.3 ppg, 40% FG, 37% 3FG), who is a team-best 66.7 percent from the field in transition; and 6’3” sophomore Hunter Cattoor (7.3 ppg, 48.7% FG, 46.4% 3FG), who is shooting a team-high 50 percent on shots off screens.

The point guard, 6’1” senior Wabissa Bede (5.7 ppg, 3.1 assists/g, 38.8% FG, 31.8% 3FG), doesn’t have the prettiest counting stats, but his value is a steady hand (1.7 turnovers per game), and that he’s a veteran – just a good college point guard.

At a glance

  • Offense: Virginia 109.6 (43), Virginia Tech 110.3 (37)
  • Defense: Virginia 89.1 (10), Virginia Tech 93.3 (46)
  • Tempo: 60.8 (357), Virginia Tech 67.6 (301)

Efficiency data from KenPom.com

Details

#24 Virginia Tech (8-1, 2-0 ACC) at #23 Virginia (5-2, 1-0 ACC)
ACC Network, 2 p.m.

  • BartTorvik: Virginia 63-56, 79% win probability
  • ESPN BPI: Virginia +6.2, 75.3% win probability
  • KenPom.com: Virginia 63-58, 66% win probability

Story by Chris Graham


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