After the loss to Miami over the weekend the Tigers will travel to Virginia Tech. We were able to talk with the folks over at Gobbler Country about the Hokies basketball program and the upcoming game.
STS: Virginia Tech now sits at 7-7 and should be favored in each of their four remaining games. Compared to pre-season expectations, how surprised would you be at a double-digit ACC win total?
GC: It would not be surprising at all to see this team win 10 games. They did so last season, and were expected to be improved this year. I had them pegged at 11-7 in the conference in my preseason prediction. Although this program is miles ahead of the curve, they had to overcome multiple injuries to key players. Kerry Blackshear is currently redshirting this season, and he probably has the best size/talent combination on the team. Last Sunday in the double overtime win against Virginia, the Hokies lost Chris Clarke to an ACL tear. They have missed his rebounding presence in this past weekend’s 94-90 loss in Louisville. So when you look at how the season has unfolded, it is impressive that they are looking at another 10 win season but not all that surprising.
STS: Buzz Williams was hired before the 2014-15 basketball season. Many wondered why he'd leave a basketball school for Virginia Tech, but after a rough first year he'll win 20+ in each of the past two seasons. How has he turned it around so quickly?
GC: Buzz Williams is many things, but he is one of the greatest motivators I have ever seen. As with all great coaches, getting the players to buy in to what he does has been his first priority. Clearly, the Hokies have bought in. This team plays with more of an edge than 95% of teams in the country. They are tough, pesky, and gritty. But it’s not just the effort that differentiates Virginia Tech. Despite only having two recruiting classes, the Hokies are much more talented than they were in 2014. The additions of Seth Allen, Chris Clarke, Zach LeDay, and Justin Robinson are the core of the team right now. Combining that uncommon effort with the type of players that fit his system has allowed Buzz Williams and the program to ascend quicker than anyone could have imagined.
STS: Educate us a bit about VT basketball history and facilities. Cassell Coliseum looks... unconventional shall we say...
GC: Virginia Tech, since the Dell Curry era back in the ’80’s, has been dismal. They have only made the tournament twice in the last 21 years, which is obviously not ideal. But when you are known for your football, basketball takes a backseat. To be concise, Cassell is small (capacity: 9,800) but loud. There is a fairly steep drop-off from the student section to the actual floor, which makes storming the court less than ideal. But when people are there, I think even the TV announcers are surprised how loud it can get. The arena is getting an upgrade this upcoming offseason.
STS: What, if anything, is there that the Buzz Williams turnaround at VT can demonstrate to Clemson basketball fans who have grown apathetic to the basketball program?
GC: Once a team has the right attitude and just a little bit of talent, you will be surprised at what they can accomplish. Even in 2014 when the Hokies were 2-16 in the ACC, you could tell that a spark was there in how the team competed. In 2015, they surpassed nearly everyone’s expectations and won 20 games. Yes, a lot of that has to do with coaching, so maybe there should be a change there. The Clemson fanbase is probably big enough to where if the team does decently, people will follow. It all starts with how the team competes.
STS: Zach LeDay is undersized at 6'7" for his post role. How has he fared so well averaging nearly 15 and 7. Have teams been able to attack the post against VT?
GC: LeDay has the heart and strength of a bull. The redshirt senior probably embodies the personality of Buzz Williams better than anyone else on the team. He beats taller players with his quickness and versatile ability to put the ball on the floor and take them to the rim. He gets plenty of and-one opportunities this way. Like Blossomgame, LeDay also possesses a hook shot, although its very awkward and rigid (but effective nonetheless). I don’t think LeDay is as good on the boards as his numbers indicate. Most ACC teams have 6’10" guys they give plenty of minutes to, which does not help the cause given his stature. As a result, the Hokies give up a ton of offensive rebounds and second chance points, which has been magnified with the recent loss of Chris Clarke. Virginia Tech gave up 26 second chance points to Louisville on Saturday. If you are a team playing the Hokies, the game plan should be to attack the interior.
STS: VT has the 15th best eFG% in the country. What makes their shot selection and ability to convert so good?
GC: The Hokies have such a high eFG% due to their spacing. They often play with 4 guards on the floor who can all shoot, which opens up space inside to drive the ball and deters the defense from helping one pass away. Virginia Tech is also very good at moving the basketball quickly on the perimeter, which loosens up zone defenses and they generate plenty of open looks from deep. The Hokies can be streaky from three at times, but when they are on they are difficult to stop. eFG% not only favors three-point shooting teams, teams that don’t settle for mid-range jump shots, but also teams that get to the free throw line frequently. The Hokies have one of the higher free throw rates in the country - it is a huge part of their game plan. In addition, when they are able to penetrate, Robinson, Allen, and LeDay are usually very good finishers around the rim as Virginia Tech shoots 54.4% inside the arc (29th in the country).