Sunday, January 25, 2009

What to Make of Virginia Tech

We're three weeks into the ACC season, and the surprise so far has to be the Hokies. They've shot out to a 4-1 record and have two road wins against upper division teams, including handing the Deacs their first loss. Still, they've been outscored on the conference season (-25 against Duke, +23 combined in their four wins, although they hold a positive efficiency margin thanks to having 6 more defensive possessions than offensive) and are only a few weeks removed from a thoroughly unimpressive non-conference slate where they lost to every team they played that was better than they were (and even one or two - Georgia, Seton Hall - that are worse).

So far, the reason for their success has been offense. After being dismantled by Duke in the ACC opener to the tune of a 70.18 offensive rating, Tech has put up four performances of 107, 120, 112, and 121. As is traditional with Seth Greenberg teams, they don't cough the ball up - only 17.7% of their possessions end in turnovers, and that number is even skewed downward by an aberrant 28% performance against Duke. Their ability to hold onto the ball has been key - in non-turnover possessions, VT has the 7th best offense in the ACC, but when all possessions are included, they jump to 4th. They've also been solid with their interior scoring - 50% from 2 in ACC play and 56% in their last three games. Overall, Tech's converted well from the field - their .511 efg% is second only to Wake. This seems unlikely to last. They've actually been better shooting the ball in conference than out, despite playing better opponents.

Leading the charge has been the Hokies' big three, who all have been playing exceptional basketball of late. Delaney, Vassallo, and Allen have combined for 276 of the Hokies' 367 ACC points. Delaney and Vassallo in particular have excelled. The sophomore point guard scores 32% of Tech's points, and has put up a 114.73 offensive rating while using over 27% of the possessions. The senior 2 has had slightly less usage (23.31% of possessions) but been even more efficient, posting a 120.23 offensive rating. In the four conference wins, Vassallo is 23 of 39 from 2 and 9 of 23 from 3 - that's lights out shooting.

The question now is whether this is sustainable. There are plenty of dubious signs - this is, in many ways, a run driven by hot shooting, which has a tendency to revert to the mean. VT doesn't do the other things (rebound, shoot free throws) well enough to overcome a poor shooting night. Plus, with so much pressure on Allen, Delaney, and Vassallo, the inability of their teammates to play at even an adequate level could prove problematic. However, there are positive signs as well, first and foremost being the schedule. The Hokies' next 6 games look like this: Clemson, @ BC, NCSU, Georgia Tech, @ Maryland, @ Virginia. Aside from the Clemson game (which is in Blacksburg), that's a list of the worst teams in conference. It's entirely possible that they could be staring a 9-2 record in the face after their trip to Charlottesville. The finish gets tougher: FSU, @ Clemson, Duke, UNC, @FSU. And thanks to the pre-conference performance, 9-7 could put the Hokies on the wrong side of the bubble, particularly if their last 5 games feature 3 or 4 losses. But all of a sudden, the Hokies, despite again performing poorly before the calendar turns, have made themselves relevant in conference play. If they keep stealing upsets and holding court at home, they could be one of the most surprising NCAA tournament teams of the season.

1 comment:

Douglas said...

I wonder if we will be treated soon to a "What to Make of Maryland" post? :)

Man, what an enigma they are every year. World-beaters one night, and atrocious the next.