Through the first five ACC games of the season, Virginia Tech has played below expectations. They are off to a 2-3 start, a record that has them tied for 10th in the conference.
The main expectation this season has been for the Hokies to make the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row. However, according to Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology on ESPN, the Hokies are currently listed in the “Next Four Out” for the NCAA Tournament. This is largely due to the slow start in conference play.
Many fans are wondering why the team has played this way. What is the difference between the Hokies’ wins and losses?
A lot of Tech’s successes and failures this season boil down to one word: efficiency. Specifically, efficiency on offense.
Defensively, the Hokies are good but not great; they are not equipped to win a defensive slugfest. Their bread and butter is their ability to control the game on offense and score enough points to win. If they are scoring enough points, they are confident in their ability to get enough stops on defense. Therefore, efficiency on offense is key.
For the Hokies to have an efficient offense, two questions must be answered: “are they taking care of the ball?” and “are they taking open shots?”
For the Hokies’ three ACC losses this season, both answers have been no.
The first question is answered largely in how many turnovers they are committing. In the three losses, they are averaging just under 16 turnovers per game, while only averaging 8.5 in the two wins. That’s nearly twice as many turnovers in losses than in wins.
When the Hokies are turning the ball over, that usually means they are not passing the ball well. This is typically quantified in their assist totals. The Hokies average 10 assists in the three losses, and 20 in the two wins. Once again, one of these totals is twice as big as the other.
The Hokies’ worst assist-to-turnover ratio came against Virginia. They had 6 assists to go along with 16 turnovers, which is an abysmal .375 ratio. This was perhaps the Hokies’ worst offensive output of the entire season, including non-conference games. They scored a season-low 52 points, and were heavily outplayed from the opening tip.
So it’s simple, really. The Hokies average twice as many turnovers and half as many assists in conference losses than wins.
This leads to the answer to the second question. When the Hokies are making smart passes, they give themselves opportunities to shoot open shots.
This is shown in their field goal percentages. They have shot around 40% in the three losses, including a rough 34.6% showing against Syracuse. However, in the wins they have shot 51.8%.
When watching the Hokies play, it is obvious that they have a natural talent for scoring. However, they can not properly use that talent if they are not getting quality looks. Coach Buzz Williams puts a lot of emphasis on taking good shots, so it is important for Tech to get them. As a whole, the team seems to function better when they are avoiding turnovers and making good passes.
Even in a game in which they shot their worst three-point percentage of the season, the Hokies’ efficient passing was able to get them a win against Pittsburgh. When the threes were not falling, Tech fed the inside and knocked down open looks down low. Despite going 4 for 23 from outside, they still shot 52.6% for the game. When the offense is avoiding turnovers, they have an ability to adjust and find open looks in a variety of ways.
A lot of the Hokies’ good or bad play has been dependent on junior point guard Justin Robinson. As we wrote about in a previous article, Robinson is very much in control of the offense. Often times it seems as Robinson goes, so do the Hokies.
The difference in Robinson’s efficiency between the conference wins and losses has been astounding. He has given a steady output in points, scoring double figures in each of the five games, but his assist and turnover totals have been inconsistent. Robinson’s assist-to-turnover ratio in the three losses is a .82, which is very far from his 2.46 that he accumulated in the non-conference. Meanwhile, Robinson tallied a 3.4 ratio in the wins against Pitt and Wake Forest. He averaged 8.5 assists per game in those two wins.
If the Hokies are going to be competitive in the conference and sneak back into the NCAA Tournament, they need Robinson to avoid making a lot of mistakes. It is clear that Robinson sets the tone for his team offensively, so he will need to lead them to more efficiency.
The Hokies have enough talent to hang with anyone in the ACC, so their ability to win is largely impacted by their ability to score. If they can avoid turnovers and make smart passes to open shooters, March Madness will certainly be part of the Hokies’ future this season.