It’s no secret that the Virginia Tech offense was struggling to produce at a strong enough level from just before the New Year through the midway point of January. Tech had dropped seven in a row, all to ACC competition before Monday’s 78-75 win over Duke. A few concerning offensive numbers plagued the Hokies in that extended skid.
First, poor three point shooting as Tech shot below 30% from three in five of the seven games.
Furthemore, the Hokies posted an offen 100.0 below in four of the seven games during the losing streak. Perhaps a big reason for the bounce back offensive performance was the return to form from behind the arc. Tech shot the rock at a scorching 53% from three-point range and hung up a mind-boggling 122.1 ORTG vs the Blue Devils.
So after a prolonged stretch of cold shooting, let’s dive deeper into what the numbers and film will tell us about how Tech turned in one of their best offensive performances of the season.
Tech sure did miss the presence of Hunter Cattoor. While his 10 points per game won’t wow casual college basketball fans, his impact as a spacer and shoot on and off the ball is a foundational pillar of the way Mike Young runs his offense.
Tech isn’t a pick-and-roll heavy team but on this play, Cattoor is able to slow his pace down, read the dropping defender and feather in a bounce pass to Lynn Kidd on the roll. Notice as Kidd works in the post, Cattoor shifts from the free throw line to past the three point arc which elevates the Hokies spacing. That small relocation forces a longer closeout and while Whitehead tries to recover, Cattoor cans the long range shot.
As previously stated, the Hokies offense is far more centered around screening and cutting off the ball rather than on-ball creation.
As often is the case, Mutts holds the ball from the mid-post extended area of the court and waits for the best read to reveal itself. Here, Tech screens and moves with a purpose. MJ Collins splits the gap between two screens which carried the speedy Jeremy Roach with him. This allows Pedulla to flip around a Poteat down screen while he’s being chased by a slower footed defender. Pedulla comfortably sinks the well behind the arc three and these are the kinds of triples Tech needs to create more of.
In Cattoor’s absence, Pedulla became an even heavier focal point of Tech’s offense. The result was more pull-up threes in his shot diet to which Pedulla was ill-equipped to hit at a strong rate. Looks like these off crisp off-ball movement are the better kinds of triple tries that benefit Pedulla himself and Tech’s offense.
For the game, the Hokies shot 32 jump shots, 27 of which were the catch and shoot variety. 15 were labeled as unguarded shots while 12 were classified as guarded jumpers. The last time that balance of guarded to unguarded shots was within a three shot margin was at the beginning of the losing streak vs Boston College.
The biggest part of Cattoor’s return is the Hokies return to form with their infamous “zoom action” which is centered around his strengths.
Zoom action, as it’s referred to across the basketball world, gets a ball handler on the move by running them off a pindown screen and into a dribble handoff above the break.
Cattoor killed Duke off this simple action time and time again in the ACC Tournament championship game. Tech runs the action out of a horns alignment and Mutts extra screen after the handoff blocks the chasing defender from beating Cattoor to his spot while Duke remains in drop coverage.
As we’ll see in the clips to come, Duke shifts the way they guard this action which was paramount to how the Hokies attacked their defense in the second half.
As Cattoor comes off the initial screen within the same play type as above, Duke switches the action this time which does two key things. On the positive end for Duke, the switch disallows Cattoor to freely catch the ball on the move. Whitehead doesn’t have to chase Cattoor like a mad man but instead has to cover Basile off the switch. This was the key mismatch that the Hokies exposed to aid them to their narrow victory.
Duke switched more screens in the second half and Tech got post mismatches for Basile and their bigs to take advantage of. The threat of Cattoor and Tech’s shooting from their primary actions forced Duke to adjust but that played right into the hands of the Hokies as they fed the post mismatches for easy baskets.
The Hokies scored 15 points off post-ups vs Duke, their second highest play type volume wise behind the 24 points scored off spot up shots. Tech also scored 11 points off cuts and six points off handoffs. The post-ups though were a benefit of the Hokies' hot first half three-point shooting.
Instead of inside out offense, it was the opposite for Tech, their deadliness from long range propelled the Duke defense to stretch out to shooters, resulting in profitable post opportunities around the rim.
Here’s another zoom action from Tech, this time run for Collins as the ball handler but with an added wrinkle on top. It’s horns alignment from the Hokies again with two players positioned at each elbows. Kidd gets the ball parked at the left elbow while his front court partner Basile goes to set the screen for Collins to fly off. Duke switches the action as they commonly did in the second half.
However, the real magic comes behind the primary action. Cattoor motions to set a cheeky little back screen for Basile which paralyzes Duke’s defenders involved in the screen and frees Basile for his easiest shot of the night. This was a firm example of Duke being able to stop Tech’s primary attack, but failing to spot the Hokies' counterpunch embedded within the play.
The final big example of all these dynamics at play came at the game's most critical stage.
Tie game and Tech goes to the simple but effective zoom action for Cattoor. Basile crushed Roach on his screen and Duke switches a big onto Cattoor which enabled him to pressure the rim. Cattoor’s drive forces a stunt off the corner defender. Cattoor makes the pass to Collins who drives the closeout with a lightning quick first step and sinks the biggest shot of his young college career.
Tech’s zoom action is mainly run for Cattoor and the first option is always to free him open for a three-point shot. However, Tech showed how deadly the action can be in setting up teammates for success when opposing defenses adjust and force the Hokies to go to plan B. Tech was able to mismatch post off switches, counter with added layers of screening to free up easy shots, and attack off secondary drives to beat the Blue Devils' defense.
There’s a lot more basketball to be played, but this win for Virginia Tech signals that the dangerous motion offense the Hokies can run is still out there and can still give teams fits when it’s run right.