Losers of their last five ACC contests, Virginia Tech men’s basketball is reeling and in search of answers. Some might point to last year’s squad as evidence that a turnaround is possible as the 2021-22 Hokies climbed their way out of a 2-7 ACC play hole to claim their first ever ACC Tournament championship in Brooklyn all without having to play in the opening round.
While a turnaround is certainly possible, it won’t have anything to do with what last year’s Tech team accomplished. This is a new season that’s turned sour for the Hokies and one that has a fresh set of issues to fix.
What are those issues you ask? Well let’s start with the basics. Virginia Tech has lost their last five games to Boston College, Wake Forest, Clemson, NC State, and Syracuse. Four of those losses have come within five points. The Hokies average point differential in this skid sits at -4.8 even with the recent double-digit loss to Syracuse. Tech’s struggled to win the close ones in ACC play even though they were 4-1 in games decided by five points or less throughout the non-conference slate.
Through the numbers and eye test, let’s take a closer look at why the Hokies are struggling at the turn of a new year.
Tech’s problems from behind the three-point arc were evident for all to see (all who have the correct RSN that is) Wednesday night when the Hokies shot an abysmal 3-19 from long range. Over the past five games, Tech is hitting the mark on 27% of their triples and 28-102 in total.
However, it’s nothing new for Mike Young’s crew to be free to fire from distance. Tech relies on high efficient shots from downtown as they rank top five in three pointers attempted this season and were first in 3P percentage at 39.2% last season. The problem then comes down not to the Hokies shooting too many threes, rather it’s the types of shots Tech has been generating from downtown.
Note: Most of the data used is provided by the Synergy Sports database.
Virginia Tech relying on outside jump shots is backed up by the numbers. 52.3% of all Hokies possessions in the half court end in a jump shot of any kind (catch & shoot or pull-ups). This isn’t an inherently bad figure as last year’s ACC Tournament title squad took jump shots on 55.8% of half court possessions. The difference is, this year’s Tech team isn’t hitting on their threes as much as they did last season. Call it bad luck or just a poor stretch but there is further evidence of why the Hokies aren’t cashing in from deep.
Tech takes shots around the rim on 36.8% of their half court possessions which is actually 3% higher than last season. The two main forms of shots at the rim come from post ups or drives to the basket. While they’re isn’t much available information on how many drives or paint touches the Hokies generate per game, we can see their efficiency on post ups. Tech scores off post ups on 13% of their made shots, which is their second most efficient scoring type behind spot up jumpers.
While Basile and Mutts are strong players in the post, the Hokies are neglecting the more effective way to rotate opposing defenses. Lots of Tech’s offense can be phrased as “inside out basketball” meaning the Hokies set up their long range shooting by penetrating to the basket which forces the defense to shift and opens up good looks off the drive and kick.
However, over the last five games, it looks like the Hokies aren’t executing that formula well enough to earn ACC victories. This methodology can be supported in part by the data.
Of all the Hokies jump shots, 54.3% are classified as guarded while 45.7% are labeled as unguarded shots. Last year, the ratio was flipped because Tech was able to bend the defense more effectively. Less quality dribble penetration has led to the Hokies settling for contested outside shots rather than creating them.
Many Tech fans will point to the absence of Hunter Cattoor as to why the Hokies are struggling recently. Those fans would be correct as without Cattoor, the Hokies clearly have a hole that has gone unfilled.
Cattoor is a great shooter and general floor spacer who cuts well into open space. He makes extra passes that connect the offense and can run some of Tech’s offense through a few of Mike Young’s designed sets. However, it’s not just the fact that the Hokies don’t have Cattoor that’s caused their issues, it’s the effect his absence has left on other key players on the roster that’s concerning.
Sean Pedulla broke out throughout non-conference play but he’s seen a significant dip in production during ACC play. Most notably, Pedulla’s efficiency has cratered from long range. He’s taking and missing too many jump shots.
In three of his last five games, he’s shot nine or more three pointers and he’s converting at a 24% clip on just over seven attempts a night. Without Cattoor, Pedulla has had to shoulder an even heavier offensive load. Instead of being a free slasher who can put pressure on a defense, Pedulla has to create more tough looks from outside which aren’t falling.
Darius Maddox hasn’t been the same player he was last season. Tech was hoping he’d take a rise into a legit secondary creator but he’s dropped on most levels offensively. Maddox is shooting 30% from three, a far cry from the 50% he shot the rock at last season. While he was shooting it poorly even with Cattoor in the lineup, that problem has been exacerbated in the last five games.
Maddox hasn’t been a reliable secondary shot creator because he too often stops his drives in favor of contested pull-up shots. Since those pull-ups aren’t going in, the defense won’t honor Maddox’s shooting threat like they once did.
On the depth side of the coin, the Hokies have strong depth along the interior. Behind Basile and Mutts, the likes of Lynn Kidd and Mylyjael Poteat are able to spell in and make their presence felt.
However, on the perimeter, the Hokies don’t have suitable depth that can fill in those missing holes that have been left in Cattoor’s absence. Outside of Pedulla and Maddox, it’s down to freshmen that aren’t ready to contribute at that high a level yet. MJ Collins and Rodney Rice are ultra talented but it’s unrealistic to expect them to fill the void of a Cattoor-like player in their first run of ACC action especially as Rice just made his collegiate debut against Syracuse.
In clutch time, the Hokies shooting hasn’t risen to the occasion. Clutch time is defined as shots that are taken within five minutes or less when the score is within five points. At Boston College, Tech shot 3-9 in the overtime period. The Hokies were 5-9 in the clutch at Wake Forest but were undone on the defensive end.
When Tech returned home to face Clemson they shot an ugly 2-12 in clutch time. In the following game, Tech shot well in clutch time versus NC State because Maddox got hot, but they were cold before that which negated the late run. Finally, Tech didn’t earn clutch time versus Syracuse since the game wasn’t within five points in the last few minutes.
In a story that’s similar to last season, Virginia Tech isn’t creating good offense in the final stages of games and the results are telling. With four of the Hokies next six opponents ranked inside the current AP Top 25 not including ACC leader Clemson, Tech must step up and solve some of their offensive issues if they are to make a run like last season.