Throughout Virginia Tech's strong start, the primary focus from national analysts has been on the breakout of Nickeil Alexander-Walker and the strong play of senior PG Justin Robinson, and rightfully so given their performance. However, it's been Kerry Blackshear who has arguably been Virginia Tech's best performer through the first three ACC games.
Blackshear's improved play has proven critical in recent weeks as the Hokies have leaned on Blackshear to help open up significant second half margins against Notre Dame and Boston College, and be a primary offensive source against Georgia Tech on a night when Alexander-Walker and Robinson had a combined 14 points on 4-23 shooting, equivalent to the scoring output of Blackshear.
In those first two ACC games, Blackshear was a second half scoring machine averaging 13.5 points in those two games while shooting 9-14 from the field. While Blackshear was okay in the first halves of both of those games, his strong second halves were indicative of the Hokies being able to regroup and adjust to their opponents during halftime according to Blackshear after VT's win over Boston College.
“I don’t think that it’s a secret. We just want to go out there, we’re able to regroup, see what they’re doing and adjust. We’ve done a good job of doing that," Blackshear said.
However, Blackshear's ability to win his battle in the post decisively has also made a major difference.
In those two games, Blackshear was able to win his matchup in the post with Notre Dame's star big man John Mooney being held to 9 points while BC's Nik Popovic was held to only 11 points before fouling out in the second half after what was a hard-fought battle in the post won decisively by Blackshear with his strong second half after foul trouble gave him issues in the first half.
His performance against Georgia Tech was the first time Blackshear was held under 20 points in ACC play but on a night where VT's shooting was a nightmare, Blackshear was able to get lots of free-throw opportunities while also grabbing five offensive rebounds. Those five offensive rebounds proved valuable with those 5 offensive rebounds being greater than Georgia Tech's 3 total offensive rebounds. Because of that and VT's 13 total offensive rebounds, the Hokies were able to have a 7-1 advantage in second chance that proved critical on a night where VT shot under 30% from the field.
Overall, Blackshear is in the midst of one of the best runs of his career averaging 18.3 points and 8 rebounds per game over this three-game stretch. Those eye-popping numbers aren't because of one performance as Blackshear has had at least 14 points and 7 rebounds in each of the Hokies' first three ACC games.
Part of the reason for his improved play may be in part due to the Hokies' lack of frontcourt depth while teams also can't consistently double-team Blackshear due to the Hokies' talented group of shooters, giving him plenty of space to operate.
“I think we get a lot of those reps in practice that helps me a lot being the lone big man on the floor a lot of the times. I think it gives me a little bit more freedom to play off of them and then, if I’m in the block, I can play with space. If I’m on the perimeter, they’re so good that I’m open a lot of times, it helps me," Blackshear said.
That space has been evident as Kerry Blackshear has had his fair share of one-on-one matchups in the post. While teams likely would like to bring a double team, they know the risk that it would present given the Hokies' impressive three-point shooting along with the talent that Alexander-Walker and Robinson have at attacking the rim when receiving any space to do so.
Because of that, Blackshear has had ideal paint matchups that he's been able to take advantage with, using a solid arsenal of post moves to give opposing big men nightmares. While Blackshear does go to his right hand significantly more often in those situations, he's shown enough of a threat to his left that opposing defenders can't cheat to that side, giving Blackshear is able to get less contested looks with his preferred hand.
As the Hokies prepare for Virginia, Virginia Tech's offensive gameplan will likely rely a lot on Kerry Blackshear and an inside-out attack that creates space on the perimeter over time. Part of that is due to matchup with Virginia having lots of skilled guards, but no big man that is on the same level as Blackshear. However, that strategic possibility is more due to the fact that Blackshear is playing as well as he has in any point in his collegiate career against ACC competition.
Regardless of his form, Virginia Tech will need Kerry Blackshear to step up and have a big game in what is a favorable matchup for him against Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite. Of course, Blackshear may have a little extra confidence heading to Charlottesville after his game-winning put-back that gave the Hokies one of their biggest wins in program history coming against a top-ranked UVA on the road in primetime on ESPN.
Having that type of positive memory in the back of his mind can only Blackshear more in addition to the confidence he likely has because of his strong play that has helped the Hokies start 3-0 in ACC play.
Against Virginia, the Hokies will need Kerry Blackshear to be dominant in the frontcourt as he was in that big moment last season. So far in ACC play, Blackshear has shown that he is more than capable of having that type of dominance for more than just one timely moment.
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Stay up with The Tech Lunch Pail for the latest on Virginia Tech. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our email updates.