Virginia Tech came up short at #8 Kentucky
, but the Hokies showed that they were a top 25-30 caliber team. After playing lots of subpar teams throughout the non-conference schedule, the Kentucky test taught us some things about this team and where they need to improve at. With that said, here are a few takeaways from Saturday's loss.
1. Virginia Tech Continues to Struggle vs. the Press
Turnovers proved costly for the Hokies as they had 19 turnovers compared to only 11 for Kentucky. Part of that reason was due to the fact that the Hokies had some struggles with the press, especially when Justin Robinson wasn't on the floor.
This was a problem against Ole Miss as well as the Hokies struggled in the first half against the Rebels largely due to Ole Miss's use of the press. John Calipari saw this weakness and brought in some press wrinkles defensively
There were a few different times when VT just looked out of sorts including one Nickeil Alexander-Walker turnover where he picked up his dribble too soon, was surrounded, and then turned it over. Another turnover that stood out was one when VT broke the press but was so disorganized to where a pass deflected off the back of Chris Clarke and was recovered by Kentucky.
Those were two of the multiple turnovers that came out of the press. The bigger note may be the fact that Calipari pulled out a press that he hadn't used in a decade just for this matchup.
Teams will now have two games of tape that show a weakness for the Hokies against the press. You can expect that plenty of ACC teams will look to implement some sort of press before their matchups with Virginia Tech especially when VT goes on the road as Calipari did in prep for this game.
Going forward, the Hokies need to improve their ability to get out of the press in a controlled manner, especially when Justin Robinson is either not on the floor or made ineffective by the opposing defense. If not, ACC teams will exploit this weakness.
2. Kerry Blackshear Has Become an Offensive Force in the Post.
Kerry Blackshear was a force in the post down the stretch yesterday on his way to having 18 points before he fouled out. Blackshear did only have 5 rebounds, but on the offensive end of the floor, the redshirt sophomore big man was dominant especially late in the game.
Time and time again, Blackshear was able to post up and was able to attack the rim almost at will. Blackshear showed off some great post moves including a nice spin move a couple of times to get around a Kentucky big man and get an easy layup. Here's one of those moves in this GIF below.
This may have been the fanciest move from Blackshear, but he was consistently able to spin move while also being comfortable when having to make a couple of dribbles to get himself in position.
Down the stretch, Kerry Blackshear became the Hokies' main scorer and was able to prevent Kentucky from going on a run late. Kentucky had no defensive answer for him in the second half, and you have to wonder how big of a difference he could have made if he didn't foul out with about 3.5 minutes to go in part due to some soft calls. Blackshear's post moves and toughness were executed well while his finishing was superb, especially in the second half.
The redshirt sophomore's dominance against a Kentucky team full of former five-star big men is impressive and is a statement about how good he could be in ACC play.
Looking ahead, the Hokies have found a post-scoring replacement for Zach LeDay in Kerry Blackshear who has the size to not have some of the same problems that LeDay had at times against conference opponents. Blackshear has shown that he can hold his own even against frontcourts full of talented big men as he did against the Wildcats.
3. Justin Robinson is Virginia Tech's Most Important Player
Justin Robinson has developed into one of the best floor generals
in America, and the junior point guard has also become VT's most important player. While you could make an argument that Kerry Blackshear is also that player given the Hokies' lack of size, Saturday showed how important Justin Robinson is.
Robinson played 38 minutes in this game so it was rare when he wasn't off the floor, but when he wasn't the primary ball handler or wasn't on the floor, VT struggled especially against the press. Robinson was the one player who was consistently able to break out of the Kentucky press. When the Wildcats were able to take Robinson out of position to break the press, Kentucky was able to force turnovers several times.
The fact that Robinson played 38 minutes also shows that there isn't another player that Buzz Williams really trusts to even spell Robinson briefly in big games. Wabissa Bede will benefit a lot from learning behind Robinson, but he's only a true freshman while Devin Wilson is more of a defensive substitution who can handle secondary ball handling responsibilities. Tyrie Jackson came in briefly, but it was clear that he, like Wilson, is more of a secondary ball handler.
Robinson has also developed into the Hokies' closest replacement to Seth Allen as a guy you want to have the ball in some of the most important moments. VT has guys like Justin Bibbs and Ahmed Hill who also are worthy of that mantle, but none more than the junior point guard Robinson who has shown multiple times that he can handle that role including against Ole Miss.
While Kerry Blackshear is important due to VT's lack of size, there is no player on this team that's more important or valuable than Justin Robinson, the engine of the Hokies' offense.
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