Virginia Tech's slump since Hunter Cattoor suffered a bruised elbow against Boston College continued as the Hokies lost their third-straight game, falling 68-65 to Clemson.
1. Nightmare Shooting Night Inside the Arc
With Hunter Cattoor out and Rodney Rice still injured, Virginia Tech is down to three healthy scholarship guards. Because of that, Tech has been pushed into using more two-guard, three-forward lineups which they did for basically the whole game this evening.
While that's probably the best way for now without Cattoor given the versatility that Justyn Mutts offers to do that along with John Camden, Tech has been suffering from some spacing issues that a sharpshooter like Cattoor helps give the Hokies. Mike Young mentioned the spacing issues as part of why Tech shot a poor 27.9% from inside the arc in this game when diagnosing Tech's offensive struggles.
"They have an ability to play a bigger lineup and I have a hard time matching up with that. I'm counteracting that with a big lineup of our own. Spacing, ball movement, shot selection at times is not what it has to be. And missing another guy (Hunter Cattoor) that can stretch it and make a shot (hurts)," Young said.
When spacing goes down, finding quality shots becomes a little more of a challenge with Mike Young noting both the shot selection issues of late and mentioning that these bigger lineups are more out of necessity than preference.
"Our shot selection has taken a dip here," Young said. "I think what we're trying to do is out of necessity (running bigger lineups)."
Tech also just misses having that extra guard to help run things and balance Mike Young's offense that has always been built around spacing and having three guards. There were plenty of atypical possessions tonight that really didn't seem to get going for the Hokies while they also had 11 turnovers with only 12 assists.
Now playing this two-guard, three-forward lineup more should help them work out the ball movement kinks that clearly need some work with plenty of room for growth. However, it's going to take some time.
The not so great news, Mike Young said after the game that both Cattoor and Rice have suffered setbacks so get ready for the Hokies to be stuck with having only three healthy scholarship guards for a little while longer at least.
For the Hokies though, there's no easy one coming up next to bounce back as a surging NC State that just beat Duke by 24 comes to town Saturday night.
2. Offensive Rebounding Improving
One positive is that Virginia Tech's offensive rebounding is showing signs of significant improvement. After winning that battle against Wake Forest, the Hokies dominated the offensive glass tonight with a 12-2 offensive rebounding advantage.
The Hokies weren't able to do a whole lot with that only having a 9-4 second chance points advantage when all was done in this one. However, this is definitely an area where Tech has seen growth especially given that rebounding hasn't been a calling card for the Hokies often in the past decade.
Mike Young was encouraged by what he saw on the offensive glass relative to recent games against Boston College and Wake Forest.
"We outrebounded Wake Forest. I thought that was a bit of a mirage. I didn't think we rebounded as well there as the numbers would tell you and Boston College outworked us in that area a little bit in the second half so certainly encouraging (to see VT's strong offensive rebounding performance tonight)," Young said.
Of course, playing a bigger lineup like the Hokies have been forced into certainly helps things while Grant Basile mentioned postgame that when you shoot as poorly as the Hokies did tonight, that also helps you get 12 offensive rebounds.
While that may be a factor, the Hokies have plenty of reason to be encouraged by their improvement on the glass over the past few games.
3. Non-Conference Play Bought Them a Buffer
Doom and gloom may be hitting some given this rough stretch in terms of NCAA Tournament hopes but the fact of the matter is that Virginia Tech's strong non-conference play built them a significant buffer in case of a slump like this.
Since then, we've seen the Hokies burn through much of that buffer losing three-straight with two of those being Q2 losses against Wake Forest and Clemson plus the not so good Q3 loss at Boston College.
However, this Tech team still has some breathing room because of the 4 Q1 and Q2 wins they've built up including the three non-conference ones against Oklahoma State, Penn State, and Dayton in addition to the big home win over UNC. Having those type of quality wins on the resume already gives the Hokies some time to get healthy and bought them a significant buffer.
Now most of that buffer between themselves and the cut line has disappeared the past three games, but a little bit of that is still holding on for dear life for now even as Tech's NET and other metrics decrease.
Of course, that buffer is probably only 1 or 2 more consecutive losses away from disappearing even with most being in the top 2 quadrants and only 1 Q3 one in BC.