Virginia Tech ended the 2022 calendar year on a sour note as the Hokies lost a nail-bitter 77-75 to Wake Forest. The Hokies fell to 11-3 with the loss in a game where they didn't have Hunter Cattoor or Rodney Rice fighting admirably to the end but just not having enough clean offense to get the job done. Justyn Mutts put up 18 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 blocks while Sean Pedulla had 18 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals; but those contributions from Tech's stars proved to not be enough in the end.
So with that said, here are my three thoughts after Tech's loss to Wake Forest.
1. Turnovers and Rebounds Plague Hokies
Two things plagued the Hokies in their loss to Wake Forest: turnovers and scoring.
Tech had 13 turnovers in this game compared to only 7 for Wake Forest with the Hokies clearly missing having Cattoor in their backcourt. Those turnovers were critical in this one as the Demon Deacons turned that into a 12-7 advantage.
Some of those turnovers were also simply bad passes or little things that are frustrating in the moment but definitely can be cleaned up. Some of it likely may have been adjusting to life without Cattoor especially when either Sean Pedulla or Justyn Mutts isn't on the floor giving Tech only one primary ball-handler with Rodney Rice still out.
Meanwhile, you would have thought Tech could control the glass in this one given how Wake Forest is a middling rebounding team in the ACC. Add in the fact that the Hokies were going with a bigger lineup and this seemed like an area that Tech should win.
That proved to not be the case as Tech had a 14-9 offensive rebounding deficit that became a 20-15 second chance points deficit. The two offensive rebounds at the end will be circled as the ultimate killers of Tech's comeback hopes, but this was an issue throughout the game that shouldn't have been given that 5 of the 8 players who played for the Hokies today are 6'7'' or taller taking up 109 of a possible 200 minutes compared to 86 minutes from 4 players of 6'7'' or taller for Wake Forest.
This should have been an area of advantage given the size Tech had, the way they played it, and the fact that Wake is a middling rebounding team but instead, the Demon Deacons won the battle of the glass with that difference proving decisive in addition to the turnover issues. Both are fixable though on the positive for the Hokies, but they'll have to improve quickly with a Clemson team off to a strong start in ACC play coming to Blacksburg next.
2. Frontcourt Depth Helps Minimize Scoring Loss Of Hunter Cattoor
Despite not having Hunter Cattoor, Virginia Tech put up 75 points which is the most points Tech has scored since their 77-49 win over Dayton and is generally in line with much of their offensive production to date.
Now part of that was boosted by the fact that the Hokies were at the free-throw line a lot and went 15-19 there but Tech was also fairly efficient inside the arc shooting 21-38 on two-point shots. Lynn Kidd was bumped into the starting lineup for this one with him and Mylyjael Poteat each playing 18 minutes.
Even John Camden played 15 minutes after playing sparingly in mostly blowout situations prior to this with the Memphis transfer adding 6 points and playing better than we've seen him play to date following his early season struggles.
Tech dominated the paint in terms of scoring with a 34-18 advantage down there built largely around the frontcourt with Justyn Mutts having 18 while Poteat and Kidd combined for 16 points (plus 13 rebounds). Putting Mutts at the 3 also seemed to be fairly effective with Tech getting an early lead with that lineup once they found their rhythm after a slow couple minutes.
Part of the concern with the loss of Hunter Cattoor was how much of an effect it could have on Tech's scoring output without one of their best three-point shooters. Though Tech didn't shoot the ball great in this one, their paint was able to step up their scoring output around the rim and put Tech right where they needed to be offensively.
3. Wise Move to Go With Bigger Lineup
Virginia Tech's frontcourt depth isn't great and with the third and final healthy scholarship guard being a true freshman in MJ Collins, Mike Young wisely went with a frontcourt heavier lineup given Tech's strength there.
This is the first time I can remember Tech playing Justyn Mutts and John Camden at the 3 for significant minutes with both having the versatility to play the 3 or the 4. Mutts did rotate between the two spots while Camden played primarily the 3 fitting of what he was considered coming out of high school.
Camden playing some decent minutes is definitely an encouraging sign given the versatility that he can bring as a 6'8'' forward who can play the 3 or the 4. While Young does like to go more guard heavy making Camden considered to be a 4 more in this system than 3, working at the 3 is more natural for him which may have been part of why we saw some of his best play in a Hokie uniform in stretches of this game finishing with 6 points, 1 rebound, and 1 block.
Meanwhile, Mutts is already used as a point forward while he's been shooting it fairly well from three-point range shooting 2-3 from behind the arc today and being able to demand the type of spacing that you would want at that spot. We've also seen Mutts grow as a downhill, attack the rim guy from the perimeter as well which allows him to be effective offensively when working on the perimeter.
Now it may take some time to smooth some things out given that Tech has rarely used lineups like this and may be using a three forward lineup a lot going forward depending on how long Cattoor and Rice are out (and probably when Rice debuts if that's before Cattoor). However, there's a lot of potential with this approach that could beneficial even when all are healthy for the Hokies.