Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech Basketball Preview

Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech Basketball Preview
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics

Peyton Seay | @pastor_peyton

TLP: Writer
Feb 23, 2022

Wednesday night will mark the second meeting of the season between the Virginia Tech Hokies 16-11 (8-8 ACC) and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 11-16 (4-12 ACC). The Hokies won the first matchup with the Jackets a few weeks ago on February 2nd, 81-66, at home in Cassell Coliseum. The Hokies have done well when at home this year, going 10-4, but have struggled on the road with a 5-5 record.

Both the Hokies and the Jackets will be looking to get back into the win column. The Hokies lost to UNC, 65-57 last Saturday, and the Jackets lost in overtime to Syracuse, 74-73, on Monday.

In their first meeting, the Jackets reminded the Hokies that they can throw a lot at an opposing team defensively with an unconventional zone that is hard to decipher. The Jackets confused the Hokies with a mix of zone and man-to-man defensive schemes. Josh Pastner had his team play the Hokies in zone the on close to 70% of the Hokies’ offensive possessions.

The various defensive looks were a big factor in causing the Hokie offense to turn the ball over fourteen times (Jackets cause opponents to have 13.4 turnovers/game, third in the ACC) and leading the Jackets to have 7 steals on the night (they average 8 steals a game, third in the ACC). Without a doubt, the Hokies will have to limit their turnovers in order not to give the Jackets offense more opportunities to score.

Against the Hokies the first time out, the Jackets played their defense in several different zone looks from a rotating 1-3-1, 2-1-2, 2-3 to a 3-2. Pastner will utilize every zone imaginable and the zone they start a defensive possession with may not even be the one they end up in. In the first game, the Jackets appeared to rotate in their 1-3-1 like having a star linebacker or defensive back rotate in coverage (thanks to ACCN’s Jay Alter revealing the comparison made by Pastner). Their defense utilized every man to cover the Hokies depending on how Mike Young decided to run his offense.

What seemed to work best was when the Hokies utilized one or multiple on-ball screens to free up the point man at the top of the zone. The successful offensive possessions the Hokies had included using ball fakes to get the Georgia Tech defense to overcommit to one side of the court. The ball screens at the top of the zone created movement and open passing lanes since it gave guards Storm Murphy and Hunter Cattoor the chance to pass the ball down lower into the zone.

The Hokies worked some great offensive possessions when they had forwards Justyn Mutts, Keve Aluma, or David N’Guessan running baseline and finding cracks in the zone underneath the basket. It helped to have Mutts and Aluma or whoever was in the low post to flash to the top of the paint to present themselves as a possible option for the ballhandler.

All three can be playmakers in the post, but particularly Mutts. He led the Hokies with four assists last time out and has done well this season when receiving the ball in the post to find the open man on the wing or a teammate making a back-door cut.

The big reason the Jackets stayed in their zone coverage most of the time: they cannot match the size of the Hokies. The Jackets center, Rodney Howard, is 6’10” but he lacks the defensive ability to keep up with Aluma. In the first meeting, Aluma had 24 points and 7 rebounds on 8-11 shooting from the field. But it was not just Aluma who had success in the paint. Even N’Guessan could take it right to the cup without much resistance from the Jacket defense.

The Hokies took advantage of their size advantage every time the Jackets were in man or when they could get the ball to Aluma or Mutts while they were in position to finish at the rim. The Hokie frontcourt should continue to find those open pockets in the defense and N’Guessan should continue to be aggressive for the Hokies to take control of the game offensively. An attacking offensive mindset is what led the Hokies to get to the charity stripe 22 times last game against the Jackets where they shot 77.3%.

Murphy arguably had his best game of the season in the first meeting against the Jackets with 18 points on 60% shooting (4 of 6 from three). He and Cattoor will need to be ready for any catch and shoot opportunities that come their way when the Jackets defense crashes to cover the Hokie big men in the paint. The Hokie sharpshooters are a big reason why the offense leads the conference in three-point field goal percentage at 40%, which they ironically shot exactly that from three while playing Georgia Tech earlier this month.

Defensively, the Hokies need to continue the type of defensive pressure that has led to them giving up only 61.7 ppg, which ranks second in the conference. The Jackets have two main scorers in guards Jordan Usher and reigning ACC Tournament MVP, Michael Devoe, who averages 18.5 points a game.

In his last game against the Hokies, Devoe had 30 points on 11-19 shooting (5-9 from 3). Usher struggled to find his shot, going 3-12 but he can also score the basketball, averaging 14.4 ppg on the year. Usher was in foul trouble most of the night in the last meeting and ended up fouling out of the game. Although that is unlikely to happen again, the Hokies can possibly take advantage of his aggressive play on defense.

Regardless, the key will be not letting any of the other Jackets beat them. Devoe and Usher will get theirs and Devoe showed just that in the last matchup. However, outside of the two stars for the Jackets, the rest of the team shot under 35%. The Hokies need to make sure that stays the same. Limit them as much as you can but continue playing with the same intensity that has led to opponents shooting just 42.3% from the field (fourth in the ACC).

A win against Georgia Tech will by no means guarantee the Hokies go dancing, but it is a game they have to win in order to keep those March hopes alive without winning the ACC Tournament. Their chances remain dim right now as they remain on the outside looking in on Joe Lunardi’s projections for NCAA Tournament selections.

They will face the Jackets tonight and then they have a big one on the road against a tough Miami team on Saturday to close out the regular season. Right now, the Hokies sit in the eighth spot and simply cannot afford another loss on their tournament resume. Hokie Nation can see if the team completes the season sweep against Georgia Tech tonight in Atlanta at 9PM EST on the ACC Network.