Under Buzz Williams, the biggest weakness for Virginia Tech has been their rebounding with the Hokies featuring smaller lineups that have consistently finished in the cellar of the ACC on the glass. In each of the previous four seasons under Buzz Williams, the Hokies have finished 13th or below in the ACC rebounding.
This season, Tech is once again last in the ACC in total rebounds per game with 32.6 per game.
However, the Hokies have not only improved their numbers from previous seasons under Williams, but a deeper dive into the numbers show that VT has gone from the conference's worst rebounding team to middle of the pack and possibly above-average, a significant jump given what we've seen in the past.
The peak of that improvement has come over the past two games starting against Virginia where the Hokies had 13 offensive rebounds and even had a 21-13 advantage in second chance points. Against Notre Dame, Virginia Tech recorded 49 rebounds including 18 offensive rebounds, their highest totals ever in an ACC game under Buzz Williams
"I think as the season has transpired, we’ve found ways not only for [our players] to see it, but then also for them to understand the impact of those extra shots," Buzz Williams said after the team's loss to Virginia on February 18th.
That showed in the shot margin category against UVA as the Hokies had 8 more field goal attempts than the Cavaliers. Though the Hokies didn't pull off the upset that night, Buzz Williams knows that doing that "statistically gives you the best chance [to win]," taking the pressure off having to be hyper efficient from the field as VT has had to be in the past.
The Hokies weren't able to repeat that against Notre Dame, but they still dominated the offensive glass, grabbing 18 offensive rebounds that became a 15-11 second chance point advantage and a 54.5% offensive rebound rate.
The 54.5% is only the second time Tech's rate has been greater than 40% under Williams in an ACC game. Against Georgia Tech last season, the Hokies had an offensive rebound rate of 52%.
Tech may rank at the bottom of the conference in total rebounding, but they've outrebounded eight of their 15 ACC opponents this season, winning seven of those eight games and showing how the total rebounding number tells a false story about a VT team that has slowed the tempo and created fewer opportunities for rebounds.
Williams' squad is averaging 8.73 offensive rebounds per game this season, the most VT has averaged under Buzz Williams and the second-straight season where VT has upped their average by more than 1 offensive rebound per game.
Tech's total rebounds are also at a new high, a huge plus for a team with just one player above 6-7. What may be most impressive is the fact that the Hokies have their highest rebounding numbers despite the fact that they are consistently having fewer possessions per game and relying on a slower tempo.
Redshirt junior Kerry Blackshear has played an integral role in Tech's rebounding this season. The 6'10" Orlando native is averaging 8.3 rebounds per game in ACC play this season. Last season, Blackshear Jr. averaged 5.4 rebounds per game in ACC play. He's been the driving force on the boards over the past 15 games.
"I think that we know what shots we’re going to take," Blackshear said. "I think that helps us, expecting the shots and knowing when to crash and when to run a play. Us really locking into films, like, “we can get rebounds this kind of way,” really helps, and I think we’re getting better every game."
Ty Outlaw has been another valuable piece and a big reason for the rebounding improvement with at least 5 rebounds in 7 of his past 9 games. While Outlaw is mostly known for his three-point shooting, his performance on the glass has been a big reason for the Hokies' overall rebounding improvement.
Against the Irish, guards Wabissa Bede and Isaiah Wilkins combined for 15 rebounds. Two guards combining for almost 31% of Tech's rebounds in a game also shows how part of the reason for this improvement has been the value younger players have put on becoming a better rebounding team.
Looking ahead, Tech faces a Duke team who's second in rebounds per game (42.2) and first in offensive rebounds per game (14.0).
Though Duke won't have Zion Williamson, the Hokies will need another huge performance on the boards from their young players to keep up with the Blue Devils especially as the Blue Devils have shown that on the glass, they're more than just Zion and RJ Barrett.
Even though Virginia Tech is last in the ACC in rebounding, the production on the boards has drastically improved this season while diving into the numbers tell the unskewed story about this team's production on the glass. Tech will need to stay consistent heading into the postseason if they are going to make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Photo Credit: Bobby Murray
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