Our beloved Iowa Hawkeyes head to Blacksburg, VA for their first matchup with the Virginia Tech Hokies since a visit there in 2012 (no home and home? C’mon Delany). To get some inside intel, we spoke with Jawhar Ali of Gobbler Country.
1) In 6 games so far, the Hokies have put up over 90 points in all five wins and and only 71 against St. Louis in their only loss. Is this a function of competition or a matter of the team executing Buzz Williams offense to its potential?
As always, the answer is a little bit of both. It’s no secret the Hokies have not faced legitimate competition to date and their breathtaking pace often leads to more points on the scoreboard against lesser teams that just cannot keep up with Virginia Tech’s team speed. However, the way the Hokies drive-and-kick the basketball leads to either wide open perimeter shots or layups, which has become the new efficient way of playing basketball. Buzz Williams harps on maximizing the amount of times the offense can get the ball into the paint each possession (calls them “paint touches”). As a result of both factors. the Hokies are averaging 102 PPG, which ranks second in the country.
The Saint Louis game was one where the Hokies were not sharing the ball like they usually do, as the offense played more "hero ball” than normal. Buzz even said post-game that performance was fraudulent of what this team is. Since then, Virginia Tech has gotten back to their roots and the offense has gotten back on track.
2) Virginia Tech regularly throws out 4-5 guys 6'6" or smaller on the court. How will they look to attack opposing defenses?
When Buzz Williams recruits a player, you know darn well that player can shoot. The Hokies love to spread the floor and create spacing that allows three-point shooters to get open looks off of dribble penetration. Over 65% of made field goals for Tech have been assisted, and many of those have been behind the arc. But when a defense starts overplays those shooters, that is when the Hokies started getting layups or free throw attempts as a result of attacking the rim. This is a situation when being 6’6” or shorter is advantage, since these players are usually quicker than their defender and can get by them with ease. When the system is firing on all cylinders, it is not only incredibly fun to watch but also leaves defenses in scramble drills and out of breath.
3) KenPom has only rated VT's defense in the top 100 once in Buzz's three full years at the helm, is there hope for this bunch to improve or just an expectation that defense will lag from the offense.
I’m actually surprised it has been ranked in the Top 100 once over the last three seasons. Simply put, the Hokies’ defense has been mediocre. The team still makes simple communication errors on the defensive end, they get beat off the dribble too often without any help, and their inability to finish possessions consistently with the defensive rebound plagued the team last year in their NCAA tournament loss to Wisconsin. If Virginia Tech is not generating turnovers and running the fast break, they are vulnerable. The Hokies are not close to where they need to be on the defensive end, and a team with a good offensive game plan should be able to take advantage of them.
Saturday’s game against Morehead State was a step in the right direction, holding the MSU Eagles to 43.3% from the field. But obviously, the level of competition gives that number less meaning. We will see if Iowa, averaging 85 PPG, can cash in on their opportunities on offense.
4) Justin Bibbs, who was suspended for a couple games, leads the team in scoring at 21.3 points per game after averaging about 11 points his first three seasons. Has anything sparked his early start? Will he continue to be the bell cow of their offense?
Bibbs may currently lead the team in scoring per game, but the truth is the leading scorer for the Hokies on any given night will be an unknown since they either feed the hot hand or the open man. Bibbs himself is a knockdown three-point shooter (shooting 53.3% from three) who has benefited from open looks against lesser teams, which explains why his scoring average is so much higher than it has been over his career. He has worked on his handles as well this offseason, making Bibbs a threat to attack the rim instead of stand at the three-point line for the entire possession. It’s difficult to say he will be the bell cow, given his history, but he has been tremendous this season.
5) Another 4 Hokies average double digit points and their shooting percentages are off the charts. Are they just getting open shots or are they in a collective heat check?
I touched on the reason why the Hokies are one of the best shooting teams in America. However, no team will sustain shooting 49.6% from behind the arc. It’s bound to cool off at some point. But if Virginia Tech keeps generating open looks, there’s no reason why they can’t hit at least 40% from three, which is what they did last year during conference play. This team has a bevy of shooters - Ahmed Hill, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, the aformentioned Bibbs, Justin Robinson, and Wabissa Bede can all knock down open shots with ease. So while collectively, it is possible that they are in some sort of heat check, it is equally as possible that they are just that good.
6) Finally, who you got?
I am going to take the Hokies in this matchup, primarily because this game is at home. Virginia Tech is very difficult to beat on their home floor because of how they feed off the crowd’s energy, as the team’s confidence amplifies with every made shot and every turnover forced on the defensive end. However, this will be the best team the Hokies will have faced to date, so I expect there to be some adversity. The toughest thing for Iowa will be to keep up with the Hokies’ pace of play. I would look for them to attack the offensive glass to discourage Tech from running the fast break.
Thanks Jawhar. We hope your team loses by a million. You can pester him on the Twitter about the game (or Hokie stone) if you’re feeling like it at @soundslikejafar.