Here’s How Virginia Tech Upset Virginia Last Season. Can the Hokies Do It Again?

    Virginia is 46-3 since the start of the 2017-18 season and 23-1 against ACC opponents during that span. In-state rival Virginia Tech is responsible for

    January 14, 2019

    Virginia is 46-3 since the start of the 2017-18 season and 23-1 against ACC opponents during that span. In-state rival Virginia Tech is responsible for the Cavaliers’ only loss to a conference foe since the start of last season as the Hokies went to Charlottesville and won 61-60 in overtime last February.

    We rewatched that game to find out how Virginia Tech pulled off the upset and what aspects of the Hokies’ game plan from last February they can try to repeat on Tuesday night when No. 9 Virginia Tech returns to Charlottesville to play No. 4 Virginia.

    Here’s what we learned from last year’s upset.

    Virginia Tech was able to spread out Virginia’s pack line defense, which ranked first nationally last season with an adjusted efficiency margin of 85.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, and the Hokies used that space to outpace the reach of the Cavaliers’ defense thanks to great ball movement and off-the-ball player movement through relocation and back cuts.

    On the following offensive possession in the first half, Virginia Tech started with a four-around-one look with forward Kerry Blackshear on the right block while Virginia’s frontcourt starters, Isaiah Wilkins and Jack Salt, were on the bench.

    The Hokies had players curl through the lane until they had five players outside of the three-point line, which forced Virginia to abandon the principles of its pack-line defense. Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs snuck behind Virginia’s Ty Jerome to take advantage of the open lane created by the Hokies’ spacing.

    Virginia’s defense collapsed on Bibbs under the rim and he swung the ball to teammate Chris Clarke in the left corner. Consistent with one of the big themes of the game, Virginia Tech was able to move the ball to open players faster than Virginia was able to deny an entry pass or an open three-point shot.

    The shot that ended the possession admittedly wasn’t a great look given how out of sorts Virginia’s defense looked previously during the possession but Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter gave Clarke, now atop the key, enough room to fire a long three late in the shot clock. Clarke was a 42.4 percent three-point shooter on a limited 33 attempts last season and he had the size at 6-6 to shoot over the late contest by Hunter.

    Virginia’s pack line defense relies on players who are defending off the ball to sag off their men in order to cut off dribble penetration and protect the lane with help-side defense. With the space it created on offense, Virginia Tech was able to beat Virginia one-on-one, while capitalizing on the three-point attempts to which pack line defenses can be vulnerable, given their emphasis on defending the interior, if defenders don’t close out on opposing shooters fast enough.

    Virginia Tech made 11 three-pointers, the second-most that Virginia surrendered all season. Only UMBC, which beat Virginia by 20 points in the first round of the NCAA tournament, made more with 12 threes in its historic upset. West Virginia, which handed Virginia its first loss last season in Morgantown, made 10-of-25 three-point attempts, so there’s clearly a baseline outside shooting performance required to even have a chance to beat the Cavaliers.

    When they were able, the Hokies also pushed the ball in transition to get down the floor before the Cavaliers’ defense could get set.

    Following a defensive rebound by Virginia Tech’s Devin Wilson, Justin Robinson led the break and pushed the ball down the floor before Virginia’s defense was in position. Look at the screenshot below as Virginia’s Kyle Guy has his back turned to the ball and Mamadi Diakite, No. 25 for Virginia in the middle of the lane, has his arms raised in confusion as he realizes no one has picked up Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who drilled the open three on the right wing.

    After a missed corner three by Virginia’s Ty Jerome, Virginia Tech’s Justin Bibbs grabbed the defensive rebound and immediately led the Hokies in transition. Seeing no one defending the rim, Chris Clarke streaked down the right side of the court and Bibbs hit him in stride.

    Virginia’s Diakite slid over and Clarke briefly lost his handle on the ball and he dove to save it from going out of bounds, kicking the ball back out to Bibbs.

    Bibbs drove and kicked to Robinson, who did the same as Bibbs never stopped moving and relocated to the left wing. Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter helped to cut off Robinson’s drive, leaving Bibbs with the space for a catch-and-shoot three.

    It was Virginia Tech’s sixth three-pointer in the first 12 minutes of the game. Nineteen times in Virginia’s 34 games last season, the Cavaliers’ opponent made six or fewer threes the entire game.

    In every upset, there’s some degree of good luck or at the very least, individual or team-wide performances that exceed the expected, or typical, statistical precedent.

    Devin Wilson, a fifth-year senior who averaged just 2.8 points per game for Virginia Tech last season, scored seven points on two shots – for perspective, that’s an offensive rating of 235 – including a 25-footer with two seconds left on the shot clock.

    Wilson had only made one three on the season prior to that shot against Virginia and he was just a 28 percent three-point shooter for his career but it was a strong offensive set that set up the look from deep.

    Wilson, No. 11 on the right wing below, called for Chris Clarke, who was standing in the opposite corner, to set a screen for ball-handler Justin Robinson.

    Wilson’s man, Virginia’s Ty Jerome, shaded over to split the difference between Wilson and Clarke, the latter of whom rolled after setting the screen and was open in the lane. Virginia’s Nigel Johnson and Mamadi Diakite, two reserves who combined to play just 16 minutes in the game, stayed with Robinson on the left wing, while Clarke drew the attention of Virginia’s weak-side defenders.

    Wilson relocated closer to Robinson and hit a deep three just before the shot clock expired.

    Wilson’s three was part of a 17-0 run in the span of roughly five minutes as the Hokies took a 22-13 lead. It was an almost unheard of stretch, considering Virginia’s defensive efficiency and pace of play.

    Virginia Tech later extended its lead to 12 later in the first half, which put Virginia in the uncomfortable position of trying to score quickly. The Cavaliers’ average offensive possession last season took 20.9 seconds, the longest in the country.

    Of course, a 17-0 scoring run is only possible if there’s also lockdown defense on the other end of the court.

    The Hokies used a matchup zone defense that in many ways accomplished what the Cavaliers’ pack line defense is designed to do: clog the paint and the surrounding area, cut off passing lanes, frustrate the opponent for the length of the shot clock and dare the opposition to beat you from deep.

    Here’s a look at some of the deep, late-in-the-shot-clock threes that Virginia Tech forced Virginia to take during the Hokies’ big scoring run.

    Arguably the biggest difference in the game is that the Hokies were able to make similar shots at a higher rate on offense, while also getting easier looks.

    The Cavaliers were 11-of-38 (28.9%) from three in the game.

    Virginia Tech closed the first half with an incredible individual effort by Robinson and you guessed it, another three-pointer. Robinson split two defenders after teammate Kerry Blackshear set a pair of screens for him with the clock winding down.

    Robinson met De’Andre Hunter in the lane, where he Euro-stepped past him and whipped a left-handed pass around Hunter’s back to a wide-open Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

    As shown in the screenshot above, you’ll see that Alexander-Walker was one of three Virginia Tech players who was wide open behind the arc with his hands out, prepared for a catch-and-shoot opportunity.

    Virginia’s Isaiah Wilkins was late on his closeout to Alexander-Walker, who hit one of his team-leading four three-pointers in the game just before the halftime buzzer sounded.

    Showing how tough it is to beat Virginia, especially in Charlottesville, Virginia Tech took at seven-point lead into halftime and led by four with one minute remaining but still almost lost in regulation.

    Ty Jerome took the ball to the rim himself to cut the deficit to 49-47 in the final minute and Virginia Tech came up empty on its next offensive possession as Blackshear missed a straightaway three, which was followed by Justin Robinson missing the front end of a one-and-one.

    Jerome tied the game with a long jumper, then Robinson slipped on offense and got called for a travel with 4.2 seconds left, and Jerome’s 30-footer at the buzzer clanked off the rim, forcing overtime.

    Virginia Tech played from behind for most of the overtime period, once trailing by four with 30 seconds left, but the Hokies were able to capitalize on Devon Hall, an 89 percent free throw shooter on the season, missing the front end of a one-and-one. Robinson later drove to the rim and missed but Blackshear was there for the offensive board and game-winning put-back layup.

    Jerome missed another long three-pointer in the final seconds as Virginia Tech escaped Charlottesville with the upset win.

    Virginia Tech guards Justin Bibbs and Devin Wilson graduated last season and forward Chris Clarke won’t play for the Hokies this season following an October announcement that he was indefinitely suspended.

    But Virginia Tech returned four of its top five scorers from last season’s team that won at Virginia, including Robinson, who scored a game-high 20 points with seven assists in Charlottesville last February.

    Alexander-Walker, who started in the game as a freshman and scored 12 points on 4-of-6 three-point shooting, now leads Virginia Tech in scoring at 17.8 points per game.

    The Hokies have the nation’s eighth-most efficient offense and they shoot 42.3 percent from three, so given the team’s offensive DNA and the return of many key players who engineered an upset win against Virginia last season, there may not be a team more capable of replicating Virginia Tech’s success against the Cavaliers than the Hokies themselves.

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