Central Connecticut St. Blue Devils (4-4) at Virginia Tech Hokies (5-1)
When: Saturday, 12/1 at 5pm
Where: Blacksburg, VA
How to Watch: ACCNetwork (ESPN+)
Kenpom- VT 85-62 (98%)
T-Rank- VT 88-63 (98%)
Central Connecticut St.
G- Tyson Batiste, 6’2” Jr.
G- Ian Krishnan, 6’2” Fr.
F- Tyler Kohl, 6’5” Sr.
F- Jamir Coleman, 6’7” Jr.
C- Deion Bute, 6’9” Sr.
G- Justin Robinson, 6’2” Sr.
G- Ahmed Hill, 6’5” Sr.
F- Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 6’5” Soph.
F- *Ty Outlaw, 6’6” Sr.
C- Kerry Blackshear; 6’10” Jr.
*Wabissa Bede (6’1” sophomore guard) has started the previous four games, however he’s played just 49% of available minutes. Outlaw, meanwhile, comes off the bench yet is playing significantly more (57.5% of available minutes).
About Virginia Tech
Best wins: N-#12 Purdue (89-83); N- #81 Northeastern (88-60); N- #110 Ball St. (73-64)
Loss: A- #37 Penn St. (63-62)
Man, Buzz Williams can coach. From 2009-13, he took Marquette to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments (they’ve appeared in just one NCAA Tournament game since Williams left Marquette prior to the 2015 season), and now he’s been to two consecutive NCAA Tournaments at Virginia Tech, a program that hadn’t made it since 2007. In fact, Virginia Tech was rated #172 in Kenpom after Williams’ first season in Blacksburg. Since then, they’ve progressively improved: #63 in 2016, #50 in 2017; #33 in 2018, and #14 currently. Like I said, dude can coach.
After being picked to finish 5th in the ACC by the coaches, the Hokies started the season as winners of five straight, including winning the Charleston Classic by beating Ball St., Northeastern, and Purdue in succession. However, Virginia Tech had a hiccup in its first true road game of the season this past Tuesday, losing at Penn St. 63-62. Road games are hard, and Penn St. is pretty good this year (currently rated #37 in Kenpom), but I’m sure the Hokies had a tough week of practice as a result.
Williams has a veteran crew, led by senior guard Justin Robinson. The 6’2” point guard does it all for Buzz Williams; he’s currently second in scoring (16.2 ppg), is chipping in 5.3 apg, and is also second on the team with 2.3 steals per game. Seniors Ahmed Hill (12.8 ppg) and Ty Outlaw (7.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg), as well as junior Kerry Blackshear (12.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg) also have significant experience playing under Buzz Williams.
However, it may be sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker who has been the most surprising. The sophomore wing currently leads the team in scoring (18.5 ppg), rebounding (5.2 rpg), and steals (2.5 spg), and is second on the team in assists (4.2 apg). A starter last season, he’s improved in almost every facet of the game, however his biggest improvement appears to be in his playmaking ability; his assist rate is up from 10.6% to 21.9%, while his turnovers are down.
What does this team do well? Score. Their 116.7 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency rating is 7th in the nation, per Kenpom, and the eFG% is 59.6% (also 7th). The Hokies have five players shooting above 39% from three; Hill (50%), Robinson (48%), Outlaw (48%), Isaiah Wilkins (47%), and Alexander-Walker (39%). And if that weren’t enough, they’re also grabbing 31.7% of their offensive rebounds (D1 average is ~29%).
Defensively they’ve been solid; only Purdue scored more than 1.03 PPP (1.20 PPP), and they held low majors Gardner Well and St. Francis University to 0.73 PPP and 0.56 PPP, respectively.But their game is to outscore you, and they do it more often than not.
It's also worth mentioning that Chris Clarke, a 6'6" senior who averaged 8.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg last season, is currently suspended indefinitely.
Player to Watch: Justin Robinson
An All-ACC 2nd teamer a season ago, Robinson checks about every box for a high-level point guard; experience (he’s started 91 games), shooting (48% from three), playmaking (5.3 apg this season, 5.6 apg last year), decision making (2.23 A/TO last season), and defense (2.3 spg this year). What’s not to love?
Buzz Williams will run his offense through the 6’2” dynamo, whether it be via the dribble drive, or running him off screens. A big part of his game is his passing; he’s taking about 21% of the teams shots when he’s on the floor, which is less than Kerry Blackshear (27%) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker (26.3%).
Remember when James Blackmon seemingly got to the rim at will in CCSU’s loss to Loyola Marymount? That’s the kind of quickness Robinson presents, though he’s just as likely to finish at the rim as he is to dish to a wide open corner three.
Things to Watch
Guarding the Shooters
CCSU has yet to play a team that can shoot as well as Virginia Tech can. As mentioned earlier, the Hokies are shooting ~43% from three, and have shot at least 40% from three in 5 of their first 6 games, including 14 of 27 in their win over Northeastern two weeks ago. Oh, and they aren’t too shabby from inside the line either (56.1%).
How do you defend that kind of team? If it were me, I’d try to limit the easy looks and pray they miss enough three-pointers to keep you in the game. It’s going to be difficult to keep the Virginia Tech ball handlers from getting into the lane, and if the defense gets too spread it would just lead to a bunch of uncontested layups.
Yeah, I know I often say this is a problem.
But bruh, Virginia Tech is forcing turnovers on 27.8% of its defensive possessions, with is 3rd In. The. Nation! If the Blue Devils are turning it over north of 20% of the time against teams like Florida A&M and UMass-Lowell, what’s going to happen when they are going up against NBA level athletes such as Robinson, Alexander-Walker, and the rest of the Hokies?
I’m worried that this could become a 10-2 game in a hurry, with significant defensive pressure forcing an array of Blue Devil turnovers.
In Thursday’s loss to North Carolina A&T, Tyler Kohl played just two minutes due to an illness, while other players were dealing with “flu like symptoms”. The result? A sluggish game with a perceived lack of energy/effort.
There’s not much time for these guys to get healthy, as the game against Virginia Tech is less than 48 hours after the NCA&T game…oh, and they also had to endure a 2.5 hour bus ride to get to Blacksburg.
I guess the big question is; does Kohl play? And if so, how many minutes can he give? Obviously we want to see him in the lineup, but if he remains under the weather, it might make sense to just keep him on the bench (or at the team hotel) and get him right. The same goes for anyone else in the same boat. In the grand scheme of things, this game means relatively little.
The Size Difference
Of course, when an ACC team plays an NEC team, there is a size difference. Except, in this case, the NEC team is bigger!
According to Kenpom’s “effective height”, CCSU is actually bigger than Virginia Tech. Which makes sense; Blackshear is the only rotation player taller than 6’6”, while CCSU will play Deion Bute (6’9”), Jamir Coleman (6’7”), Joe Hugley (6’7”), and Kashaun Hicks (6’6”). The Hokies will even go super-small at times, with 6’6” 220 lb. Ty Outlaw playing the 5 and Alexander-Walker playing the 4.
What’s it mean? Not much; the Hokies were one of the smallest teams in the ACC last season, and they finished 10-8 in the league and earned an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament. But it just demonstrates how Donyell Marshall has focused on bringing in size and length to the program.
I know, we’re all clamoring for that big upset win over a major conference team. And maybe that’ll happen this season, but I'd be hard pressed to see it happening today.
What we’ll be watching Saturday is a team capable of making a run at the Final Four- they have so many options, and a ton of experienced dudes. Last week at home against NEC favorites St. Francis U., the Hokies dominated the Red Flash to the tune of 75-37, with SFU scoring just 0.56 PPP (a 29% eFG% will do that to ya). The only other team Virginia Tech played that was ranked outside the top 105 was #198 Gardner-Webb, which lost 87-59 in Blacksburg.
Obviously anything can happen, but this is the best team a CCSU squad will have faced since December 2013, when the Blue Devils lost to Syracuse 96-62. Central Connecticut winning this one would be one of the biggest upsets of the college basketball season.