What do Hokie fans think of Buzz Williams one year into his tenure?
Virginia Tech fans are all-in on Buzzketball, despite the mixed results on the court. Whether it’s Buzz’s courtside energy, his wardrobe, or his general approach to coaching, he has proven to be a perfect fit in Blacksburg. For a program long viewed (nationally) as limited due to various [debatable] constraints, the hiring of Buzz Williams has proven to be a Pulp Fiction-esque shot of adrenaline to a beleaguered fan base.
I find this first round matchup extremely interesting. Two schools with big name first year head coaches, each looking to revive programs that experienced varying levels of success during the Oughts. I’m sure Wake fans feel the same as Tech fans do: Regardless of the outcome of this week’s ACC Tournament, this season has served as a stepping stone for things to come. Few (if any) in Blacksburg believed this team was poised for immediate success in Year One; with that being said, it was important that this young group develop as the season progressed, if only to instill confidence that brighter days were ahead. Despite their record, this team has displayed a ton of promise. More importantly, they have illustrated that they have bought into what Buzz and his staff are selling, and that they are full invested in collectively working toward building this program into a national power. As a fan, it’s hard not to get behind that.
What do you believe is Virginia Tech's biggest advantage in this contest?
Adam Smith is this team’s go-to scoring threat, and he has proven that he has the ability to both keep games close and to close them out. However, I think what makes this team dangerous is the quantity of capable scorers they have at their disposal. In addition to leading scorers Justin Bibbs and Smith, guys like Ahmed Hill, Jalen Hudson, Malik Mueller and Devin Wilson have shown that they can score in double-figures on any given night. Hill and Mueller are dangerous from the corner, while Jalen Hudson has proven to be a dynamic slasher and an incredibly talented finisher in traffic. When Wilson is at his best, he is taking the ball to the hoop with purpose, opening up the pick-and-roll and drive-and-kick games. Where some teams rely almost too heavily on one guy, this team has a number of dangerous players. The issue is that, outside of Smith, you never know what you’re going to get.
What do you believe is Virginia Tech's biggest disadvantage in this game?
Rather than beat a dead horse and discuss the Hokies’ Lollipop Guild of a Starting 5, I’ll focus on another area of weakness: This team has no one to lean on when the going gets tough. I’m not talking about an alpha dog scorer, but rather a heady ball handler that you want controlling the pace of play from start-to-finish. While Buzz’s system doesn’t necessarily require a primary ball-handler up top, the offense has been quite successful when guys like Devin Wilson and Jalen Hudson have broken down defenses and found the open man.
Their late collapse on the road against Syracuse was a perfect example of how badly this team needs a vocal leader to lean on under duress. As the Orange pressed the Hokies down the stretch, Tech wilted under the pressure. Multiple players tried to take control of the press break, but none of them are elite ball handlers or heady passers. As such, the Hokies continued to throw the ball away or dribble themselves into traps, allowing the Orange to storm back and win at the buzzer.
I’m about to date myself: I remember watching Chris Paul warm-up at Cassell Coliseum in 2005 before the Deacs and Hokies square off. What struck me was how effortlessly he went through his pre-game dribbling routine, as though the ball was an extension of his own body. It was magical to watch. When I watch this Hokies team, I want nothing more than to see a Chris Paul clone step in one day, settle everything down, and be that guy you can count on when the going gets tough. I know that Paul is a once-in-a-lifetime talent, but hey, a man can dream.
While Devin Wilson is arguably the most capable player currently on the roster, he is also the biggest enigma of the group. While he has had some incredibly successful games distributing the basketball, he has struggled to find any consistency. He looked like a virtuoso against Duke, dishing out 11 assists while his teammates rained threes on the Blue Devils. At home against Miami on Sunday, Wilson dribbled the ball off his leg on consecutive possessions in the first three minutes and ended up watching half of the game from the bench. If this game is tight down the stretch, it will important to watch how Buzz deploys his guards and who steps up to take control on a big stage.
Which Virginia Tech player is the biggest x-factor in this game?
I think the simple answer is Justin Bibbs. Prior to suffering a concussion midway through the season, Bibbs was the Hokies’ most dynamic scorer. Since his return, we have seen up-and-down performances from Bibbs (mostly down), and continue to openly question whether or not he has settled back in to the flow of the game. The ACC tournament would be the perfect time for him to re-discover his earlier form.
An interesting guy to watch is freshman center Satchel Pierce. Big Satch has looked like a freshman at times this season, where the game looks like it’s moving too fast for him. At the same time, he has played tough against elite talent and has flashing glimpses of the player he could become down the road. He is a long way away from taking over a game, but if he can stay out of foul trouble and score a couple of early buckets, it would go a long way towards freeing up the wing players to do some damage on Tuesday afternoon.
What's your prediction for the game?
It’s funny. As bad as the Hokies have played down the stretch (losers of seven straight, including three by 20+ points), it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see them win a game or two this week. The reason is simple: Buzz Williams has proven that he can coach up his team, and this team has proven that they will respond to it. Facing a series of back-to-backs, I think that a young team would benefit from the tournament schedule, if only because they may be too young and jaded to worry about the big stage. With that being said, their performance over the weekend against Miami (at home, on Senior Day) looked more like a team ready to turn the page on this season. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ll give Wake the edge, 69-65.
Many thanks to Pierson for taking the time to answer my questions. You can check out my answers to his questions here.