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Three Up, Three Down: Virginia Tech

I'm getting really tired of saying this, but that game was tailor-made for this format, and despite the loss I came away probably as encouraged as I could've in a losing effort.

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Ups

CMM Back For Good? Codi Miller-McIntyre had an otherworldly game.  22 points (8-11 shooting, 3-3 from deep, 3-5 from the line), 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and only 2 turnovers.  Codi even had a shot to send the game into overtime, but he sadly missed the first of 3 free throw attempts.  Still, if Codi can play like this the rest of the season, we are in extremely good shape for some exciting games and more wins in conference,

Absurd Offense. As a team, Wake Forest had the best offensive night I have quite possibly ever seen, save for one aspect I'll address below.  Still, let's digest some of these numbers.  All five starters in double figures, and one bench player (special shout out to Rondale Watson, said bench player, who had 11 points on 4-4 shooting, 3-3 from deep).  59% from the field.  54% from three on 24 attempts.  Every Deac who made a basket was 50% or better from the field.  17 assists on 33 made field goals.  The fact that we had this offensive outing and lost is utterly baffling, but one has to come away acknowledging the following truths:

-This team is stacked with shooters.  Some may be streaky, yes, but man do we have guys who can shoot the ball.

-The team's ball movement on successful possessions is getting really, really good.  On most given possessions, the ball either ends up in the post for a close basket, gets kicked to an open shooter, or gets driven to the basket.  You know, how offense should work.

-The players are unselfish.  CMM had 5 assists, Bryant Crawford had 3, and Mitchell Wilbekin and Devin Thomas had 4 each, and that's just counting the direct assists, not so-called "hockey assists".

-The team is very capable of running effective set plays, even if they're best in transition.  I don't have the exact numbers, but I can tell you the team is very good coming out of timeouts, which is generally a good indication that the team runs sets well and knows what to do and what everyone's role is (more often than not; basically no one is 100% in that category except maybe the San Antonio Spurs).

Always, Always Counterpunching. The Demon Deacons darn near refused to die, always seeming to come up with an answer when it seemed like Virginia Tech had it in the bag.  kenpom calls our wins in close games luck, and there's certainly an element of luck, but when a team is capable of doing it as consistently as Wake Forest has this year, there's no way it's all luck.  It's also a fighting mentality, an ability to think on the fly, and calm under pressure, and the good news is that a lot of that comes from coaching, which will obviously remain even after this season.

The Downs

Turnovers. 16 turnovers leading to 24 VT points.  The game is still more on the defense than on the offense (as I'll get to), but that's still absolutely awful, and especially given the red-hot shooting on the offensive end, you give Wake Forest even, say, three more offensive possessions and I would bet 50 bucks we win that game.

Defense. Wake Forest gave up 50% shooting and 44% shooting from deep, but far more importantly, the Deacs committed 25 fouls as a team, leading to an absolutely staggering 35 free throw attempts for Virginia Tech.  The free throws and two players in particular busted Wake's defensive averages.  Zach LeDay was 6-10 shooting and 4-4 from deep, and Justin Bibbs was an absolutely nuts 12-18 from the field, 3-7 from deep.  That means he only missed two two point shots, and he's a guard.  This isn't like say, a dominant big man who gets touches three feet from the basket and converts two thirds of them.  This is a guy who was doing whatever he wanted on the drive and nailing jumpers all night, and that's much harder to take.  I will say this for the LeDay numbers: on that one, Coach Manning was playing the averages.  Before last night, LeDay had made five shots from long range all season, and he nearly matched that in a single game.  So in Coach Manning's defense, his plan would probably work 80% of the time or more.  That being said, we absolutely did not do anywhere near enough to defend the pick and roll and make those looks difficult to not allow those shooters the level of confidence and the easy buckets they were able to get.

Letting One Or Two Guys Beat Us. This is a running theme the last few games.  Wake Forest was almost undoubtedly the better team vis a vis more varied contributions from a larger number of players.  I would argue Wake played better team basketball.  But LeDay and especially Bibbs were all VT needed.  The same thing almost happened against State with Cat Barber, we just happened to win that game.  This is sort of a sub-point of defense in general, but this team needs to do a better job on the defensive end of slowing guys down when they really get going.

The Bottom Line

This loss was absolutely heartbreaking, and very feasibly could've taken us off of whatever tenuous tourney bubble we may have been on.  That being said, though, I still love what I'm seeing from a long-term, program development perspective, and I'd still give us a puncher's chance in more games than not this season.  There is nothing to suggest to me that we're not still capable of hanging with anybody.  The problem is that the schedule in general is an uphill battle, and so far no lead this season has been safe.  Things are better long-term than in the immediate, but I'm not going to give up on this team right now, either.

On to the next.  Go Deacs.