Sidelines with John Clay

Five things to know about Virginia Tech basketball

Five things to know about Virgina Tech

1. The Hokies are coached by Buzz Williams

Brett Langdon “Buzz” is in his fourth season at Virginia Tech. He went 11-22 with a 2-16 mark in the ACC in 2014-15, his first season as head coach of the Hokies. Virginia Tech improved to 20-15 overall and 10-8 in the league with an NIT bid in 2015-16. Last season, Virginia Tech finished 22-11 overall and 10-8 in the ACC. As a No. 9 seed, it lost to Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

A Texas native, the 45-year-old Williams graduated from Oklahoma City and began his coaching career at Texas-Arlington. He was an assistant at Texas A&M-Kingsville, Northwestern State, Colorado State and Texas A&M before becoming the head coach at New Orleans in 2006.

After going 14-17 overall and 9-9 in the Sun Belt, Williams left to join Tom Crean’s staff at Marquette. When Crean left for Indiana after the 2007-08 season, Williams was elevated to head coach. His teams went 25-10, 22-12, 22-15, 27-8, 26-9 and 17-15 in Milwaukee. They were 69-39 in the Big East Conference and were invited to five straight NCAA Tournaments. Marquette’s reached the Sweet Sixteen in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It reached the Elite Eight in 2013 before losing to Syracuse.

Most found it puzzling that Williams would leave Marquette, where basketball is important to the school, for Virginia Tech, where basketball often plays second fiddle.

Seth Greenberg went 170-123 from 200-05 through the 2011-12 seasons, but was fired after making just one NCAA Tournament. Assistant James Johnson was promoted to head coach but went just 22-41 before being fired.

To this day, Williams has not given the reason why he left Milwaukee for Blacksburg, saying only, “I had peace about the decision in my heart.:

2. Virginia Tech leads the nation in scoring

Through Thursday’s games, Virginia Tech led the nation in scoring at 96.2 points per game. The Hokies scored 111 against Detroit Mercy; 132 against The Citadel; 103 against Washington; 99 against Houston Baptist; 96 against Morehead State; 95 against Radford and 95 against Maryland-Eastern Shore.

They were held to 71 points in their only defeat, a 77-71 loss to Travis Ford and Saint Louis in the 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden. The Hokies rebounded to beat Washington by 24 (103-79) in the consolation game.

Williams’ team also leads the nation in field goal percentage at 55.3 percent. Kerry Blackshear is shooting 66.1 percent from the floor. P.J. Home is shooting 65 percent. Justin Bibbs is shooting 60 percent. Chris Clarke is shooting 59.6 percent. Ahmed Hill is shooting 56.7 percent.

Virginia Tech is No. 2 nationally in three-point field percentage at 46.8. (Evansville is shooting 49.0 percent.) The Hokies have made 103 of 220 three-point shots on the season. Hill has made 30 of his 60 three-point attempts for 50 percent.

Virginia Tech is No. 5 nationally in free throw attempts at 293. The Hokies have made 219 for 74.7 percent. They have shot almost 100 more free throws (293 to 197) than their opponents.

[Virginia Tech roster]

And Virginia Tech is No. 4 nationally in assists at 19.9 per game. Justin Robinson leads the way with 58 assists, or 5.8 per game. Clarke is next with 35.

As far as offensive efficiency, Ken Pomeroy ranks Virginia Tech 17th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. Pomeroy ranks the Hokies 61st in defense and 29th overall.

The Hokies are 46th nationally in adjusted tempo but 10th nationally in average possession length at 14.6 seconds per shot.

Jeff Sagarin’s computer ranks the Hokies at No. 20.

3. Like Kentucky, Virginia Tech has played a soft schedule

Though the Hokies have won their nine games by an average of 25.5 points per victory, Sagarin ranks the Virginia Tech schedule at No. 342 out of the 351 NCAA Division I schools.

Kentucky, which Sagarin ranks at No. 29 overall, has played the 232nd-toughest schedule according to Sagarin’s computer.

Pomeroy has the Virginia Tech schedule ranked at No. 338. He has the Kentucky schedule ranked at No. 204.

Virginia Tech’s best win was over Ole Miss, ranked No. 77 by Pomeroy. The Hokies rallied for an 83-80 victory over Andy Kennedy’s Rebels in Oxford. Tech also trounced No. 81 Iowa 79-55 in Blacksburg in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge.

[Kentucky basketball individual game-by-game scoring in Google Doc]

It did beat Washington, ranked No. 128, and who turned around and beat Kansas 74-65 in Kansas City on Dec. 6. That was five games after the Huskies lost to Virginia Tech by 24 in New York.

Though Virginia Tech 1-1 against Kentucky at Memorial Coliseum, this is the Hokies first trip to Rupp Arena.

“It’s as good of an environment, in my opinion, as there is in the country, but I think it’s comparable to others within our league,” Williams, who won twice at Rupp in the 2013 NCAA tournament when he was at Marquette, told the Washington Post. “To the veterans, I would just say it’s similar to other places. For our new guys, it’ll be their first opportunity to play in that type of an environment.”

4. Virginia Tech has six players averaging at least nine points per game

The Hokies are pretty balanced in their scoring with six players averaging at least nine points prer gmae.

Bibbs, a 6-foot-5 senior from Dayton via Montverde (Fla) Academy leads the way at 17.5 points per game. Bibbs missed the first two games of the season because of a suspension.

[Virginia Tech individual stats]

Hill, a 6-5 junior from Augusta, Ga., is second on the team in scoring at 16.6 points per game. Hill scored a season-high 26 points in the loss to Saint Louis. He has reached double figures in eight of Tech’s 10 games.

Nickiel Alexander-Walker, first cousin of UK freshman Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, is third in scoring at 14.4 points per game. The 6-5 freshman from Toronto got off to a great start in his college career, scoring 53 points (24 vs Detroit Mercy; 29 vs The Citadel) in his first two games. After four games, Alexander-Walker was averaging 19.2 points per game.

Blackshear, a 6-10 center from Orlando, is fourth in scoring at 13.0 points per game. Blackshear has scored 20-or-more points in three games this season -- 23 against Detroit Mercy, 22 against The Citadel and 20 against Radford. He had 22 points and 15 rebounds against The Citadel. Blackshear leads the team in rebounding at 7.1 per game.

5. Virginia Tech hasn’t made back-to-back NCAA trips since 1985-86

In addition to the school’s success in football, Virginia Tech has a solid basketball history, dating back to former Tennessee head coach Don DeVoe. Before his arrival in Knoxville, DeVoe was 88-45 in five seasons (1971-72 through 1975-76) in Blacksburg, including the 1973 NIT title in an era when only 25 teams made it to the NCAA Tournament.

Playing in the Metro Conference with Louisville, Virginia Tech reached the NCAA Tournaments in 1978 and 1979, then again in 1985 and 1986 under coach Charlies Moir.

Bill C. Foster, not the Bill Foster who coached the Duke team that lost to Kentucky in the 1978 NCAA finals, coached Virginia Tech to an NCAA bid in 1996, when the Hokies lost to Rick Pitino and eventual national champion Kentucky 84-60 in the second round.

After unsuccessful terms by Bobby Hussey and Ricky Stokes, Greenberg led Virginia Tech to the 2007 NCAA Tournament, where as the No. 5 seed the Hokies lost 63-48 to No. 4 seed Southern Illinois in the second round.

Virginia Tech had not been back to the NCAA Tournament until last season under Williams, who personally made the tournament six of the last nine seasons.

Virginia Tech at Kentucky

When: Saturday, Dec. 16

Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington

Records: Virginia Tech 9-1; Kentucky 8-1

TV: ESPN2 with Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale

Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt

UK Radio Network affiliates

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