I know you wanted to play Michigan State today. We all did. It’s like asking Santa for a Canada Goose coat, waking up early on Christmas morning only to open a box with a Canada Moose jacket. Sure, it still serves the same function but it’s just not the same (also, where did your cheap as shit parents even find a Canadian Moose jacket?). There are a quite a few ways to look at Dayton’s unexpected drawing of Virginia Tech in the semifinals tonight. One, disappointment that the Flyers won’t get a shot at the preseason #1 team in the nation, Michigan State. Sure, the Spartans have, up to this point, looked completely pedestrian. But for a Seton Hall collapse Sparty would be sitting at 2-3 on the season entering today’s game against Georgia. However, there is a certain comfort in playing Michigan State, you assume Izzo will turn things around quickly and have MSU playing their best ball going into March. A game against Michigan State, especially for a program like Dayton, is a free shot at a major resume builder.
On the flipside you have Virginia Tech. A program that looked dead on its feet after Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M is somehow 6-0 with a victory over the aforementioned Spartans. Mike Young, who built a solid program at Wofford, took over a Hokie program that had just seven players on the roster, with three of those seven sitting firmly in the transfer portal upon Young’s arrival (you will no doubt hear how Va Tech is Young’s dream job no less than ten times during tonight’s broadcast, that first day on campus must have made him rethink things however briefly). Young was able to sweet talk two of the three players out of the darkness of the portal — only current Florida Gator Kerry Blackshear escaped Blacksburg — so his first recruiting efforts, convincing current players to stay put, went fairly swimmingly.
Virginia Tech was left for dead after losing its top five players and its coach from last year’s Sweet 16 team. All Mike Young has done is start 6-0 capped by a Maui upset of preseason No. 1 Michigan State.
— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) November 26, 2019
Young’s biggest victory was ensuring that current redshirt freshman Landers Nolley returned for the 2019-20 season. Nolley (20.5 ppg/49% 3fg) is Va Tech’s version of Obi Toppin. Forced to sit out last season after the NCAA Clearinghouse denied him eligibility, he lacked the “academic CHEST,” Nolley’s legend was being formed everyday in practice. A four-star recruit out of high school, Nolley was poised to pair up with Blackshear and give the Hokies one of the best one-two punches in the ACC. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. Nevertheless, Nolley has grabbed the brass ring and already established himself as one of the most promising freshman in the lower 48. His twenty-two points and clutch shooting led the way in the Hokies upset victory over Michigan State. Nolley’s performance tonight will absolutely dictate the result of the game.
The Hokies aren’t just the Landers Nolley show though, no sir. Freshman guard (it appears Young might be building a decent team for the future) Nahiem Alleyne came into the VTech program with a reputation as an excellent knockdown shooter and, thus far, has delivered. Alleyne is averaging just under thirteen points and shooting 45% from behind the arc. Most of his shots come off drive-and-dishes to the perimeter. Junior PJ Horne is thiccc and — at just 6’5″ — serves as the Hokies’ big man. But don’t let the girth fool you, Horne is more than capable of jumping out to the three-point line and drilling bombs. Horne is knocking down 53% of his threes, scoring ten points a contest. Wabissa Bede keeps the show running from the point-guard spot, the junior comes into tonight’s game with an awe-inspiring assist rate of 44.5%, good enough for tenth in the nation.
Virginia Tech runs an extremely efficient offense, sporting the nation’s tenth best effective field-goal percentage (58.6%), predicated on kick-and-catch shooting. (Dayton, by the way, currently ranks first in the entire country as far as effective field-goal percentage is concerned — 61.7%!) The Hokies, as a squad, are shooting 43% from three-point land, that’s currently sixth best in the country. They turn the ball over on just 16% of their possessions and account for an assist on 66% of their made baskets this season. Those are unbelievable numbers that indicate great discipline and coaching. Offensively speaking, Georgia and Virginia Tech are on polar opposites. While the Bulldogs’ offense closely resembles a shootaround at a prison yard where the only objective is not to get stabbed by a rival gang, the Hokie attack is a finely crafted machine of German proficiency.
The two biggest factors in tonight’s game from UD’s perspective is perimeter defense and rebounding. UD, at this moment, is one of the worst defensive three-point teams in America (38.5%), ranking 307th. So, the objective becomes rather simple for the Flyers, harass VTech on the perimeter defensively and dominate them on the boards. I think the Hokies knock down threes, it is what they do and those Maui rims are so soft and forgiving. However, given VTech’s complete lack of size and collective disinterest in offensive rebounding, there will be times where there isn’t a Hokie within ten feet of a missed shot, Dayton should completely limit their opponents second-chance opportunities. We rarely hedge our predictions here, but there’s a first time for everything. If VTech connects on 40-45% of their three’s it’s gonna be a long night for the Flyers. Nevertheless, we think Obi is primed to have another excellent performance, the Flyers win a close one, 74-71. Plus, I mean come on, it’s quite possible VTech already shot their wad against Michigan State, isn’t it?
Quick sidenote: I know some of you have expressed concern and bewilderment that the Flyers could possibly win this tournament and not come away with a victory over a NCAA tournament team when the field is announced in Mid-March. While the odds UGA, Virginia Tech or BYU making the tournament aren’t encouraging at this moment, there are literally three months of games yet to be played. Regardless, two wins (or even three) in the Maui Invitational would be a nice feather in the cap for any mid-major program. Let’s stay positive, hope Kansas takes out BYU, and beat Virginia Tech. Things tend to take care of themselves when you win.
Tom Blackburn is a proud U. o' D. alum. He loses faith in humanity one day at a time, but not in you, you seem like you are all kinds of alright. Charter member of the T-Man fanclub.