It’s the college basketball offseason, which is the perfect time to kick the can on some ideas/thoughts for next season. However, in lieu of generic hot take bloviation, we will keep things slightly more mild, more reasoned. Drawing inspiration from one of our regional delicacies — a hot sauce from Winston-Salem — welcome to a new ACC Analytics page segment: Texas Pete Takes!
Track record of success
Over the last two seasons, few teams in college hoops have shot the ball better from deep than Virginia Tech. As Buzz Williams has helped resurrect the Hokies basketball program — two straight 20-win seasons, back-to-back NCAA Tournament berths, 20 ACC wins — Tech has excelled at three-point shooting.
The Hokies have played 66 games over the last two seasons; in that time, Virginia Tech has attempted 3,678 field goals. Of those 3,678 attempts, 1,465 have come from beyond the arc — 39.8 percent. That’s a healthy number.
In each of the last two seasons, nearly 40 percent of Tech’s attempts have been triples. During the 2016-17 season, the Hokies shot 40.3 percent from deep — No. 8 nationally, according to KenPom. A year later, that dropped ever so slightly: 38.8 percent, No. 31 in Division I.
On a related note: Virginia Tech has ranked inside the top 10 nationally in each of the last two seasons in effective shooting: 56.9 eFG% in 2016-17, 57.7 eFG% in 2017-18. Those are easily the two best numbers a team coached by Williams have put up, including his star-studded Marquette squads.
Let’s go a small step further, shall we? (That was rhetorical, so, yes!) The foundation for Virginia Tech’s efficient offense: knockdown success on spot-up attempts.
According to Synergy Sports, the 2016-17 Hokies scored 1.12 points per possession on spot-up looks (42.3 FG%, 57.9 eFG%). In terms of efficiency, that ranked tops in the ACC and No. 8 in the nation. One year later, more of the same: 1.09 points per possession on spot-ups (41.7 FG%, 57.9 eFG%). Once again, that was good for No. 1 in the ACC and No. 16 in Division I.
In terms of raw efficiency, the 2017 Virginia Tech squad ranked sixth nationally — 1.03 points per possession (56.6 eFG%).
With regards to effective shooting, the 2018 Hokies were actually slightly more efficient on spot-up possessions than their 2017 counterpart. However, they posted a larger turnover rate — 7.8 percent to 5.6 percent — which lowered the overall output, albeit a rather tiny amount.
A plethora of options
When it comes to the team’s three-point accuracy, it’s truly a team effort for Virginia Tech. In 2016-17, there were 35 players in the ACC that attempted at least 100 three-pointers and shot above 35 percent from deep — five of which hailed from Virginia Tech, the most of any school.
That group was composed of Justin Robinson (35.8 3P%), Ty Outlaw (48.7 3P%), Ahmed Hill (37.3 3P%), Justin Bibbs (43.2 3P%) and Seth Allen (44.1 3P%) — all of whom attempted at least six threes per 100 possessions.
Outlaw, who missed the 2017-18 season with an ACL injury, was lights out in 2016-17 on catch-and-shoot attempts: 52-of-105 (49.5 FG%, 74.3 eFG%), and scored 1.49 points per possession — good for No. 4 in the nation.
Even with Outlaw sideline, Virginia Tech still ripped nets last season: 1.13 points per possession (56.5 eFG%) on catch-and-shoots — No. 56 in Division, second best in the ACC.
It certainly didn’t hurt that Tech added one of the best recruits in program history last summer: Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The Canadian winger (sorry, watching a lot of the World Cup these days) connected on 58 three-pointers (39.2 3P%), and scored 1.09 points per possession on spot-ups (57.8 eFG%), per Synergy.
Another big development: point guard Justin Robinson, one of the ACC’s best, made a jump from deep, too. As a sophomore in 2017, Robinson scored 1.05 points per possession on spot-ups (54.6 eFG%). That’s pretty darn good, but as a junior, Robinson was smoking: 1.23 points per possession (61.2 eFG%), according to Synergy.
And here’s what should be scary for ACC foes: all of these guys — with the exception of Bibbs — will be back in Blacksburg for at least one more run.
Here’s the thing, though, it’s not enough to simply have a handful of awesome shooters; teams can’t just pass the ball around the perimeter and hope to get a good look. The best way to create open looks in the half-court: dribble penetration, which can that create some advantage and generate that dangerous side-to-side action.
Well, when it comes to shot creation in the ACC, none are better than Justin Robinson — a second team All-ACC selection in 2018. Robinson assisted on 32.9 percent of his teammates’ field goals while on the floor in 2017-18 — a top-50 number nationally. He was second the ACC in assists (5.6 per game), and dished out an insane 10.4 dimes per 100 possessions.
As a junior, he became one of only 14 ACC players — dating back to the 2009-10 season — to have a usage rate over 23 percent and an assist rate over 30 percent.
Virginia Tech is best in the half-court when Robinson is gets into his slash-and-kick game. According to Synergy, the Hokies scored 1.18 points per possession (62.4 eFG%) when Robinson passed out of the pick-and-roll.
When Robinson passed to spot-up players out of this action, VT scored 1.13 points per possession (61 eFG%) — No. 13 in the nation (minimum of 100 possessions).
Point to the passer
In terms of spot-up volume: Bibbs, Alexander-Walker and Hill were tops on the roster. The three wings combined for 403 of Virginia Tech’s 669 spot-up possessions, according to Synergy — 60.2 percent. On those 403 possessions, they combined to scored 448 points — over 1.11 points per possession, which is outstanding.
It’s worth noting, too: those three combined to hit 190 three-pointers last season. According to the excellent Bart Torvik, 183 of those triples were assisted on — 96.3 percent. These are catch-and-shoot bombers; they don’t create their own pull-up looks from deep out of screen-roll or isolation. Virginia Tech needs Robinson to cause havoc and get defenses to bend, then to go to work.
4-around-1 + 1
One last thing: middle of the floor gravity. Virginia Tech’s roster is composed of more than just shooters; Kerry Blackshear and Chris Clarke offer key points of differentiation. Clarke’s ability to slash and cut can draw help defenders — there’s a reason he has an assist rate north of 21 percent over the last two seasons. This relieves some of the playmaking pressure off Robinson.
After missing the 2016-17 season with a leg injury Blackshear emerged as one of the ACC’s most improved players — 12.5 points, 5.9 rebounds. According to Synergy, Blackshear shot 89.7 percent — 1.85 points per possession — on basket cuts. He also scored 1.28 points per possession (64 eFG%) out of the pick-and-roll. This is excellent production, teamed up with Robinson, surrounded by shooters.
Assuming good health, there’s no reason to think Virginia Tech can’t put together another top-20 offense — if not even better than that. There can be lot of variance in three-point shooting; perhaps it’s a fool’s game to try and project out something like this — oh well, let’s live mildly dangerous.
The margin for overall effective shooting and spot-up efficiency is razor-thin. Things could break in a variety of ways, separated by the smallest of margins. However, Virginia Tech — led by Justin Robinson — has all of the tools to be the ACC’s premier three-point shooting roster and a top 10 offense in the nation.