With offensive mastermind Mike Young strolling the sidelines and a bevy of capable shooters, Virginia Tech basketball is a team to watch in college basketball this season.
Riley’s Ranking: 25th
If Mike Young didn’t win you over in his first-ever Virginia Tech basketball postgame, maybe his on-court results did. Over the last two seasons, few teams have executed offense as smoothly as the Hokies. That trend will continue into 2022 and beyond.
Young’s five-out system is as labyrinthine as it is aesthetically pleasing. The amount of movement (via ball screens, back screens, cross screens, flare screens, plasma screens, etc.) is hard enough to track as a spectator, even using replay. I can only imagine how headache-inducing it is for opposing coaches and players to scheme against. For example, observe the clip below, an inbounds play versus rival Virginia. The V-cut with Keve Aluma, Justyn Mutts, and Nahiem Alleyne commands so much attention that Hunter Cattoor only has to shed single coverage for a layup.
Of course, the offense wouldn’t function without its sublime shooting. And Virginia Tech boasts two of the best movement shooters in the country in the aforementioned Alleyne and Cattoor. The two juniors constantly fly all over the court when they don’t have the ball, wearing defenders out with misdirection. They expertly curl off of flares and pin-downs, needing only a crease of space before launching with quick releases. Alleyne, in particular, can be terrifying to opposing ACC defenses.
Notice, he fakes a back screen for Mutts, leaks out, takes the flare from Aluma, and subsequently sprays Caleb Love. (I feel that same sense of dejection alongside Mr. Love). Per KenPom, Alleyne shot 51.4 percent from beyond the arc in 6 games vs Tier-A opponents. In addition, the 6-4 lefty finished the season on fire, scoring in double figures in Tech’s last five contests.
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Both Cattoor and Alleyne will benefit from playing next to floor general Storm Murphy. Murphy, who starred at Wofford the last four seasons, reunites with his old coach for a super-senior season. While he lacks the defensive savvy of the departed Wabissa Bede, he more than makes up for it on offense. His nasty crossover leaves defenders stumbling, and his arsenal of counter moves should translate to the ACC. But it’s Murphy’s shooting ability that completes his game — his 3-point jumper has reached Fiji water bottle levels of pureness. He can create off the bounce, but he also moves well when the rock isn’t in his hands. Last season, Murphy converted 36.6 percent on catch-and-shoot 3s, per Synergy.
The Hokies’ frontcourt gives them an incredibly balanced starting five. The mid-major transfer duo of Aluma (Wofford) and Mutts (Delaware) tormented ACC foes during their first season in Blacksburg. With a year of high-major experience, expect to see continued improvement.
Aluma first made waves with a 23-point, 8-rebound performance in a November win over Villanova, and he never looked back. After notching Second Team All-ACC numbers, he’ll be priority No. 1 on scouting reports. The senior has the strength to scrap in the paint, but he also exhibits craft with his low-post footwork. However, Aluma’s agility and coordination stand out as his most impressive attributes. Few bigs look better than him at attacking closeouts, as he smoothly gets to the rim with long strides. Plus, his determination in running the floor leads to run-outs and transition ‘oops.
Mutts, despite less fanfare, plays an equally important role in Virginia Tech’s success. He mucks the game up on defense and keeps his man from getting to his spots down low. On offense, he darts all over the court, daring opposing big men to keep up. Mutts loves to lull his defender to sleep in the post, then sprint out to the perimeter, baiting his man into a screen. That extra sliver of space is all Mutts needs to flash his explosiveness as he barrels to the hoop. See how he tortures Walker Kessler in the following clip:
Lastly, Mutts’ IQ and vision distinguish him from other forwards in the conference. (How many 4s can make skip passes like this?) Aluma, too, passes at an advanced level, and Young optimizes both of their playmaking abilities. The coach commonly runs the offense through them, both as facilitators out of the post and in dribble hand-offs on the perimeter.
The only big knock on Virginia Tech basketball is its lack of depth. Things get bleak quick observing their bench. However, two former prep-school products could provide the remedy. Sophomores Darrius Maddox (Oak Hill) and Lynn Kidd (IMG Academy) will hope to live up to their billings.
The 6-5 Maddox profiles as a shooter, but with his length and athleticism, he could develop into a plus-rebounder on the wing. (Rebounding from the perimeter is a huge need after the transfer of Tyrece Radford.) Kidd, on the other hand, will spell Mutts and Aluma in the frontcourt after transferring in from Clemson. His high school highlights advertise a player who brings the bounce on both offense and defense. But he couldn’t get off the bench last season — 12 minutes in a December contest is his current career-high. Perhaps with a fresh start, his upside materializes.
Still, even with a short rotation, I trust Mike Young. He has established himself as an incredible in-game coach, and his long-term outlook remains radiant. Plus, Virginia Tech basketball likely won’t see two COVID pauses hinder their team chemistry in the thick of conference play again.
Projected starters: G – Storm Murphy (Gr.); G – Hunter Cattoor (Jr.); G – Nahiem Alleyne (Jr.); F – Justyn Mutts (Gr.); F – Keve Aluma (R-Sr.)
Projected bench: G – Darius Maddox (So.); F – Lynn Kidd (So.); F – David N’Guessan (So.); G – Sean Pedulla (Fr.)
Best player: Aluma
Breakout player: Alleyne
Strengths: Shooting; ball movement; offensive system
Weaknesses: Depth; lack some size/length