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VT-ETSU- Five observations

Virginia Tech opened its 2012-13 men’s basketball season and the James Johnson era with an 80-62 win against East Tennessee State on Saturday afternoon at Cassel Coliseum in Blacksburg. Here are five observations from the contest.

If Saturday was any indication, James Johnson's Virginia Tech teams are going to play fast.


James Johnson said from the moment he was given the reigns at Virginia Tech that his teams were going to play fast. Against East Tennessee State on Saturday, his team did just that. Although some members of the media questioned Johnson about a “lack of tempo” due to the team “only having 9 fast break points”, fast break points aren’t the only indicator of tempo. Courtesy of Bill Roth on twitter (@VTVOICE), in the first half only 2 of Tech’s 27 field goal attempts were taken with less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Tech shot 52 percent on those field goals. That is playing fast. Courtesy of everybody’s favorite source for Virginia Tech basketball information on twitter, (@KipTJam), on 19 of the Hokies 80 total possessions, Tech shot the ball within the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. The team finished the game with only 7 possessions in which they shot the ball with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock. As he noted in his tweets, the average amount of possessions last year was around 20.

That is playing fast.

The Buccaneers were playing a 2-3 zone defense for a big portion of the game, which limited the Hokies fast break points, but it allowed for many spot up, wide open three pointers in transition and early in the shot clock, which is just as efficient of a shot. If these statistics become the norm throughout the season, Johnson is going to be happy with the way his team is playing.

Big Trio

Heading into the season, it was known that returning guards Erick Green and Robert Brown, and returning forward Jarell Eddie were going to have to carry the Hokies on the offensive end. They were the three likeliest guys to be able to put the ball in the basket and the three guys that needed to consistently score for the Hokies to keep up. Against East Tennessee State, they did exactly that, contributing 54 points (67.5 percent of the scoring) and shooting an incredibly efficient 18-35 (51.4 percent) from the field and 8-18 from 3-point range (44.4 percent) between the three of them. They also contributed 13 of the Hokies total 19 assists.

This will not be the last time you see these three dominate the box score. Those three dominating the box score won’t necessarily mean wins, but if Brown, Eddie and Green are all playing consistent, efficient and filling up the box score, it should be a good thing more times than not, just as it was on Saturday.

Defensive rebounding

The Hokies had some issues on the defensive glass against East Tennessee State, and that was the biggest negative takeaway from Saturday’s performance. The Buccaneers were not a big team. They played only two guys that were 6-foot-7, and besides that, no one that saw the court was taller than 6-foot-5. Going up the Hokies front court which featured players 6-foot-10, 6-foot-9, and three guys 6-foot-8, ETSU should not have been able to compete on the glass. That wasn’t the case. The Buccaneers actually out-rebounded the Hokies, 39 to 37, a lot of which was because of offensive rebounding. East Tennessee State had 14 offensive rebounds, whereas the Hokies only had 8.

Some of that can be attributed to the general amount of missed shots from ETSU compared to Tech (Tech shot 46.6 percent for the game to ETSU’s 38.7 percent), but if you look deeper into it, much of those rebounds came due to a lack of boxing out. It is a simple fundamental that the Hokies weren’t executing on a consistent enough basis. There were times during the game when the Hokies boxed out, don’t get me wrong, but the occasions where they allowed offensive rebounds, there was a lot of standing around or turning and running to the basket, allowing guys to sneak in behind them. It is something that can be cleaned up and is something that needs to be cleaned up before Tech gets to the meat of its schedule. If the Hokies limit offensive rebounds yesterday, they could have won by 30-plus.

Substitution Patterns

It was interesting to see the rotation and subbing patterns that James Johnson threw out there for the first game. With backup point guard Marquis Rankin missing the game due to a death in his family, the rotation seen against East Tennessee State won’t be the exact rotation going forward, but I think Johnson gave us a good idea of what we may see the rest of the season.

Joey Van Zegeren is a guy that has always been sort of a mystery. No one really knew what to expect from him when he first got to Tech and his injury that caused him to miss all of last season put him even further off the radar. He was hurt during fall camp as well, which caused him to miss one of the open scrimmages Tech held. On Saturday, however, he was the first player off the bench only three minutes into the game. He totaled 18 minutes and was productive (6 points, 2 rebounds). I think that is exactly what Johnson is looking for out of him. It allowed Cadarian Raines, the starting center, to only have to play 22 minutes. If Raines isn’t forced to play an extensive amount of minutes every game that will greatly benefit Tech in the long run. Freshman Marshall Wood saw 22 minutes. I fully expect him and sophomore C.J. Barksdale to split time at the 4-spot with Wood also being able to give minutes at the 3. He has a good inside-outside game that gives the Hokies some versatility on both ends.

It was known that walk-ons were going to see playing time at points. Sophomore guard Will Johnston was the first walk-on off the bench and saw 13 minutes in all during the game. He hit a three pointer and passed the ball very well around the zone. He could be deadly against zones and used frequently in those situations. It plays perfectly to his strengths. Marcus Patrick could have been the biggest beneficiary of Rankin being away from the team. He only saw three minutes but some of those minutes came when the game was still in the balance. Basically, it wasn’t just garbage minutes when he saw the court.

Green, Brown and Eddie played 34, 32 and 37 minutes respectively, and they are going to be expected to play around that much in every game this season. Johnson rested those guys more than the minutes would suggest, however, as he subbed them out strategically at times around media timeouts where they would be sitting for minutes longer than the time on the clock would suggest. That is a strategy that he will likely employ throughout the season.

First win

Congratulations are in order for Coach James Johnson on his first win as a head coach. He looked very comfortable on the sidelines for it being his first time. The players looked like they were having fun out there; loving that they were playing for him and his under control yet intense sideline demeanor was a welcomed sight. After the game, the players gave Johnson the game ball. A new era is underway. And if there are more days like yesterday, the Hokie Nation has to be very excited about the new direction of the basketball program.

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