Improved Depth Gives Virginia Tech Basketball More Lineup Options

Mike Young, Virginia Tech
Mike Young will have more lineup options at Virginia Tech in his second season. (Ivan Morozov)

Depth means something different to many people. Depth to a diver means simply how deep the water may be. Depth can describe how detailed someone may be when looking into a subject (“in-depth”). Obviously, depth has a different meaning to sports fans, coaches and athletes. Most fans hear “depth” and think of it in terms of how talented the players are behind the starters. This is very much a correct way in thinking, but there is another way to look at depth (a “deeper” meaning, if you will).

Depth allows you to be versatile in your lineups, and when you are a system coach like Mike Young, the ability to be versatile within a system can make your team hard to prepare for. I’ve talked a bit about versatility helping increase your chances with regards to going “deep” in March. But today I wanted to take a more in-depth look at why that is the case, and how this team of Hokies might match up with other teams’ lineups.

First, let’s take a look in a general sense at how depth helps. If we were to assign completely arbitrary ratings (1-10 scale) to each of the 13 players on Virginia Tech’s roster it could look something like this:

1) 8
2) 8
3) 7
4) 7
5) 6
6) 6
7) 6
8) 6
9) 5
10) 5
11) 5
12) 5
13) 4

Let’s say that an 8 is a player with a professional level skill set, 7 are players who are all-conference level and 6’s are players who are good rotation players. One important thing to note is that player ratings can rise and fall from a “base” level depending on how you fit into the system. For instance, if we can probably say that Hunter Cattoor (as a kid ranked in the 200+ range out of HS) was a 4 rating in his freshman year as a base level. However, Cattoor fits very well within Mike Young’s system and it makes his value jump somewhere between a 5 and 6 as a freshman. Conversely, let’s say that Ahmed Hill came back to VT for another year for some reason. He would have a much higher base level, probably a 7 pushing an 8, but in Mike Young’s system he wouldn’t be a phenomenal fit but rather a solid rotation player and likely a 6.

The larger point being that you can think of these ratings as a combination of what their skill level is matched with how well they fit within the gameplan.

If you were to take last year’s roster with a ton of freshmen and players that didn’t really fit Mike Young’s system, their ratings likely would have been as such:

1) 7
2) 6
3) 6
4) 6
5) 6
6) 6
7) 5
8) 5
9) 4
10) 3
11) Walk-on
12) Injured
13) Redshirt

Those final 3 spots are something I always felt was a missed opportunity with Buzz Williams-coached teams. He rarely ever filled out his roster, and didn’t play his freshmen much. So when things happen like a player transfers unexpectedly in the summer, two players have legal trouble, and the best PG at Virginia Tech in the last 20 years (maybe of all-time) gets hurt, you have zero options. You have to change your scheme rather than changing your lineup. That only hurts your team, instead of helping it grow.

Another way someone’s rating can change is how well their skill set matches up with an opponent. I have talked about many times that someone like Jalen Cone can be dangerous against a team like Syracuse for a couple reasons.

  • Syracuse will not chase a player off screens away from the ball, because of the zone. A player like Jalen Cone can get lost away from the ball and spring open for a catch-and-shoot three much easier that he can against an FSU or UNC.
  • Defensively, Syracuse isn’t super athletic or big at their guard spots, so having Jalen Cone guard