The 2010-11 Hokie basketball season publically begins Friday night with “Late Night with the Hokies“, the Virginia Tech equivalent of Midnight Madness*, and practice commences on Saturday. Let’s break down the cast of characters Tech returns this year. We’ll get to the rest of the ACC, and the schedule, as we get closer to the season’s tip-off on November 12th.
The Hokies start camp in an unfamiliar position – highly regarded and hyped. Tech will likely be picked third in the Preseason ACC Poll behind defending National Champion duke and unc, who by law have to be picked in the top two each year even though they stunk last year (I’ll get to this more in the ACC Preview). This will be Tech’s highest preseason ACC ranking ever. VT has never been picked higher than sixth, yet they’ve finished in the top four in four of six seasons in the league.
Tech could also start in an even more uncommon position – nationally ranked. Tech has been ranked in the preseason polls just once in the last 25 years. That was at the start of the 1995-96 season. That year the Hokies were coming off a NIT Championship and returned their entire starting lineup, as well as their key reserves and some fresh talent. But let’s face it, even in Blacksburg back then there wasn’t much support for the basketball team. By my recollection, only one game sold out and that was against #1 umass where students camped out in freezing conditions for five days for tickets. Now the Hokies have great fan support and recognition – with talking heads like Dick Vitale singing their praises.
This year the Hokies also return all five starters (four seniors and a junior) from a year ago along with 89% of their points. The problem is that number was 99% just a few weeks ago before forward JT Thompson was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Tech was already pessimistic about another low post player, transfer Allan Chaney, who is still recovering from heart issues. Add in forward Cadarian Raines’s various health issues last season, and foot concerns this offseason, and you have a potentially huge problem.
Enough with the “glass half empty” stuff though, in fact, this glass is overflowing with talent. Tech’s backcourt is loaded with senior Malcolm Delaney, a First Team All-ACC player and the ACC’s leading scorer last year, and senior Dorenzo Hudson, who rose from inconsistency to being named Third Team All-ACC in 2009-10. Delaney is not just in contention for ACC Player of the Year this year, but also is on the Wooden watch list for National Player of the Year. He needs just 78 points to crack VT’s Top 10 in scoring, and could finish as high as #3 on that list with a solid year. Zo Hudson was Mr. Clutch last year, carrying VT to a win against seton hall (when Delaney was hurt) and hitting the game-winner against uconn in the NIT. He won’t sneak up on anyone this year, but it is choose your poison in terms of keying on Delaney or Hudson.
Backing up Delaney and Hudson will be returning sophomores Erick Green and Ben Boggs, and freshman Tyrone Garland, who finished his prep career as one of the top five scorers in Philly Public League history. Green endured a horrible shooting slump last year, and Boggs is not a point guard. Whomever of Green or Garland can provide the most production at the point (or at least facilitate the rest of the scorers) will see the most minutes at guard behind the starters. But don’t expect to see any of them much. Delaney and Hudson were in the top 10 in the ACC in minutes per game last season at more than 35 minutes per game each and should see the court just as much this year.
On the wing, Tech has yet another senior with Terrell Bell. Behind Hudson, Bell was VT’s next most improved player a year ago. He increased his PPG from 2.3 as a sophomore to 6.1 and his rebounds from 2.7 to 6.1. Terrell is deadly from the corners behind the arc. But his biggest asset is his wingspan, which allowed him to block 38 shots a year ago, good for second most on the team behind Jeff Allen’s 42. Bell is also great on the glass despite his lack of bulk. Sophomore Manny Atkins or newcomer (and stud recruit) Jarell Eddie will backup Bell. Atkins showed flashes in the seton hall and georgia tech games, proving he can score. With him the question is defense. Eddie will have to prove he can adjust to the college game in the out of conference tune-ups if he wants to see any ACC minutes. Expect to see both a fair amount as Bell may move to the ’4′ at times due to Tech’s lack of depth inside.
Again, though, the low post will be the key for the Hokies. Not because of a lack of talent, but because of a lack of bodies. Tech returns starters senior Jeff Allen and junior Victor Davila. Jeff Allen is the best Virginia Tech frontcourt player I’ve seen in my twenty years watching Hokie basketball (sorry Ace Custis). He is the ultimate stat-stuffer. Last year, Allen was third in PPG, first in RPG, first in blocks, and first in steals. He needs 458 points this season to finish in the Top 10 for career points at VT. That would be a season high, but not by much. He already ranks ninth in rebounds and should finish in the Top 5. Jeff ranks eighth in steals and could get up to #3 by year’s end. And he’s tied for fifth in blocks, with a shot at the bronze medal. Yes, he’s good.
The not so good for Allen is foul trouble. He finished last year with 121 personal fouls. He fouled out four times. While that doesn’t sound like much, the greater issue was the timing. On numerous occasions he had two fouls in the early minutes of the first half and had to sit until after halftime. Because the Hokies have almost no depth inside, they cannot afford for this to happen. But that will limit some of the aggressiveness that has led to his 189 career steals. Hopefully, with the talent the Hokies have, they won’t need all those thefts.
Victor Davila struggled mightily down the stretch last year. He averaged 6.7 PPG in out of conference games, but just 3.6 in ACC tilts. His deadly baby hook went limp. And since Victor is not the greatest defender or rebounder (he was just fourth on the team in rebounding), he has to be a consistent contributor on the offensive end.
As I stated a while back, Cadarian Raines may be the key to the season. Cadarian is a tornado when he’s in the game. He’s coming at you, and he’s coming at you hard. Rick “Doc” Walker would call him a “cyborg”. He compliments Davila well – he’s not the scoring threat Victor can be but is a better defender and more physical rebounder. Raines can block shots — he blocked 16 in just 165 minutes, by far the best ratio on the team — and hits the boards with gusto. But the key for him is his health. Will his feet hold up this year? They better, or Tech will be down to two low post players and you’ll see an undersized Terrell Bell playing down low. This would be reminiscent of the days when skinny Deron Washington played “power” forward for the Hokies. It can work because of their athleticism and mismatches they cause, but Bell would be giving up a lot of poundage to the more prototypical ACC frontcourt players, as well as the bigs kansas state and purdue have. It would also force Tech to play inexperienced players in Manny Atkins and/or Jarell Eddie. Let’s hope the health issues that have robbed Thompson and Chaney of their seasons will avoid Cadarian. Otherwise, when it Raines, it pours.
*Lefty Driesell is crediting with starting Midnight Madness while at maryland in the 1970s, having his team start practice right at midnight on the day the NCAA said practice could start since technically it was that day. It evolved into the “event” it is now over the years.