There is no place to go but up for the Hokies this season. Literally. Tech enters the 2013-14 season as the lowest ACC ranked team ever… the Hokies are picked to finish 15th in the league. Obviously this is the first time the ACC has had more than 12 teams, so someone had to be pulling up the rear in the 15 team league, and that @ss is the Hokies.
Expectations for this squad are the lowest they’ve been since the ricky “program bomb” stokes’s days. But let me tell you right now, sports fans, this is a new year! Sure, ACC POTY Erick Green and his NCAA-leading 25 PPG are gone. Sure, VT has gone a combined 8-26 (24%) in the ACC the last two years. But this is a new year!!! (Wait, I already said that)
Expect the Hokies to have more depth, well, let me rephrase that — expect the Hokies to have more healthy bodies to throw out on the court, allowing Coach James Johnson to play the up-tempo offense and half court trapping defense he wants to run. Coach JJ will finally be running his style of ball this year, and call me a believer. “There’s two or three potential all-stars in there.” I believe this team could possibly climb out of the cellar and maybe even challenge for 12th place this year in the ACC! That’s gotta fire you up!
The harsh reality is the Hokies are going to have to way overachieve to do much of anything in an even more loaded ACC than ever. The Hokies finished dead last in the league last season at 4-14. Enter pitt (12-6 in the Big East), syracuse (11-7 in the BE), and notre dame (also 11-7 in the BE). And as I mentioned, exit Erick Green, a 2nd-round NBA pick that led the nation in scoring last season, accounting for 36% of your offense. Also gone is Robert Brown, Tech’s 3rd-leading scorer at 8.3 ppg, who transferred.
Back are seniors Jarell Eddie (12.3 ppg but wildly eratic over the last 2/3 of the season) and big man Cadarian Raines (6.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg, and 1.1 bpg). Raines honestly had a better sophomore season than junior campaign, so can he regain those deadly low post moves of two years ago? Will he get the ball enough if Tech is running and gunning (and can he keep pace)? Can Eddie regain his stroke of early last season?
Also back is junior forward C.J. Barksdale (5.6 ppg and 4.7 rpg), but he’s suspended for all 3 of these games so let’s save discussions of him for later.
Junior Marquis Rankin (3.4 ppg) will likely take over the point guard duties in part along with some of the newcomers (more below on them). Rankin was Tech’s best on-ball defender last year, but that’s not saying much on that squad.
Marshall Wood, a sophomore small forward, will have a year of experience under his belt now. He’s a rangy outside shooter but struggled from deep last year. He showed glimpses at nc state, going for 14 points. But he scored just 18 total points in his 14 other ACC games (including just 5 total in his final 6 games). Wood is also an explosive leaper who needs to get to the glass, too, and not just sit out beyond the arc.
Joey van Zegeren, also a sophomore, showed he can be a great shot-blocker inside and occassionally score on offensive rebounds or off of drive-and-dishes from guards (he’s a monster dunker). JvZ could be well suited for fast break opportunities. He’s a tad skinny, but he’s athletic and should like to get out and run.
Tech has one transfer who will suit up this year, sophomore guard Adam Smith who scored 13.7 ppg as a freshman at unc-wilmington two years ago. He made 33% of his 175 3-pointers, so he likes to shoot from deep, but can also penetrate and score, too (less than half his shots were 3s). Smith is better suited to play off-guard, but at 6’1″, he won’t be able to guard many of the longer shooting guards in the ACC.
The Hokies lost their prized recruit, Donte Clark, due to admissions issues. The rest of the class was just so-so (none of the five signees were above 3-star status and two were just 2-stars). The biggest mover and shaker so far has been guard Ben Emelogu. The 6’5″ Texan led his team to the State Championship Game (they lost) last year. Some questioned if he was truly an ACC-caliber player, but he’s already been named a team captain as a true freshman. Expect him to man both guard spots at times and should be a physical defensive presence who can allow Smith or Rankin to take a smaller guard.
Trevor Thompson (6’11”) will certainly see minutes in the post for the Hokies this season. His development could go a long way in terms of how bad, or improved, the Hokies are. Tech hasn’t had depth in the post in years and having Raines, Barksdale, JvZ, and Thompson could help allow VT to be more aggressive on O and D and not worry about fatigue or foul trouble.
It will be seen how much time, if any, freshman guard Devin Wilson sees. The 2.5-star 6’4″ guard was a late signee from near Pittsburgh.
Freshman guard Malik Mueller from Germany is not eligible to play this year and center Maurice Kirby (6’9″) will likely redshirt.
HOME SWEET HOME:
9 of Tech’s 12 out of conference games will be played in the Cassell. In fact, the Hokies do not play a single true road game out of conference (although they play vcu in the Richmond Coliseum but that is part of a doubleheader in the Governor’s Cup or Classic or whatever it is called). The other two games will be at the Barclay Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.
It is hard to place Tech anywhere but dead last in the 15-team ACC going into the season. The Hokies finished dead last last year and lost their top player (and #3 scorer, too). They had an average recruiting class (below average by ACC standards). But, at least things will be different this year. Coach JJ is committed to playing up-tempo. He’s committed to playing more aggressively on defense (assuming hand checks aren’t called real tight). But if I was picking the ACC, I’d have them at 15th, too, although clemson and miami have a similar lack of proven talent but they have more experienced coaches, and wake has better talent but the worst coach in the ACC.
Tech jumped out to a 7-0 start last year, playing great and fun basketball, but then the wheels completely came off. Can the Hokies get off to a hot start this year? Maybe. But they play #2 michigan state in their fifth game of the season, so don’t expect a 7-0 start this year. If the Hokies can play well as a team and find some consistent scorers, they could gain momentum. If they can be more fit than their opponents, they could get easy buckets in transition, something Tech never did under Greenberg. This team cannot win playing half court basketball all game, so getting out and getting those easy points will be vital.
The Litmus Test for the Hokies will be their first nine games. Tech will play 7 of those 9 games in the Cassell and against mostly weak competition (wvu is the best of those home games and even they stunk last year). The other two games are in the Coaches vs Cancer Classic at the Nets home in Brooklyn, opening with michigan state. If Tech can come out of these first nine games at 6-3, maybe they can build some momentum going into their ACC opener at miami (who is WAY down this year, too). But if VT drops a couple of those home games against lesser opponents, it could really set the stage for a long year. Let’s hope for a fast start and us defending the Cassell.
And if nothing else, at least it is an exciting schedule – VT plays 8 games against 7 different preseason ranked teams, including #2 msu, #4 duke, #8 syracuse, and #14 vcu. But, it is hard to have any expectations for this season. My expectation is near the bottom of the ACC, a third straight losing record, and no postseason. Like I said at the beginning, let’s hope they overachieve and show progress this year, and finishing above the cellar would be an achievement, and a NIT bid would be almost a miracle.