On November 14th the Hokies will don the orange and maroon for Buzz Williams for the first time when they play maryland-eastern shore, and almost nothing will resemble things from the previous regime. A new Athletic Director (well, he did finish out last season), a new coach with no holdovers from the previous staff, and a new team with just 3 scholarship players that have suited up for Tech before. Programs will be a hot commodity that first month… assuming attendance picks up from the past few years.
Tech will assuredly be picked to finish last in the ACC given that they’ve finished last 3 years in a row and have just 3 returning scholarship players. But there is a buzz in Blacksburg this season that has been missing the last few years.
Brent “Buzz” Williams blazes into Blacksburg with a 153-86 career record as a head coach (1 at new orleans and 6 at marquette). He’s posted just one losing season (his only season at new orleans back in 2006-07) while leading marquette to 5 NCAA appearances in a row, including a couple of Sweet Sixteen and one Elite Eight trip. But he’s not in Milwaukee anymore. The challenge will be stiff for Tech’s third head coach in four seasons in turning around a Hokie program that has gone 38-58 (10-42 in ACC play including 3 straight last place finishes) over the last 3 seasons.
- Age 42; married with 2 daughters and 2 sons
- Degrees: oklahoma city university and texas a&m – kingsville
- 14-17 in one season at new orleans (2006-07)
- 139-69 at marquette in 6 seasons
- 5 NCAA Tournament appearances (8-5 Tourney record)
- 5 20-win seasons
- 69-39 in Big East conference play and tied for the regular season title in 2012-13
- 2 Sweet Sixteens and 1 Elite Eight
- Origin of his nickname: As a freshman at Navarro College, Williams was neither a player nor a student manager. But he was so intent on learning about basketball that he asked to watch practices from the bleachers, where he would keep diligent notes. The coaching staff would joke that Williams was always “buzzing” around the gym, meeting more than 400 other coaches to whom he would write weekly letters.
[Insert name of any player you remember from last season]… He’s probably gone. But, based on the aforementioned record of the past few seasons, perhaps that is a good thing. Tech, for good or bad, will have a fresh start this year. Here is a list of every returning Hokie scholarship player (guys that weren’t originally walk-ons), their career games for VT, and their career points:
- Joey van Zegeren (r-Jr): 66 games (28 starts), 306 points (4.6 ppg)
- Adam Smith (r-Jr): 14 games (9 starts), 154 points (11.0 ppg)
- Devin Wilson (So): 31 games (all starts), 286 points (9.2 ppg)
- TOTAL: 111 games (68 starts), 746 points and about 25 ppg
Add in the numbers from walk-ons Will Johnston (63 games and 14 starts with 157 points and 2.5 ppg) and Christian Beyer (51 games with 1 start and 73 points at 1.4 ppg) and we get all the way up to 29 PPG returning! Here are some numbers/data for each guy that can play this season:
- 0 – Shane Henry – 6’8″ – Jr. – Juco transfer (1st year at VT) was a stat stuff at georgia perimeter c.c. averaging 13.2 ppg, 12.5 rpg, and 4.7 bpg
- 1 – Malik Muller – 6’3″ – r-Fr – Redshirted last year because he was ruled ineligible by the NCAA after arriving from Germany
- 2 – Joey van Zegeren – 6’10” – r-Jr – Tech’s lone returning scholarship big man – averaged 6.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, and had 53 blocks last year
- 3 – Adam Smith – 6’1″ – r-Jr – The unc-wilmington transfer missed 17 games due to injury but averaged 11 ppg and hit 36% of his 67 3-Pt Attempts
- 10 – Justin Bibbs – 6’5″ – Fr – The JJ signee played for the top prep team in the nation, Montverde (FL)
- 11 – Devin Wilson – 6’4″ – So – The true point guard set a VT freshmen record for assists (148) and also averaged 9.2 ppg while being named to the All-ACC Freshmen Team
- 13 – Ahmed Hill – 6’5″ – Fr – Tech’s top recruit thanks to a late flip from marquette to VT by Buzz; is the 3rd-leading scored in Georgia history with 3,024 points
- 21 – Satchel Pierce – 7’0″ – Fr – Also a late signee by Buzz, he played on two straight state runner-up teams in Pennsylvania (3-star recruit)
- 22 – Christian Beyer – 6’7″ – Sr – The walk-on played in 28 games with 1.1 ppg and 2.3 rpg
- 23 – Jalen Hudson – 6’5″ – Fr – No relation to Zo, the JJ signee played at Lebron James’s alma mater (St. Vincent-St. Mary) and was a 3-star recruit
- 25 – Will Johnston – 6’4″ – Sr – The former walk-on played in all but one game, averaging 3.2 ppg and hitting 27 threes (he only made 2 two-pointers)
- Isaiah Ford – 6’1″ – Fr – The star football receiver, who was also a prolific scorer at Trinity Christian in Florida (37 ppg as a senior), will join the basketball team after football season is over, likely around the start of the new year.
What all this means is a lot will ride on 2 things:
1. How much the returning guys have developed — there is talent there with an enforcer (JvZ) with an improved offensive game, a fearless shooter (Smith), and a very solid point guard (Wilson) that shattered the freshmen record for assists at VT (148). JvZ averaged just under 10 PPG in Tech’s final 9 games, Wilson had a stretch of 9 double-figure games out of 13 games but faded down the stretch (probably from playing 37 minutes per game in ACC play), and Smith had games of 19, 27, and 28 early in the season before injuries slowed him and eventually forced him to shut things down in mid-January.
2. How well the new guys adjust to life in the ACC. Tech was able to land a 4-star and top 100 recruit in guard Ahmed Hill, an athletic JUCO forward in Shane Henry, a 7’0″ big man in Satchel Pierce, and keep two solid recruits from JJ in guards Justin Bibbs and Jalen Hudson. Plus, after sitting out last season, point guard Malik Muller from Germany will join the rotation and push Wilson for playing time at the point (or relieve him of all the minutes he racked up last year as a freshman — top 10 in the ACC) allowing Smith to play his more natural off-guard position on offense. Also, while unable to play this year, stud maryland transfer Seth Allen and south florida transfer Zach LeDay will help the team in practice and starting with the 2015-16 season.
But, any assessment here would be purely a guess. Until we see the Baby Birds under the bright lights of Cassell Coliseum we have no idea. Freshmen guards tend to struggle in this league (Wilson had an exceptional first year for a freshman point guard) and bigs tend to not be big enough to handle the physical play of some of the tougher ACC teams (i.e. the ACC teams from the Big East) or too slow to handle the skilled teams (read: the unc’s and duke’s of the conference).
This would be considered a soft out-of-conference schedule for a mid-major school. In fact, you’ll swear by mid-December that Tech joined the Big South Conference North Division (the Hokies play 4 teams from the South including more than half of the North Division). Virginia Tech’s out of conference opponents had a combined record of 161-225 last year. Only 2 (possibly 3 depending on the Cancun Challenge) teams are from Power 5 Conferences (penn state and wvu… maybe northwestern). Tech faces 3 teams that finished last in their conference (like Tech). Of the 13 out of conference games the Hokies will play, they will face just 4 teams that had a winning record last year with 2 of those teams within 100 miles (16-15 northern iowa, 22-13 radford, 22-13 vmi, and 17-16 wvu).
In ACC action the Hokies will face uva, fsu, and miami twice, and the other 12 teams once (including newcomer louisville and former VT signee Montrezl Harrell). uva won the ACC (ugh, that still hurts to type), fsu finished 9-9 and has never lost to VT at home in ACC play, and miami gave Tech both of their ACC wins last year, and almost a third. So it is a fairly balanced ACC schedule. Tech gets syracuse, notre dame, and duke at home, and the cuse and uva games are both on the weekend which should help with attendance (can’t remember the last time we actually played uva at home on a weekend). Ultimately, though, fans will likely take a wait and see approach before the turnstiles really start humming, especially with the soft out of conference schedule.
A perfect out of conference start is about as likely as the McRib being served at the Master’s Winners Dinner next year. In fact, forget wins and losses. JJ led Tech to a 7-0 start two seasons ago and we all saw where that led to. The story of this first season is about progress and growing a program, and our program is underground right now. This season is about planting the seeds (tough, aggressive defense; solid recruiting with 1-2 top 100 guys; not finishing dead last, or even tied for last in the league even though we will assuredly be picked to finish there; and hopefully advancing past Wednesday of the ACC Tournament). JJ had a plan but never stuck to it. You can blame injuries, depth, blah blah blah. The point is there was no progress. Buzz needs to do what we all expect him to do — put in his kind of system and ride it, no matter how brutal the results are at times. Obviously he needs to make adjustments to utilize his players’ strengths, but past regimes have said they wanted to play one way, you’d see it for a half, and suddenly it would be thrown on the junk heap. Ultimately, that should lead to progress as the season progresses. Anyone that thinks Tech will make the NCAAs this year is grasping. Heck, even the NIT has probably a 20% chance at best. But progress this season and some hope heading to next season will go a long way to soothe this suffering fan base (and hopefully result in increased attendance along the way).