ACC Team Previews: Virginia TechPosted by KCarpenter on October 31st, 2011
For what it’s worth, I think Virginia Tech should have made the NCAA Tournament last season. I have a hard time believing that this team was worse than Villanova, Marquette, or Missouri, to name a few of the other power conference teams that got the bubble nod while Virginia Tech was overlooked once again. I understand the case for those teams, but believe me when I say that last year’s Hokies were a tough, resilient team stocked with great players. Malcolm Delaney was a great basketball talent and his fellow seniors, Jeff Allen and Terrell Bell were all excellent starters for Seth Greenberg. Despite all the injuries that this team suffered, his core held strong and led Virginia Tech to repeatedly strong conference showings. These guys are now gone and a new era of basketball in Blacksburg begins.
A few holdovers remain, though, and that continuity will be important for what promises to be a relatively inexperienced team. Starters Erick Green, along with seniors Dorenzo Hudson and Victor Davila will have to be strong leaders on a team that is in transition. Despite the graduation of the legendary senior class, the transfer of the surprising Hokies’ leader in offensive efficiency, Manny Atkins, and the loss of Alan Chaney because of concerns about the promising big man’s heart condition, there is a real case to be made that Virginia Tech is gaining more than it’s losing. With contributors like Hudson and J. T. Thompson returning from injury, VT is regaining a guy who averaged 15.2 points per game and once scored 41 against a hapless Seton Hall team as their sixth man. As big as that will be for the Hokies in 2011-12, the real story for this team is its freshman class.
Seth Greenberg brought in a new player at every position, headlined by Dorian Finney-Smith, a versatile small forward and the highest ranked recruit to ever attend Virginia Tech. An intriguing playmaker in the quasi-point forward vein, Finney-Smith was the only player to not score in an intrasquad scrimmage, not even bothering to attempt a shot. At the power forward and shooting guard positions, Greenberg has added two other four-star recruits with C.J. Barksdale and Robert Brown. Barksdale and Brown both attended Hargrave Military Academy and bring with them their point guard, the speedy though currently injured, Marquis Rankin. Rounding out the class is Johan Van Zegreen, a raw but tall center. Between the highest rated recruit to ever come to Blacksburg, three very skilled teammates who have already developed chemistry, and some frontcourt size that the Hokies simply didn’t have last year, it’s easy to understand the excitement around this incoming class.
Still, since it’s so hard to gauge the impact that these freshmen will have playing at a more challenging level, I think the fortunes of Virginia Tech rest in the capable hands of Green. Inserted into the starting lineup last season due to injuries, Green was the backcourt partner to Delaney, but certainly didn’t play like a junior partner. A capable scorer and ballhandler, Green carried more than his fair share of the load for the shorthanded Hokies. While he shot too many threes last season (24.8% on 105 attempts), the junior showed a nice arsenal of offensive moves. Greenberg seems ready to hand the reins of the team over to Green, moving him to the point guard position and helping him prepare for an increased leadership role on the team. Still, he disagrees with the idea that he will be taking over the role that Delaney played on last year’s team: “I think we won’t rely on just one or two people to score the ball. The ball will be shared and I just think we’ll play so much harder because we really want to get after it this year.”
He brings up a strong point. While the Hokies were reduced to playing only seven players during the ACC Tournament, this year’s team should have no shortage of capable, well-rounded rotation players. With added scorers and playmakers, the team will have more options than last year’s squad that leaned so heavily on Delaney and Allen. Equally important, a team that was often too-short last year will have significant height in the frontcourt, an important factor when the team will be matching up with the size at ACC schools like Duke, North Carolina, and Florida State. While the tallest player who saw real minutes last year was 6’8″, the freshman frontcourt class is all the same size or bigger. Maybe more important is the return of Cadarian Raines, the 6’9″, 240-pound forward who sat out all of last year with an injury. Raines brings not just height but bulk and strength to a frontcourt that, while taller, still seems a bit willowy. If Raines can stay healthy and improves his play, he will be a key piece for the Hokies this season.
Undeniably, this year’s Virginia Tech squad has a lot of promise and potential. Still, potential and promise don’t win games, and on a team that has made an annual tradition of having its bubble burst on Selection Sunday, it probably isn’t encouraging that I see this team right on the bubble again. If the freshmen can perform, if last year’s injured players perform well, and if Green proves a satisfactory answer at the point guard position, the team should have no problem making the Tournament. Of course, it’s probably clear that this scenario involves a lot of things going just right for Virginia Tech, and catching lucky breaks hasn’t exactly been the Hokies’ strong suit in recent years. While Greenberg has scheduled a more challenging slate of games than in the past few seasons, it’s hard to say how good those games will look in March. Minnesota, Oklahoma State and Kansas State all figure to be decent teams, but none of these teams are picked for much more than middling conference finishes. Likewise, a BYU matchup doesn’t have the luster it once had now that the Jimmer era has ended. It feels like Greenberg is putting a lot of stock into meeting and defeating Syracuse in Madison Square Garden in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off. That’s a mighty tall order. Still, an otherwise fairly soft non-conference schedule is balanced by one of the tougher ACC schedules that features two games each against Duke and Florida State. The Hokies catch one lucky break by playing only one game against North Carolina and it will occur in Blacksburg.
While winning any of these games could help VT finally make the Big Dance, there seems to be many opportunities for the team to drop games against mediocre squads; the exact thing that always seems to hurt Virginia Tech on Selection Sunday. I’d like to say that I see this team partaking in the Madness, but I can’t help but see the Hokies where they always seem to be: a fifth place conference finish and a restless Seth Greenberg sweating bullets on that fateful Sunday.