ACC Team Previews: Virginia Tech HokiesPosted by EMann on October 18th, 2012
Throughout the preseason, the ACC microsite will release a preview for each of the 12 teams. Today’s victim: the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Virginia Tech finally escaped the the wrong side of the bubble last year… by coming nowhere near the bubble. The Hokies’ 2011-12 season was a massive disappointment, as the squad finished below .500 and 4-12 in the ACC. However, Virginia Tech was probably a better team than their record indicated. In ACC play (including the ACC Tournament), the team was 5-9 in games decided by five points or less, so it was clear that luck was not on their side. This season, more importantly, was the final nail in the coffin for Seth Greenberg, one of the ACC’s most vocal coaches. Greenberg was fired in April, not just due to his team’s inability to make the NCAA Tournament (only once in his tenure), but also due to his inability to retain assistant coaches and retain continuity in the program.
Before his firing, two members of Greenberg’s staff left during this offseason, and it was the second time in three years he had to replace multiple members of his coaching staff. Greenberg’s firing, which shocked the man himself, also made it very difficult for Virginia Tech to hire the best coach available in the coaching carousel and also drastically hurt their player retention/recruiting due to the strange timing of the move. New coach James Johnson was an assistant under Greenberg for five years before taking an assistant coaching job at Clemson. Johnson had held the position at Clemson for all of 2 1/2 weeks before the Virginia Tech job became vacant. Virginia Tech hopes that Johnson can help provide the continuity (and the urge for a more difficult non-conference schedule) that eluded Greenberg, while also building on Greenberg’s positive moves towards making Virginia Tech a viable threat to perennially contend towards Tournament bids, a difficult task for a coach at a school where football is certainly prioritized.
This is where Virginia Tech’s suddenly thin roster is apparent. Three-star forward Marcus Wood is the only scholarship freshman on the team, following the de-commitment of Montrezl Harrell (who later chose Louisville) in the wake of Greenberg’s firing. Wood should see immediate playing time as an athletic forward who can hopefully replace the role of the transferring Dorian Finney-Smith (they have nearly the same build, 6’8” and just under 200 lbs.). Virginia Tech also added a walk-on guard, Marcus Patrick, a high school teammate of Wood, who could compete for some bench minutes on this scant roster. Adam Smith, who transferred from UNC Wilmington, will sit out the 2012-13 season. Returnees
Virginia Tech welcomes back three of its starters, led by 2011-12 second-team All-ACC senior guard Erick Green. Green averaged 15.6 PPG and used the highest percentage of Virginia Tech’s possessions while also posting its highest offensive rating (per KenPom). The other returning starters are junior forward Jarrell Eddie and sophomore guard Robert Brown. Eddie is a very adept three-point shooter, finishing with a 44.3% percentage from beyond the arc, and he can also play both forward positions and shooting guard if necessary, though he will likely primarily play small forward this season. Brown was a bit more raw and erratic offensively, but his experience will help on a team with so few other returning players.
In the frontcourt, redshirt junior Cadarian Raines is the best returning player for Virginia Tech: the sophomore shot over 50% from the field and led the team in offensive rebounding percentage, and will likely start this season. CJ Barksdale also returns to add depth to the post. Virginia Tech loses Dorenzo Hudson, who was once third-team All-ACC, along with Victor Davila and transfer Dorian Finney-Smith.
With Virginia Tech’s failures to make the NCAA Tournament in recent years due in large part to their weak non-conference scheduling, the Hokies have tried to test their squad a bit more this season. While the schedule is not a bear, it features hosting Iowa (in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge), and Oklahoma State, while traveling to rival West Virginia and to Salt Lake City for a de facto road game against BYU. Also, the game against UNC-Greensboro in the Greensboro Coliseum could be a trap game if the Hokies are not careful. Virginia Tech is also playing in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic, where they will face Bradley and then possibly Colorado State. Winning more than half of those games would definitely exceed expectations for this thin squad.
In ACC play, Virginia Tech was fairly fortunate schedule-wise. The team only plays one of the Triangle favorites twice (Duke), although its sole contests against North Carolina and NC State are both on the road, making the chance of pulling off the miracle upset very slim. They also only play defending conference champion Florida State once, and at home. Home-and-homes against Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and archrival Virginia also provide good opportunities for victories.
James Johnson’s first season at the helm in Blacksburg will be a difficult one. With only eight scholarship players, Virginia Tech will really struggle to maintain a healthy and fresh squad through the grind of 18 conference games. Johnson, who wants to push the tempo a bit more than his predecessor (who played at the second slowest tempo in the ACC last season), may lack the personnel to do so this season. While the Hokies do have some talent returning in the form of Erick Green and Jarrell Eddie, the sudden losses of Virginia Tech’s best recruit (Harrell) and one of its starters (Finney-Smith) due to the coaching change will really hurt Virginia Tech in the short term. Look for Green to earn a spot on one of the all-ACC teams (despite the coaches not voting him there), just due in part to the volume statistics he will put up as by far Virginia Tech’s most reliable and efficient scorer. Virginia Tech’s ceiling is probably about 7-11 and slightly above .500 overall, considering its fairly weak league schedule, but 4-14 or 5-11 is probably more realistic (and around .500 overall) due to the lack of depth on the roster. Virginia Tech is not going to reach the NCAA Tournament this year, so the main things to watch this season are how well Johnson acclimates to coaching in the ACC, and whether his team can play a brand of more uptempo basketball while also remaining competitive.