ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on October 31st, 2016

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Is the ahead-of-schedule rebuild under Buzz Williams ready to land the Hokies in the NCAA Tournament?

On the surface, the decision was a rather head-scratching one. In fleeing a program that was humming along – a regular NCAA Tournament participant at a basketball-first university — Buzz Williams’ move to Virginia Tech in 2014 surprised a lot of people. But much like Marquette had done a decade ago, Buzz Williams bet on Buzz Williams. As he now enters year three of his reclamation project in Blacksburg with the team eyeing its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2007, the rebuild appears far ahead of schedule.

Williams' rebuilding project is way ahead of schedule, as he enters his third season in Blacksburg.(Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Williams’ rebuilding project is way ahead of schedule entering his third season in Blacksburg. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

With mostly holdovers from the 22-win James Johnson era over two seasons, Williams’ first group of Hokies limped to an 11-22 campaign in 2014-15. After a similarly modest start to last season, Virginia Tech began to slowly take on the hard-nosed, grinding style that Williams’ squads trademarked in the Big East. In ripping off five consecutive victories to close out ACC play, the Hokies finished at 10-8 before giving Miami a run for its money in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. Now rated 39th this preseason by KenPom, Williams’ squad appears to be on the cusp of entry to the Big Dance.

The arrival of junior transfers Zach LeDay and Seth Allen a year ago provided Williams with a lethal inside-outside combination of experienced players that assuredly sped up the process. LeDay, formerly of South Florida, led Virginia Tech in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots while showing versatility to play both inside and out. His all-around game has drawn comparisons to former Marquette standout Jae Crowder. Allen, a combo guard who departed Maryland after the recruitment of Melo Trimble, found a new, more inviting home in Blacksburg, where he averaged nearly 15 points per game last year. And while Allen struggled with turnovers at times last season, Williams’ confidence in him never wavered. That faith was rewarded down the stretch when Allen dropped a total of 51 points in the Hokies’ ACC Tournament tilts. Undersized but built in the mold of another former Marquette star, Dominic James, the southpaw will need to figure out how to take better care of the ball without compromising his attacking, fearless nature.Junior marksman Justin Bibbs also returns after starting 34 games last season on the wing. The team leader in minutes played, Bibbs ranked 30th nationally in drilling 45 percent of his three-point attempts en route to scoring roughly 12 points per night.

To buttress what should be one of the highest-scoring trios in the ACC will be a triumvirate of sophomores who excelled in limited opportunities last season. Chris Clarke managed over eight points and six boards per game while averaging fewer than 22 minutes per contest. Justin Robinson, the team leader in assists, proved capable in spelling Allen and allowed for occasionally moving the gifted scorer off the ball. Agile forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. made nearly 60 percent of his two-point attempts in averaging 6.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in fewer than 20 minutes per game. A former four-star recruit, Blackshear is still recovering from offseason foot surgery to repair an injury that plagued him for much of last year. His threat on the interior will be critical in opening up the floor for the rest of the roster. Williams also welcomes back sophomore Ahmed Hill, who sat out last season with knee injury. At 6’5” and a capable shooter from beyond the arc (39% two seasons ago), Hill adds another threat to an already talented corps of perimeter players.

Despite all of the returning talent in Blacksburg, the star of the show remains Williams. His teams have an unmistakable look and feel to them as rugged, connected units that don’t beat themselves. Those are the obvious hallmarks, of course, but on some level these apt descriptions undersell his corresponding ability as an in-game tactician and developer of raw talent. Crowder, Jimmy Butler and Wesley Matthews are prime examples. None were highly recruited coming out of high school, but all grew into elite collegians and have subsequently matured into players who have far exceeded expectations at the professional level.

For a football school like Virginia Tech to entice a young coach of Williams’ skill and stature was a major coup for the Hokies’ administration. But even the most ardent of Williams’ admirers would have been hesitant to presume he would get things turned around so quickly in Blacksburg. Stunningly, the future could already be now at Virginia Tech.

Matthew Auerbach (24 Posts)


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