ACC Preview: Virginia Tech’s Burning Question

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 22nd, 2014

Can Buzz Williams make Virginia Tech competitive quickly enough to fill the seats in Cassell Coliseum?

It’s no secret that Virginia Tech’s college basketball program is a distant second to its football program in Blacksburg. With that hurdle an annual one in terms of fan engagement, putting a subpar product on the floor has only further alienated whatever fan base the Hokies’ basketball team already had. While the team was modestly successful at times under Seth Greenberg, James Johnson’s two-year tenure was a complete disaster that kept fans away from the arena in droves. Last March new Athletic Director Whit Babcock made a splashy hire in hopes of changing the school and fans’ attitudes when he plucked rising star Buzz Williams away from Marquette. Williams took his Marquette teams to the NCAA Tournament five times in his six-year tenure, including three trips to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond. Williams has come into Blacksburg preaching toughness and attitude, putting together a “Boot Camp” aimed at toughening up his charges for the ACC gauntlet. While he reminded the nation that Virginia Tech actually has a basketball team while making a public relations tour during March Madness coverage, proving successful on the court in a competitive league will be a major challenge.

Buzz Williams hopes his enthusiasm helps reinvigorate a dormant Hokies fan base (credit: dailypress.com)

Buzz Williams hopes his enthusiasm helps reinvigorate a dormant Hokies fan base (credit: dailypress.com)

The Hokies return only four regulars from last year’s rotation, as a mass exodus of transfers and graduations greeted Williams at his new gig. The backcourt should be the team’s strength this year, with ACC all-freshman first team selection Devin Wilson returning to man the point. Adam Smith will likely man the other guard spot, and he will need to live up to his reputation as a lights-out long-distance shooter on a consistent basis. Malik Mueller is coming off of a redshirt campaign so there’s uncertainty there, but Williams did add to his backcourt depth by bringing signee Ahmed Hill along with him from Marquette. The immediate question mark for the Hokies will be in the frontcourt. Joey Van Zegeren will likely man the post after averaging career highs with 6.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game a year ago. After that, newcomers will be asked to play heavy minutes. Shane Henry, a junior college recruit from Georgia Perimeter College, needs to contribute immediately. Freshman Satchel Pierce, another Williams recruit at Marquette who followed his coach southeast, will also be counted on to help stabilize an uncertain frontcourt. Clearly there is far more unknown than known about the Hokies’ crop of big men, meaning this team will lean heavily on its backcourt early and often.

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Virginia Tech Earns Instant Credibility With Hire of Buzz Williams

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 25th, 2014

When Virginia Tech announced on Friday that it had poached head coach Buzz Williams from Marquette to replace the recently-fired James Johnson, the immediate reaction was that of general astonishment. Why on Earth would Williams leave a team he’d taken to the postseason in five out of six years on the bench to a program that had only reached the Big Dance once since 1996 and has finished last in the ACC three years running? While the reasons, thoroughly outlined here, became more apparent in the ensuing days, the real story is the amazing acquisition made by new Virginia Tech athletic director, Whit Babcock. The hiring of Williams and the way it managed to circle all of the major media outlets during the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play, gave the Hokies basketball program something it hasn’t experienced in years: instant credibility.

Buzz Williams Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA's (cbssports.com)

Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA Tournament (cbssports.com)

Williams oversaw a very successful Marquette program in the Big East, going an impressive 139-69 in his six years at the helm and taking the school to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight run. No doubt his ability to navigate a difficult conference schedule (prior to realignment) and enjoy postseason success was extremely attractive to a Hokies program just trying to get noticed. Williams obviously looked around the ravaged Big East — a conference that the ACC raided to bring in Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh — and saw a chance to jump to the premier basketball conference in the land to match wits with four Hall of Fame coaches in Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski. Some may have originally seen the move as a bizarre one (especially Williams’ pay cut from $3 million to $2.3 million annually) , but coupling the chance to compete in the new-look ACC with the uncertainty in the Marquette administration as well as the state of the weakened Big East, the decision began to make more sense.

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Oregon Basketball and The Season of New: Seniors that Surprise

Posted by Rockne Roll on December 26th, 2012

Welcome to Oregon Basketball and The Season of New, a weekly Pac-12 microsite column from Rockne Roll (@raroll). His column will focus on the various issues facing college basketball through the prism of the Oregon Ducks, a program ostensibly on the rise with top-notch facilities and coaching but still subject to many of the same problems suffered by many of the other high-major programs around the country. 

Christmas has come and probably gone by the time you read this, so instead of focusing on “the spirit of the season” and joy and all that, it’s time to discuss the real reason that Christmas is such a popular holiday: gifts. Everyone likes receiving gifts, and college basketball coaches are no exception. Quite a few coaches have been reveling in the gifts they received from Recruiting Claus way back in the offseason as their freshman prospects have blossomed into powerhouse college players. But gifts come in all shapes, sizes and amounts of remaining eligibility for coaches. As the season has unfolded, a number of seniors that were previously talented but not quite superstar players have emerged as unexpected studs that have propelled their teams to unexpected success.

Miles Plumlee Has Been a Gift to Duke Fans (AP Photo)

The most prominent example of this phenomenon nationally has been Mason Plumlee.  Notching just over 11 points and nine boards in last year’s campaign, the middle of the Plumlee brothers was expected to headline the Blue Devil’s frontcourt this year, but not to factor into the hunt for national honors nor was Duke seen as a serious national title contender. How times change: Plumlee now averages nearly 20 points per contest and is the leading scorer and rebounder for the best team in the country. “Mason Plumlee’s improvement in a year’s time is extraordinary,” Elon coach Matt Matheny told reporters after Plumlee scored 21 and notched 15 boards in Duke’s 76-54 win over the Phoenix at Cameron Indoor Stadium. “He has done a tremendously good job of developing into a really, really good college player.” “Really good” is an understatement here, as Plumlee has gone from potential All-American to the short list for the Naismith Award.

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ACC Team Previews: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted 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.

Johnson faces many challenges in his first year as a Division I head coach. (USA Today)

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.

Newcomers

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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