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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ACC Big Men Have Bright Futures: Will Their Teams Follow?

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 22nd, 2014

It is often bandied about that guards win games (along with defense) because they have the ball in their hands most often and thus affect the action more than other positions. While this is certainly a valid viewpoint, interior post players can often mean the difference between a championship team or a bubble team. The popular mindset is that big men take longer to develop in the college ranks because of the learning curve required to manage their combination of power, size and dexterity. Most post players come to the Division I ranks with a limited post game but raw with athleticism and length, prized characteristics that NBA GMs in every professional franchise covet.

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

Kennedy Meeks is a handful in the paint (USA TODAY Sports)

The ACC this season is rich in young frontcourt talent that is likely to stay for more than a year in the collegiate ranks. North Carolina is a great example of the conference’s youthful exuberance in the post, sporting a terrific breadth of versatility in that regard. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson are the tip of the iceberg, both terrific rebounders with vastly different approaches.  At 290 pounds, Meeks is a strong and sturdy freshman who isn’t a terrific leaper but uses his body and angles to score and rebound the offensive glass very well. He also possesses one of the nation’s best outlet passes, a perfect conduit for guards Nate Britt and Marcus Paige to start Roy Williams’ break. Johnson, on the other hand, is a long beanpole of a forward who has had a breakout sophomore year for the Tar Heels, ranking fourth in ACC field goal percentage at 54.5%. UNC’s frontcourt depth doesn’t completely end there, though, as the Heels also have 6’10”, 280-pound sophommore Joel James, who is a load in the paint but hasn’t found consistent playing time this season. Freshman Isaiah Hicks too has a bright future ahead of him at UNC; the McDonald’s All-American recorded seven blocks and pulled down an insane 30 rebounds in his state’s high school championship game last year. But the ACC’s young frontcourt brigade of talent doesn’t end in Chapel Hill.

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ACC Team Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 25th, 2013

It’s difficult to argue that a coach with the eventual Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year on his roster was dealt a difficult hand, but that’s exactly what James Johnson was given in his first season at Virginia Tech last year. Johnson’s team, following the dismissal of long-tenured coach Seth Greenberg, operated most of the season with only eight scholarship players (and at times as few as six), making it difficult for the Hokies to employ his favored full-court pressure and trapping defenses. It also made for a very taxing season on his players overall, with very little depth to turn to and no consistent offense outside of the POY award-winning Erick Green. Green has departed for the greener pastures of the NBA, which leaves the Hokies in a transitional year as Johnson attempts to mold the team in his image in his second term.

Virginia Tech Preview 2013

Virginia Tech didn’t lose much outside of Green (their only other significant departure was the transfer of guard Robert Brown to UAB), but as stated above, the team certainly stood to gain quite a bit from an influx of new faces. While Johnson’s recruiting class this season is dominated by lightly-regarded players (at least by most scouting services), they will all be thrown into the cauldron early as the Hokies experiment with lineups and combinations. Combo guard Ben Emelogu, recently named captain of the team despite being a freshman, is characterized by Johnson as someone who can slash and jump-start the offense. Guard Adam Smith, a transfer from UNC-Wilmington, sat out the requisite season last year, but posted solid numbers in his freshman campaign in the Colonial Athletic Association (13.7 points per game, the top freshman scorer in the conference). Smith also has the benefit of familiarity with ACC competition, having notched 32 points against Wake Forest and 23 against Maryland in non-conference action two seasons ago. Freshman Devin Wilson also should see some minutes at the point as the Hokies try to rebuild their guard ranks.

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ACC M5: 12.18.12 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on December 18th, 2012

morning5_ACC

  1. News & Observer: Everyone agrees that Duke is the best basketball team in the nation. As silly as the rankings in the media and coaches poll can be, for many schools, a place at the top of one of these lists is a rare feather in the cap. Yet in Durham, the top of the polls isn’t anything worth getting excited about, a reasonable stance when a team has topped the polls so frequently. Of all the numbers that speak to Duke’s dominance in this area, I think this is the most stunning: During Mike Krzyzewski’s tenure, Duke has played more games as the top-ranked team than they have as an unranked team. That is nothing short of incredible.
  2. CBS Sports: In more numbers-related news, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim achieved his 900th win last night against Detroit. Boeheim is in rarefied air, and it seems very likely that the Orange coach will easily retire with the second spot in all-time career wins (Krzyzeski is all but uncatchable at this point). Boeheim, with his incredible win total (and win percentage!), is one of the true living legends of the college basketball world. It’s worth taking a moment to realize what a big deal it is that this man is going to be coaching in the ACC next season and beyond.
  3. Washington Post: A short Virginia Tech rotation just got even shorter. Freshman Marshall Wood has broken a bone in his left foot and will be out indefinitely. Wood was in the midst of a fairly successful opening campaign of his college career, playing 18 minutes a game off the bench, and serving as the third big man in the Hokies’ frontcourt rotation. While fellow freshman Joey van Zegeren has seen some playing time at this spot, his propensity for fouling may mean that Virginia Tech embraces a smaller line-up with swingman Jarell Eddie seeing some time at power forward like he did last year.
  4. Wilmington Star News: Speaking of impressive freshmen campaigns, it’s time to talk about T.J. Warren‘s impressive start for NC State. Garnering a second ACC Rookie of the Week nod, Warren has barely missed since the beginning of his time with the Wolfpack. Shooting 69.1% from the field, he’s easily been the most accurate player in the conference as well as posting the third best field goal percentage nationally. While it’s unlikely that Warren will continue to shoot the ball at such a torrid pace, right now it’s amazing to watch a forward shoot from all over the court and never expect to miss.
  5. Blogger So Dear: Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman recently tried to address the dismal state of Demon Deacons basketball. While Wellman’s defense of coach Jeff Bzdelik reflects admirable loyalty, it also underscores the main issue that has been bothering many Wake Forest fans: It doesn’t seem like anyone employed at the university sees what is so obviously happening to what was once one of the best basketball programs in the nation. Martin Rickman does a great job breaking down the complete failure of leadership in Winston-Salem.
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