ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Matt Patton on November 7th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Are the Hokies tall enough?

In some ways Virginia Tech was something of a surprise last season, but success in Blacksburg was always a matter of when, not if, for a head coaching talent like Buzz Williams. This year’s squad sounds hungry for even greater success — hoping to make school history by making back-to-back NCAA Tournaments — but the Hokies’ roster, to put it bluntly, is vertically challenged. After Khadim Sy withdrew from school during the offseason, only one player in the primary rotation will be over 6’6″, and that player, sophomore Kerry Blackshear, is coming off a medical redshirt season. Blackshear is a capable offensive rebounder (10.2%), but he will need to take a much bigger role in the post than he did two years ago. The only other clear post players on the team are Division II transfer Nick Fullard (who averaged less than five points a game at Belmont Abbey) and consensus three-star recruit PJ Horne (who stands only 6’6″). Williams will need Fullard and Horne to play significant productive minutes per game this season or his team will just have to play really small. That’s a ton to ask from two men playing their first season of Division I basketball, and in the ACC, no less. Alternatively, look for Williams to play to his strengths and try several all-guard lineups to force various mismatches.

Chris Clarke’s health will have a lot to do with Virginia Tech’s success this season. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

In much better news, junior wing Chris Clarke looks to be Virginia Tech’s most important player this season. Although he stands only 6’6″, he was last year’s best defensive rebounder at 22.6 percent (108th nationally). But he’s coming off a torn ACL, so it is as of yet unclear if he will be ready for the heavy minutes that Williams will almost definitely need him to play. In addition to rebounding, Clarke did a good job scoring efficiently last season, and he should be considered a major breakout candidate in the ACC this season if fully healthy. The Hokies’ other returning guards look excellent too. Justin Robinson averaged double-figures last season while former starters Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs both also proved efficient offensive players (admittedly on limited possessions). Add top-50 recruit Nickell Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede (consensus four-star prospect) to the mix and there’s a lot of young talent in the wings. Alexander-Walker especially should be able to help this team right away.

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ACC M5: 10.17.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 17th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. North Carolina on Friday night held its annual ‘Late Night With Roy’ event to tip off the new season. After the usual light-hearted fare featuring various dance, skits and skills contests, the Tar Heels conducted a scrimmage that needed overtime to settle the outcome. Earlier last week, Roy Williams hosted a preseason media day where the main topic of interest was how the team will adjust to the losses of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. Williams described the situation as such: “Because it’s not two out of eight. It’s your two best. Markedly, maybe you could say your two best in every part of the game. It’s not just a numbers game.” The good news is that there is plenty of experienced talent still on hand with three seniors and three juniors comprising the expected top six players in Williams’ rotation. In fact, there are only 16 McDonald’s All Americans from the 2013 and 2014 classes still playing college basketball, and five of those will be suiting up in Carolina blue and white this season.
  2. Louisville also recently conducted its preseason media day and Rick Pitino seems to be very excited about his group this year. He’s expecting a lot of improvement from his sophomore class and is also happy with his team’s depth — particularly along a front line where as many as seven players may see regular minutes. We found it interesting that Pitino said the Cardinals may need to stray from their typical defensive zone trapping pressure game. Rather, he claims that this year’s team will play about 95 percent man-to-man defense because of their relative inexperience. What we find odd is that last year’s group — which finished second in  KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings — had relatively the same level of experience and were able to execute Pitino’s multiple defensive looks just fine. Considering his track record in teaching defense, we will naturally trust the head coach to make the right call. After all, he has coached eight top-five defenses in the last nine years.
  3. It was throwback night in Tallahassee last weekend when Florida State held its annual tip-off event known as ‘Jam with Ham’ on October 7. The festivities were conducted in Tully Gym on campus, the Seminoles’ home court until 1981. Leonard Hamilton hopes some of the residual magic from that building — the 1972 NCAA runner-up Seminoles called it home — rubs off on this year’s version. Highly-touted freshman Jonathan Isaac flashed his talent and versatility in the scrimmage, and this may be Hamilton’s deepest team in years. The Seminoles are expected to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2012.
  4. Most of the talk during N.C. State’s recent media day concerned the Wolfpack’s two most highly-rated newcomers, point guard Dennis Smith and Turkish center Omer Yurtseven. Mark Gottfried is plenty impressed with Smith, calling him “the best guard in the country, period, hands down.” As for Yurtseven, there’s no timetable for when the NCAA will rule on the big man’s eligibility but his availability may be more crucial than first contemplated because of the status of the Wolfpack’s two senior big guys. Gottfried said that he plans to redshirt Lennard Freeman so that he can fully recover from a lower leg injury. The coach also said that Beejay Anya weighed 344 pounds just a few short weeks ago, making it unlikely that he would be in condition for major minutes from the outset.
  5. On October 1 we learned that Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear was not going to be ready when the Hokies started practice because of offseason foot surgery. Last week, head coach Buzz Williams announced that the sophomore big man may in fact miss the entire season. This development would be a big blow to the Hokies’ frontcourt, leaving them short on depth and height in the paint. Williams often played small-ball last season as Virginia Tech closed strong in conference play (winning its last five ACC games), using 6’7″ Zach LeDay and 6’6″ Chris Clarke in the post. But the 6’10” Blackshear also got plenty of minutes when the Hokies needed a tall body on the floor to combat the ACC’s top post men. If he can’t play, then Williams will need 6’10” freshman Khadim Sy to grow up fast.
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ACC Preview: Virginia Tech’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 20th, 2015

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

Burning Question: How close are the Hokies to becoming ACC contenders?

In just two offseasons, Buzz Williams has almost completely turned over the entire Virginia Tech roster. Junior guard Devin Wilson is the only scholarship holdover from the previous regime, as Williams has more or less weeded out all the players who he felt didn’t share his goals for the program. He has replaced them with a mixture of talented freshmen and transfers, as seven newcomers join the Hokies this season. And while the talent level has certainly improved in Williams’ second campaign in Blacksburg, it may still be asking too much of the fiery coach to blend his players into an ACC contender just yet.

Buzz Williams continues to clean house as he turns around Virginia Tech's basketball program. (Michael Shrayer - USA TODAY Sports)

Buzz Williams continues to clean house as he turns around Virginia Tech’s basketball program. (Photo by Michael Shrayer – USA TODAY Sports)

With an undersized group, Virginia Tech had to rely on three-point shooting as its primary offensive weapon last season, shooting an outstanding 38.9 percent from distance as a team. However, two of their four deep shooting threats, Adam Smith (81 three-pointers made) and Malik Mueller (41 threes) have transferred out of the program, while another, Ahmed Hill (32 threes) may miss most, if not all, of the season due to injury. Hill was part of a solid threesome of freshmen wings who joined the program last year. Another, Justin Bibbs, was the team’s leading scorer in the season’s first two months before suffering a concussion in January that led to both missed games and decreased production. Jalen Hudson, the low scorer of the trio, notched several inspired late season performances that offered evidence that he may possess more potential than any other Hokie on the roster. In Virginia Tech’s February overtime home loss to eventual national champion Duke, Hudson finished with 23 points and six boards for the contest. He would top that output in his team’s ACC Tournament first round win over Wake Forest, exploding on the Demon Deacons for 32 points.

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