Virginia Tech Basketball Preview by Niemo
News partner to The SportsDominion
Let’s skip right to my conclusion before I give the evidence. Gone are a lot of points (4,500, to be approximate) and leadership. With the extreme youth, inexperience, and lack of proven leadership on the 2007-08 Hokie team, anything over .500 is a successful season. With a minimum of 31 games on the slate, that means 16-15 is the over/under. A NIT trip this season is about the best VT can hope for.
Jamon Gordon? Gone. Zabian Dowdell? Adios. Coleman Collins? Thanks for the memories. Markus Sailes? Aloha means goodbye. Chris Tucker? See ya. Robern Krabbendam? Don’t let the door hit ya in the… Nigel Munson? We hardly knew you. Wave bye-bye to over 4500 points, 1500 rebounds, 1000 assists, and 500 steals.
That’s right, VT returns just four players who have played more than 40 minutes of Hokie basketball. That’s only one game’s worth!
Deron Washington will be the senior leader for this inexperienced bunch. This will be a complete 180 in terms of roles for the Human Highlight Film. He’s had Z and Jamon as leaders his first three years, while he could just do his thing — dunk, and dunk hard. Now Deron will be called upon to set an example for the baby Hokies.
Joining Deron as the only other upperclassmen that will see significant minutes are Juniors A.D. Vassallo and Cheick Diakite. Vassallo will go from being the best offensive threat off the bench, to VT’s 2nd option, if not first, on offense. Diakite will need to step up and consistently be the force he’s been in short bursts in the past.
Lewis Witcher also is back. The sophomore saw his minutes shrink with seemingly each game last season. He needs to build confidence early and earn ACC minutes.
Plain and simple, this is Virginia Tech’s best recruiting class in the last 20+ years, if not ever. Despite losing a four-star and a three-star recruit for various reasons, the Hokies bring in two Top 100 recruits (according to Rivals.com) and four Top 150 recruits out of the six new scholarship players. Note: Dorenzo Hudson, a SG, is not available until mid-December at the earliest.
Tech’s class is very balanced. The Hokies add two point guards (Hank Thorns and Malcolm Delaney), along with the aforementioned shooting guard, Hudson. Considering Tech does not have a single returning true guard from last year, expect to see a lot of these guys.
The Hokies also welcome Terrell Bell, whom VT hopes will be a Deron Washington clone. Terrell will play the wing (3) position once he returns from hernia surgery.
Inside, Tech attempts to replace Coleman Collins with Jeff Allen and J.T. Thompson. Allen is an undersized (height-wise), but very physical low-post player. Jeff already has an ACC body, as does Hudson. Jeff is the most heralded VT recruit in this class. Thompson is an inside-outside small forward who will have to earn playing time.
As was mentioned above, VT loses 4,500 points from last year’s players. Returning are only about 1500 points. The only knowns are Vassallo and Washington. Vassallo finished eighth in the ACC last year in three-point field goals made, shooting a very respectable 41.5 percent from outside the arc. He will be the Hokies’ main three-point threat. He also has a nice runner when he penetrates. A.D. finished fourth on the team last year, averaging 11.1 points per game on the season, and he averaged over 14 per game in the three-game Canadian series this September. His style compliments Deron well.
Deron finished second on the team last season with 12 points per game. He also hit the clutch winning shot against illinois. Expect him to be the Hokies’ main option on offense. Deron poured in 19 per game in Canada. D-Wash also has improved his three-point shooting, hitting double the number of threes (20) that he had hit in his previous two seasons combined. If he can shoot for a reasonable percentage from the outside, he will force defenders to come out on him and that will mean more SportsCenter top plays on dunks.
Where will the points come from other than Deron and A.D?
Expect to see the ball put in the hands of Malcolm Delaney a lot of the time. He is a guard that can drain the three or penetrate to either finish or dish. Hank Thorns will be a water bug on offense. He has lightning quickness and will look to get the Hokies running. Deron will have no trouble keeping up with him but we will see if Vassallo and the big men have the quickness to match.
Inside, Diakite has shown he has a nice move spinning towards the baseline with a short jumper that he can consistently hit. Witcher showed no real post moves last year. long with Allen, Lewis will need to hit the glass hard and get easy stick-backs. Jeff Allen figures to be a force on the boards and could save Hokie possessions. Allen has the best post moves of all the big men.
J.T. Thompson also figures to get minutes at forward. He does a good job of shooting the ball at full extension, making it hard to block. He can shoot inside or outside.
Expect the Hokies to run a lot. VT had the best turnover margin in the ACC last year, and the 5th lowest percentage of turnovers per offensive possession in the country. But that was due to veteran guard play. Tech likely cannot just line up and beat teams in a halfcourt set. They need to get easy buckets in transition and use their athleticism.
Also expect to see the Hokies throw up a lot more three-pointers. Tech was dead last in threes made and attempted by far in the ACC last year. But with Tech needing to find points this year, extra threes may be the answer. VT made about five 3’s a game on 13 attempts. Those numbers — at least attempts — should go way up.
Gone are the #2 and #3 players on VT’s all-time steals list (Gordon and Dowdell) who were the backbone of the #2 scoring defense in the ACC. But Deron will enter the top 10 this year. The Hokies were able to create extra possessions last year, thanks to those quick hands, finishing third in the ACC in steals. It remains to be seen if the newcomers will have the same quick hands, especially at guard. Don’t be surprised if the Hokies take lots of chances on defense, gambling for steals to get out in transition. It will be vital that Tech plays good help defense and rotate to the open man.
A full-court press will likely be in the cards in bursts, but don’t plan to see it a lot. With Tech wafer thin at the guard position, especially until Hudson joins the team, Tech can’t afford to tire or get cheap fouls on their guards.
Inside, VT has no one over 6′9″. Tech finished second to last in the ACC in rebounding margin. That will likely be an issue this year. The Hokies need to battle on the boards to get good position. Vassallo averaged over 10 rebounds per game in Canada and has shown he is sound fundamentally on the boards. That is key since he lacks quickness on defense. Allen may well lead this team in rebounds per game this season.
It will be interesting to see how head coach Seth Greenberg handles the D. Coaching defense is his best strength as a coach. He may well tinker with different things like zone, man, and full court presses to see what works best. Zone will subject VT to giving up offensive boards though.
I’d like to wow you with how this season will go, but there are too many unknowns. A team can win with youth in college basketball, but it isn’t easy. This team reminds me a lot of the 2003-04 team that went 15-14 and qualified for the Big East Tourney. Both teams had/have a senior scorer (Bryant Matthews -> Deron Washington) with lots of youth (Gordon, Dowdell, Collins -> see above). The 2003-04 team got better as the year went along, winning four of the final five regular season games.
The key this year will be finding points on offense. The returnees totaled less than 30 points per game last season. Greenberg can teach them D, but O is not his strength.
This year is all about gaining experience. Dowdell shot just 30% on threes as a freshman, but the game experience paid dividends down the line. The Hokies may take their lumps this year at times, but if they can keep their confidence, it could lead to future success.
Previous season mottos –
2006-07: Now or Never!
2005-06: If it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all
2004-05: Do you believe in miracles? Yes!
2003-04: So long Big Apple, hello tobacco road!
2002-03: The end of an era, the stokes era (thank God)
2001-02: Plenty of good seats still available!
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