When the Virginia Tech Hokies opened last season, the hope was that the Hokies would climb out of the ACC cellar along with hopefully being around .500 with those hopes being lessened after a shocking season-opening loss to Alabama State. However, the Hokies slowly but steadily got better and better before they had their breakthrough.
The Hokies surged in ACC play and had their best season in years, finishing ACC play with a 10-8 conference record before winning an ACC Tournament game and losing to Miami in the quarterfinals. Then, the Hokies returned to postseason play in the NIT and beat Princeton before losing at BYU in the second round to finish the season with a 20-15 record.
Buzz Williams and his Virginia Tech rebuild is no ahead of schedule after Virginia Tech had a winning ACC record and made the NIT last season. Now, the Hokies and Hokie fans have their eyes set on returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 in a tough, elite ACC that has had talk of getting 10 or 11 teams in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Over the offseason, there was some talk of Buzz Williams leaving with schools near his Texas roots like Oklahoma State and TCU opening up but Williams seemed to never have that much interest and chose to stay in Blacksburg. Now, the Hokies enter the third year of the Buzz Williams era with their best team in years.
For the Hokies, it starts with last year’s breakout star Zach LeDay who will once again be very important with Virginia Tech’s frontcourt somewhat banged up. LeDay did it all for the Hokies from scoring in the paint and on the outside with 15.5 points per game and shooting 35.6% from beyond the arc to crashing the boards averaging 7.9 rebounds per game plus being a quality shot blocker averaging 1.7 blocks per game.
LeDay returns as one of the top players in the ACC and while he may be undersized for a big man at a listed height of 6’7”, LeDay is one tough player to contain similar to former Colorado big man Andre Roberson who was undersized but a double-double machine. LeDay enters this season no longer under-the-radar and ready to help lead the Hokies back to the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Seth Allen was somewhat of a disappointment at times last year as he only averaged 14.7 points per game, shot under 40% from the field, and only made 28% of his three-pointers. However, Allen played a lot better as the season went along as he was more aggressive in getting to the rim to draw fouls, get easy buckets, or even get some three-point plays as Allen had nine-straight games with double-digit points to end the season.
If Allen can improve his shooting, the senior point guard could take Virginia Tech to even greater heights than what people could imagine previously. Allen may also get to play more without the ball and not running the offense after Justin Robinson proved to be a plenty capable ball distributor and Virginia Tech’s best pure point guard. While Robinson isn’t a great shooter, he also knows how to get the rim and produce whether it be with a layup or dishing it to an open teammate.
On the wing, Virginia Tech has a lot of different, versatile players and it starts with Justin Bibbs who is one of the top returning three-point shooters in America after shooting 45% from beyond the arc while averaging 11.7 points per game. Bibbs got off to an extremely fast start last season and proved to be someone that could never be left open as Bibbs seemed to hit a high majority of his open threes.
Bibbs did start to receive more attention as the season went along but one thing that will help him is the return of Ahmed Hill along with Ty Outlaw making his debut after having to redshirt due to a medical condition last year. Hill wasn’t bad as a freshman averaging 8.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game while shooting a solid 38.6% from beyond the arc along with being the best defender on the team during that season.
Hill should definitely help Virginia Tech’s offense even more as a solid scorer and great defensive player while Ty Outlaw enters the season as an unknown after being a top JUCO recruit. Outlaw projects to at worst be a solid wing player off the bench, but Outlaw could also be the next breakthrough JUCO guy similar to what Buzz Williams had with guys like Jimmy Butler at Marquette.
Chris Clarke returned late last season and was solid for the few games he returned for but now had a full offseason to heal up and prepare for this season. Clarke and LeDay will likely both be used at the 5 in smaller lineups for the Hokies while Clarke regularly will be used at the 4 with Buzz Williams liking to go small and Clarke being a more physical wing that is a quality rebounder.
Clarke averaged 8.4 points and 6.0 rebounds per game last season and will be a big part of the rebounding for a Virginia Tech team that doesn’t know how long Kerry Blackshear will be out for. Clarke did struggled as a shooter and if he can develop a scoring game beyond right around the rim, Clarke has the potential to be one of the biggest breakout players of anyone in the ACC.
The concern for the Hokies does come in the post as Virginia Tech’s only returning big man over 6’7” that played significant minutes last season, Kerry Blackshear. While LeDay and Clarke are quality rebounders and capable in the post, it will become an issue to not have a true big man like Blackshear in the post for at least a couple months unless someone steps up.
For the Hokies, they will look to senior Johnny Hamilton and freshman Khadim Sy. Hamilton played very limited minutes last year but while he was offensively limited, Hamilton showed a lot of potential as a big man. Meanwhile, Sy is an unknown as the one freshman that may have a decent-sized role this season in large part because of the Blackshear injury.
Teams will likely look to test Hamilton and Sy to see if they can handle some of the big men that quality teams like Michigan, New Mexico, Ole Miss, and other major programs will throw at them in non-conference play.
Meanwhile, the Hokies really could use a healthy Blackshear by ACC play and while Blackshear wasn’t great last year, he showed lots of promise with some shooting range along with averaging 4.5 rebounds in under 20 minutes per game while the surgery on his foot should help his mobility and his post play given the greater power he’ll be able to have with being able to fully post up off both feet.
Looking ahead to the season, the expectations for Virginia Tech have to be an appearance in the NCAA Tournament as this team is coming off a 10-8 ACC record with Jalen Hudson being the biggest departure from that team. Virginia Tech also has an easy non-conference schedule in which they should lost no more than three games which may even be a stretch.
Virginia Tech will face a loaded ACC but the Hokies proved capable of competing with the best in the conference and right now, I predict that the Hokies will finish around eighth or ninth in the ACC with no worse than a 9-9 conference record. With the numerous talented ACC teams, that should be plenty to get the Hokies in the ACC Tournament while I would also expect Virginia Tech to lose only 2-3 non-conference games while avoiding a shock Alabama State-esque upset.
The Buzz Williams rebuild is ahead of schedule and basically complete as the Hokies now have their sights on making the NCAA Tournament. What makes this even more exciting is the fact that anything short of the NCAA Tournament will likely feel like a disappointment.
That is a great signal that the rebuild is over, and Virginia Tech is on the brink of a golden era of men’s basketball.
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