After a roller coaster of a 2022-23 that saw Virginia Tech men's basketball start out well before injuries began their derailment on their way to the NIT, the Hokies enter this offseason looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament after missing it for the first contested time since 2016. The Hokies are expected to return plenty of talented players headlined by the young backcourt trio of Sean Pedulla, MJ Collins, and Rodney Rice, but there are also plenty of questions heading into this offseason.
Here's a look at my three biggest questions for the Hokies entering this offseason.
1. Will Hunter Cattoor and Grant Basile Return For Their COVID Years?
The biggest question to ask for the Hokies is whether All-ACC Honorable Mention big Grant Basile and 2022 ACC Tournament MVP Hunter Cattoor will use their COVID years and return to Virginia Tech.
Basile seems likely to return after a solid debut season in Blacksburg emerging as Tech's best scoring threat as a stretch 5 who had finesse around the rim and shot making from three-point range averaging 16.1 points while shooting 39% from deep. He was inconsistent on the defensive end though he did have some great moments that show he does have some upside.
Losing Basile would definitely take away some of Tech's potential spacing for next season that has proven valuable for a Mike Young offense though they have quality backup centers led by Lynn Kidd who could step up. Kidd may not be able to stretch the floor like Basile, but he has proven to be a well-rounded post player who could be a 10 and 8 guy as a starter. However, Basile seems very likely to be back and hasn't really hinted at thinking about turning pro or going elsewhere at least not yet.
Hunter Cattoor is the bigger question as he did walk on Senior Night though plenty of players have walked on Senior Night and ended up choosing to use their COVID years in the end. Cattoor could also benefit from another year in college to develop his game further and likely make more via NIL than beginning his professional career. In some ways, Cattoor may be wise to do what Justyn Mutts did and go through the process to get feedback from pro scouts before returning to VT in the end.
Cattoor was Tech's best three-point shooter and defensive player in the backcourt this year with Tech's offense hurting for spacing due to the lack of the Cattoor threat when he was out due to injury. Having a healthy Rodney Rice for a full year plus MJ Collins shooting better and a year older Sean Pedulla should help if Cattoor doesn't return, but there's no doubt that losing Cattoor would be a loss at least going into the season for what Tech has offensively from deep. Cattoor also is Tech's best defensive backcourt player which is where a return from him may be even more valuable for the 2023-24 team.
Tech is looking at bigger wings in the portal already but if Cattoor does not return, Tech would be wise to focus on a NBA-style 3 and D wing to replace Cattoor and pair with Pedulla, Rice, and Collins in Tech's 2023-24 backcourt. Losing Cattoor would be a significant loss, but there are solid portal options to offset. Also, having their young group of guards being healthy and a year older will also help. Having Cattoor back would be another boost for a team that definitely has the upside to bounce back and make the 2024 NCAA Tournament.
2. How Will VT Replace Justyn Mutts?
The one clear need that the Hokies have in their lineup is to find a new power forward to replace Justyn Mutts.
Tech could go big with Grant Basile at the 4 and Lynn Kidd at the 5 as we saw at times this past given Basile's ability to stretch the floor though that would likely cause some defensive challenges as both Basile and Kidd are more natural 5s defensively. John Camden is an internal candidate who could fit and had some glimpses of promise but likely could use a year in a rotational role before shifting to the 4 while another potential replacement Darren Buchanan Jr has entered the transfer portal.
Tech would likely be best off turning to the transfer portal for a true power forward with all signs pointing to them doing just that.
One of the biggest targets to watch for that role is UNC transfer Tyler Nickel. The Elkton, VA native was a top 100 recruit who chose the Tar Heels over the Hokies and showed promise in the limited minutes he did receive in Chapel Hill in his only season there. Nickel has shown plenty of offensive versatility and can stretch the floor which would fit well in a Tech offense that values having good spacing. He also has 3 years remaining and can be a cornerstone piece of the next generation for the Hokies in addition to being a 20-30 minute starter next season if he chose Tech.
Nickel is far from the only option that the Hokies have or have shown interest in so far.
Texas Tech PF Robert Jennings is an intriguing younger option like Nickel while Merrimack standout forward Ziggy Reid is a talented veteran option who could be a solid starter for a year as a bridge to a John Camden or even a portal guy like Nickel or Jennings if one of them and Reid joined with Reid winning the job. Harvard forward Chris Ledlum is also another possibility as a one-year rental with Tech having a Harvard connection via former Harvard player and assistant Christian Webster.
There's plenty of directions Tech may go for their Justyn Mutts replacement, but the one thing that does seem certain is that the replacement for Mutts isn't on the current roster.
3. Will Any VT Assistants Leave for Head Coaching Jobs?
There have been plenty of rumors linking current Virginia Tech assistants to head coaching openings across the Division I landscape. Mike Young has lots of respect across the industry and his coaching tree is also a pretty good one with guys like Mike Boynton and Dustin Kerns among many others.
So will the Hokies have any assistants heading for new jobs?
Well the biggest talk was around Kevin Giltner and the opening at Wofford. Giltner looked like a leading candidate but after a long, winding search; the Terriers ended up simply promoting interim head coach Dwight Perry. With Wofford filled, Giltner seems very likely to be back and not a head coach elsewhere though a good HC gig in the SoCon or Big South that opens from the coaching carousel domino effect could possibly change things.
Christian Webster has been linked to the opening at American along with rumored as a possible candidate at William & Mary if thay job opens per Twitter insiders. Given his DMV ties and Harvard background, both of those jobs would seem like good fits though W&M isn't open and American has gone quiet so a Webster return for now seems very likely instead of a head coach job elsewhere.
He's also been linked to the George Mason opening which given those DMV ties would have the potential to be a very good fit. He would be a similar hire to their previous head coach Kim English as a young, rising major conference assistant.
Mike Jones was linked with Georgetown if they missed on some top candidates given his DMV roots and his great success at DeMatha. While he won't be headed there, the coaching carousel domino effect has created an interesting opening at George Mason where he has already been rumored with job along with Maryland assistant Tony Skinn and UVA assistant Jason Williford.
The Mason job would make a lot of sense for Jones in terms of fit though we'll see what direction they choose to go.
Jones has also been linked to Old Dominion by prominent Roanoke radio host Greg Roberts and others if that job were to open given that he's an alum. However, current head coach Jeff Jones is reportedly planning to return for another season instead of retirement at this point though things can always change.
There's also plenty of dominoes that could create more openings where Tech assistant coaches could be of interest. For example, if Mike Rhoades leaves VCU for a Penn State, Mike Jones would make a lot of sense as a potential candidate for that job. What if Howard's Kenny Blakeney lands a higher-level job? Christian Webster would make a lot of sense given his DMV roots and his background at elite institutions having played and coached at Harvard.
Right now, it seems likely that Tech's current coaching staff will remain as is which would be a good thing for continued continuity given the strong staff that Tech has. However, that's definitely not certain especially as the coaching carousel still is far from over.