In the 2022-2023 college basketball season, Virginia Tech’s defense left plenty to be desired. While the Hokies allowed 70.1 points per game last season, good for fifth best in the ACC, a deeper look into more advanced data showed cracks in Tech’s defense.
According to Bart Torvik’s advanced analytics, the Hokies stamped a pitiful 102.6 adjusted defensive efficiency rating, which ranked 143rd nationally. For comparison, Tech’s 2021-22 season rating was 95.6, pegging them inside the top 50 in defensive efficiency on the national level.
How exactly the Hokies' defense fell off from one year to the next remains a mystery. What matters now though is how Tech is working to fix their defensive woes of last winter to tighten up the ship for the upcoming season.
“We spent a great deal of time on it (defense) over the summer and our first few practices,” head coach Mike Young said. “We’ve focused more on defense, you’re always going to spend more time on offense because of the way the ball moves. But, defense has been a focal point for us.”
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to Tech’s defensive outlook in 2023. Starting with the bad news, Tech has lost the services of Justyn Mutts. A jack of all trades for the Hokies, Mutts was an A + defender for Mike Young during his time in Blacksburg. The loss of Mutts will certainly be felt on the court and in the locker room.
“It’ll be different…but you look back at your career and you're always losing good players. New guys will emerge, we’re going to be playing differently. He was exceptional at finding what was coming, so smart and cerebral. He will be missed.” Young said.
Mutts wasn’t the only key piece that left, as Grant Basile is also no longer on the squad for 2023. While Basile was known for his offensive brilliance, his shot blocking on defense was criminally underrated. The good news for Young and company is Tech will have some solid pieces to fill the holes left by Mutts.
Namely, two transfers in Mekhi Long and Robbie Beran will be relied upon to contribute on both ends. Long is a double-double machine on offense, but he showed plenty of scrap as a solid wing defender during his time at Old Dominion. Beran has been heralded as a very strong defender at Northwestern and will give Tech an immediate impact as a forward to replace Mutts’ production on the defensive end of the floor.
“Really pleased with Robbie Beran thus far, he comes from a really good program at Northwestern,” Young said. “Mekhi Long has had a really good first seven practices. He’s smart and a really good person.”
While the new pieces to the puzzle will go a long way to improve Tech’s defense in 2023, don’t count out the returners to see improvement to their defensive abilities as well. Sophomore guard MJ Collins is sure to grow on his already fantastic toolbox of defensive skills. If Collins can get to the next level, he will become a lockdown individual defender which goes a long way to supporting the team defense as a whole.
“This year, coach has told me that they need me to guard the other team's best offensive player to take some pressure off of Hunter,” MJ Collins said. “That sparks a fire in me knowing that my coach wants me to take on that challenge in just my second year.”
Furthermore, junior guard Sean Pedulla has worked hard in the offseason to improve his defense. If Pedulla can get to a positive level, the Hokies would have three strong guard defenders with Hunter Cattoor, Pedulla and Collins joining a strong defensive frontcourt of Beran, Long and Lynn Kidd.
“Working on my defense off the ball is a big deal and something I have to improve,” Sean Pedulla said. “It’s just an attitude that you have to have every day. Coming into practice with a level of focus and listening to what the coaches tell you and apply that daily. That will take me in the right direction and bring me a step forward defensively.”
Will Tech’s defense improve in 2023, even with the loss of two of their best defenders? Possibly, it’s tough to say until we see what the rotation and starting lineup looks like. However, the Hokies improving on defense is a non-negotiable if they want to be ACC contenders and make the Big Dance in March.