Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. Virginia Tech will be missing one of its key players to start the season due to a suspension. Typically this has happened with the football team but now, the men’s basketball team is faced with a loss of one of its key starters after senior forward Chris Clarke was suspended indefinitely this afternoon.Now comes the tricky part, which most of you are probably already trying to figure out: how will the Hokies replace him? The short answer is, they can’t. Not with one individual player, at least. No player on Virginia Tech’s roster can hope to match Clarke’s lethal combination of size, speed, strength, quickness and ball handling. He is the ultimate combo forward and had the potential for an all-ACC type season.It is going to take a coalition to try and fill the void that Clarke is leaving. Here are the three players who will see extra minutes at his position in his absence:
1. Ty Outlaw
The first option is Ty Outlaw. Outlaw is a favorite among Hokie fans, and there will be much excitement to see him back in a starting lineup. The senior forward earned a rare sixth year of eligibility this past offseason after multiple injuries throughout his career, including a torn ACL before last season.Outlaw is known mainly for his sweet jump shot, as he set the school record for most three-pointers in a game during the 2016-17 season. Outlaw is already arguably a better scoring option than Clarke, so he should aid in making up for the loss of points. The main setback is athleticism, however, as Outlaw is far less explosive than Clarke. What Outlaw brings is a bigger frame and a mental toughness that will hopefully also aid in defense and rebounding.Outlaw has already stepped in for Clarke before, after Clarke tore his ACL during the 2016-17 season. This injury paved the way for Outlaw to earn more minutes and prove himself against tough ACC opponents. Outlaw went from averaging 4.1 points per game in the first three months to 10.1 the last two. The Hokies will need him to replicate that same production.
2. PJ Horne
The second option is PJ Horne. Horne was a surprise last season with his effort and efficient play, and is now entering his second season in Blacksburg. Horne often was forced to play center for much of the game when Kerry Blackshear would get into foul trouble. At 6’5, this was obviously an incredibly difficult role to step into. However, Horne accepted this role and performed it to the best of his ability.In all honesty, Horne is not going to blow anyone away on the box score. What he is going to bring is strength, grit, and hustle. He will help aid in rebounding and defensive production.One of the biggest complaints about Clarke was his tendency to disappear during games. Horne will not have that issue. When number 14 steps on the floor, you know you are getting the best effort every single time.
3. Landers Nolley
The third option is probably my personal favorite of the three: freshman forward Landers Nolley.If there was one word to describe Nolley’s game, it would be “smooth”. From watching his high school tape, it is obvious that he is an incredible scorer. He has an incredible jump shot and a strong ability to create off the dribble. With increased minutes, he has the potential to compensate for Chris Clarke’s lost scoring production and then some.At 6’7, Nolley is the second tallest player on the team behind Blackshear. He has also gained 50 pounds since high school, growing from 180 to 230. Hopefully, this size will be used to get rebounds and play solid defenseThe question with Nolley is his inexperience. The potential is there, but there is uncertainty over how that will translate if he is instantly thrown into a big role.Having Outlaw and Horne present will allow coach Buzz Williams to transition Nolley into the offense. Williams has the liberty of being able to play Nolley for as many minutes as he wants. This is unlike the Horne situation, where Williams was forced to play him for more minutes than he had planned to.The loss of Chris Clarke is one that will sting for the Hokies. However, hope is not lost. Landers Nolley is a player who could be a star in Blacksburg, and he will be guided by two capable veterans. Though this loss hurts, the Hokies still have the potential to compete in the ACC with an experienced roster headlined by Preseason All-ACC Second Team PG Justin Robinson.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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