Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Basketball Recruiting Update

I usually don't post on recruiting, although if I do, it's almost always about basketball. I find football recruiting too difficult to keep up with, for the most part. Seth Greenberg managed to land the best-ranked recruit of his tenure this week... CJ Barksdale of Danville, VA. This is also Tech's highest ranked recruit since Dell Curry back in the early 1980s. Right now this is only a verbal commitment, as Barksdale is only a junior in high school and won't get to VT until 2011, meaning there isn't much keeping Barksdale from switching his commitment. However, I do not really expect for that to happen, unless he gets an offer from childhood favorite UNC, and that supposedly is very unlikely considering they have already made two offers in the 2011 class to higher-rated recruits and they apparently don't have a lot of scholarships to give out that year.

Barksdale is either a big small forward or a small power forward at 6'7", 220 lbs. Bare in mind, he is only a junior and could still grow both in height and muscle-mass. He could probably play either the 3 or the 4, but he most likely will replace Jeff Allen at the power forward spot after the Big Donut graduates next year. Barksdale is supposedly a terror in the paint where he grabs rebounds, blocks shots, and gets points by both posting up with his back to the basket and facing up farther out for a jumper. His weakness right now is foul-shooting, so he should fit in just fine as a Hokie. Honestly, after reading how well he is doing this year and how he outperformed UNC's 2011 recruit, PJ Hairston, in the matchup of those two teams... I am getting a little concerned about him being plucked away from us by one of the big dogs. Hopefully our new practice facility, close proximity to his home, and other Hokie amenities will keep him locked in. If he does stay with us, that could get other highly rated recruits to join in as Greenberg is close to landing a some others.

We also have a fantastic player coming in the 2010 class. Jarell Eddie could be the next coming of AD Vassallo (but I might trade a few of those points for better defending, so we'll see if that happens)... he's an excellent scorer and rebounder who plays on the wing (which is exactly why I am projecting Barksdale as a power forward for us). Eddie's game is more slashing to the hoop and shooting from distance, which makes me think he will get placed at the wing, even though he's big enough at 6'7" and 210 lbs to be an undersized power forward. He is likely to take a lot of time from Terrell Bell next season, and has an outside shot of taking Bell's spot as a starter.

There are good things happening in Blacksburg, and for what seems to be the first time, it's happening for our basketball team instead of our football team.

Monday, December 21, 2009

1 Bad Team Down, 2 Bad Teams To Go

It's tough to get overly excited over a woodshed beating of Charleston Southern, but it's even tougher to get excited about possible wins over Maryland-Baltimore County and Longwood (if you're not from Virginia, the name of this college probably made you blush). So our next opponent that you can even get remotely pumped up about is Seton Hall on January 2. Next up is UMBC, who are a solid 1-9 with their lone win coming as a two point victory over American University. The Retrievers are the definition of terrible, so if VT doesn't win by at least 20 points, consider this game a disappointment. Fortunately, Tech is starting to show that they can obliterate the teams with lesser talent. Recent wins over VMI and Charleston Southern are games that the Hokies should have blown out their opponent, and they did in both games.

I think it's about time for some observations...
  • To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite video games of all time, NBA Jam, Malcolm Delaney is heating up! He was 6-10 on 3-pointers in his last game and shot better than 50% from the field. He was also managing to hit tough shots that he was missing earlier in the year. That's a good trend and hopefully we will continue to see more of it. The 7 turnovers against CSU is just plain awful, but I know Greenberg has already explained this to Malcolm. Heck, Malcolm probably already explained it to Malcolm.
  • Dorenzo Hudson is getting better. He's still not shooting well from the outside, but he's doing a much better job of taking the ball to the basket and seeing what's there. It's also nice to see him convert some of his free throws. These are good signs because it took him longer into the season to get to this point in 08-09. Delaney and Jeff Allen can't be the only scoring threats on our team.
  • Victor Davila took a step back in the last game... against guys much smaller than him and quite inferior to him, he only managed 5 points and 2 rebounds in 25 minutes of play. That's just not good enough. The 2 blocks are welcome additions, but he's too good of a post player to sit back and let the other team work him down low.
  • Jeff Allen seems to be doing a good job of taking what the other teams give him. In the last game, it was the basketball. The other team gave him the basketball 5 times because they weren't expecting his long arms to get in the way. I am just hoping we'll get to see more smart play from him because his biggest obstacle is his own mind.
  • It seems like one of the freshmen is always stepping up lately to give us a good game. It was Ben Boggs against Iowa and VMI, it was Erick Green against Penn State, and it was Manny Atkins against Charleston Southern. These guys can all be good players for us in the future and can contribute useful minutes this season. I am feeling more and more comfortable with Erick Green running the show when Delaney is resting.
  • JT Thompson is also coming alive right now. He was completely dominant against CSU, putting in 5-6 shots for 11 points and grabbing 9 rebounds in just 20 minutes of play. He will need to show that same kind of effort against ACC opponents who will be much larger than him. Moreover, he will need to continue to hit his mid-range jumper like he did in the last game.
I am pretty amped about January, but we've just got to get through some boring games in December before we can see how much this team is truly progressing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bud Foster... our next head coach?

Many of you may have been reading up on our defensive coordinator, Bud Foster. Lately, he's been linked to possible moves to Georgia, Florida, and Florida State. However, he turned them down. Bud decided to remain the defensive coordinator for Virginia Tech and is supposedly getting some additional money if he remains in Blacksburg over the next 5 years.

This move makes good sense to me if I am Bud Foster. First, there's no reason to take a lateral move from the defensive coordinator of one perennially good team to the exact same position on a slightly better team (Florida) or any other team (Georgia and FSU). If you're a coach, my guess is that just about everyone wants to be the head coach some day, and I'm sure Bud Foster believes that will happen for him relatively soon. He stated on the radio that he has friends and relationships in Blacksburg that are important to him and important to his family, and that's definitely a reason to stay as well. Thirdly, it seems dumb to me to move on to the same position for another team when you know you are having success doing it for the team you're already at... even if that equates to a boost in salary, you just never know what will happen under a different coach's system.

Those are things we can easily infer, but I'm going to throw something at you that isn't nearly as easy to project. I think Bud Foster may have a "coach-in-waiting" deal with Frank Beamer and VT. Bud's new contract includes a five-year clause that would keep him in Blacksburg and earning more money than he was originally slated to earn in his contract. This reeks of a behind-the-scenes deal to me. Seeing how poorly that has gone in the media for Texas (Will Muschamp) and Florida State (Jimbo Fisher), I am sure VT has no intention to make it public, but it makes good sense. Foster is already loved in this community. Frank Beamer is getting older and it's reasonable to think he would retire in 5 years. Foster already recruits extremely well in this state. So don't be surprised if you see our lunch-pail-toting friend, Bud Foster, as the main man on the sidelines five years from now.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's Frenetic! Woogie, Woogie, Woogie!

The pace of last night's basketball game, that is. Virginia Tech beat VMI at Cassell Coliseum in a blowout 98-73 win. Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson both had monster games for the Hokies. Yes, that's right, the same Dorenzo Hudson I've been forced to bash in most other games this season... this match up seemed to suit him very well when he realized he could stop jacking up 3-pointers that weren't going to fall and just take the ball to the cup. And take it to the cup, he did. 24 points for Dorenzo, which easily bests his previous game-high of 15. He has VMI to thank, as their ridiculously fast-paced style calls for them to throw up a shot as quickly as possible on offense, then play a full-court press on defense that never works and led to easy baskets as Hudson, Allen, Davila and company leaked out. It was a hard game to watch both because of the blistering pace and because it bred dumb mistakes for both teams. Too many times, I saw a Hokie player hold the basketball like it was a football and try to throw the touchdown to another Hokie 70 feet up the court while they tried to dot their toes in bounds on the catch. This isn't football, Jeff Allen. A made catch will not result in 6 points... a made catch will save you a turnover, and that didn't happen very often. When the Hokies made smart passes (and I do have to credit Allen for some smart looks), they tore apart VMI's press. In the end, the VT athleticism was too much, as we killed the Keydets on the offensive glass.

  • If you are seeing this game as an improvement to the Hokies' recent play, you are right, but it's not necessarily an improvement in scoring from the field. Tech shot an average 45.2% from the floor and hit only 1 of 8 3-pointers. Offensively, we seem to be capable of hitting the same kinds of shots and we still are getting most of our points in the paint. The 3-point line continues to be our team's nemesis. The biggest improvement I have seen in the last two games is free throw shooting. We hit a respectable 75% against VMI and did well in our previous game against Georgia as well. Dorenzo Hudson in particular is shooting much better from the foul line, which is good to see considering he is at his best when he attacks the basket.
  • This game against VMI also doesn't give us any kind of preview to our matchup against Penn State on Saturday. Penn State plays a very different kind of basketball than VMI, so expect a lot fewer possessions and a lot fewer points being scored. Also, PSU has much better players than VMI. This should be a very good barometer to know how good the Hokies really are right now. The slight advantage should go to Penn State since this is a home game for them, but I would think our two teams are about even if playing on a neutral floor. We'll see how right I am, as I expect us to lose a close game.
  • Malcolm Delaney hurt his thumb against VMI, and it drastically altered his shot. He had some very easy looks, but only went 3-14 from the field. Luckily, there is no break in the bone and it's just bruised. I don't know how quickly he will recover though... I expect him to play against PSU, but I don't expect him to shoot the lights out.
  • The freshmeat continue to play very well and I am encouraged especially by Ben Boggs and Erick Green. They will be valuable assets as the season progresses. Cadarian Raines got his first point of the season on a free throw. His first name is a soft "C", which I didn't expect. He has a body that's already ACC-ready, so that's fantastic. He just needs more playing time and practice time with his teammates now that he's come back from his foot injury.
  • I still like Terrell Bell. A lot. Possibly more than friends... I don't know, it's a complicated feeling. I love the guy's athleticism and penchant for making key plays. He had 4 packs against VMI (i.e. blocks). That's neat. And fun.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The 2010 World Cup Draw

I thought I might also comment on the draw for the 2010 World Cup, which happened on Friday. This is the event where teams are drawn into their groups for the initial round of the World Cup. You have 4 different pots, each with a different level of opponent. The first pot is filled with the top 8 teams from the combination of World-Cup-qualifying and FIFA rankings (this group also includes the host nation, which is South Africa for this cup... a bunny among lions). The second pot is the 8 European qualifiers. The 3rd pot is the 8 North American and Asian/Oceania qualifiers. The 4th pot is the 8 South American and African qualifiers. Someone (in this case, it was Charlize Theron of all people) will pull a random team from each pot to form the 8 groups for the World Cup. So there are four teams per group, who will each play one another once and the 2 best teams will move on to the next round. I hope that all makes sense, because I am going to move on.

In past World Cup draws, it seems like the US always gets the short end of the stick. In 2006 we were unlucky enough to draw Italy (the eventual World Cup winners) along with a young and talented Ghana squad, and finally a Czech Republic team that was on the tail end of their prime. In 2002 we drew Portugal, South Korea (a co-host nation with talent playing in front of proud supporters), and a decent Poland team. In 1998 we "lucked" into Germany, Yugoslavia, and Iran (Iran was actually pretty poor, but the other two were quite good).

This time around, the US was not so lucky as to draw the host nation, South Africa, from the 1st pot of "top seeds". Mexico was lucky enough to do that. Instead, we drew England, who are probably the second most favorable matchup for us out of that pot of teams. England plays a similar style to the US and games are rarely blowouts between the two. The United States also has several players (Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Jonathan Spector, etc) who ply their trade in England's premier league, and so they know the opposing players and their styles. On the other hand, England has not really gotten a live look at many of the US starters.

The next two draws ended up being a very pleasant surprise... not only did the US's group draw Algeria (the weakest squad from their pot), but also Slovenia (arguably the weakest or 2nd weakest from their pot). And to make things more comfortable for US fans, Mexico's group drew France (arguably the best team to not get "seeded") and Uruguay (an excellent South American team who will give Mexico fits). So the advantage to Mexico drawing South Africa was basically negated by drawing France and Uruguay.

None of this really matters if the US doesn't take each of these opponents seriously. This is the World Cup Finals... any one of the teams in the finals can beat the US on a given day. The difference will be heavy preparation and a little bit of luck from the injury bug. Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu are both still out from their respective injuries. Onyewu should return in time to play in the cup, but how fit will he be? Davies is a long shot, but it's possible he could contribute. Both are game-changing players for the US men's national team and will be missed if they can't go. Other players who have been injured for the past several months are now starting to train again. Defender Jay DeMerit, Midfielder Maurice Edu, and new US midfielder Jermaine Jones are starting to get into shape and should be able to play in the friendlies set up for next year. The US lineup could look a little different from the team that upset top-ranked Spain in the Confederations Cup this past summer, and I'm not sure if that is good or bad.

All-in-all, my biggest point is that we have a really good chance to move into the second stage considering our draw, and that makes me a happy camper.

Bulldoggin' It

Virginia Tech came up with another win at home against the Georgia Bulldogs to go 6-1 on the young season. It was a game that VT needed to win, and win convincingly, and for the most part we did that. Georgia will not compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament this year, and probably will finish last in their division. However, they were in the same spot last season and managed to beat us on for an embarrassing loss in Athens, and I'm just happy that our guys didn't even let them into the game this time around. The Hokies stifled Trey Thompkins, the best player for the Bulldogs, and forced him into an 0-6 effort. The Hokies didn't let Georgia get closer than 6 for almost the entire game (barring the first few minutes) and finished with a 12 point win.

Dorenzo Hudson had his best shooting effort of the season going 3-4, but he missed his lone 3-point attempt. I was psyched to see that he hit both of his free throw attempts. He also played well defensively. Ben Boggs continues to give us a spark off the bench, going 2-2 from the 3-point line for the second game in a row. Not only that, but Boggs is proving to be a useful defender.

Malcolm Delaney finally looked like his old self driving to the basket. He was able to pick up fouls AND complete shots, the latter of which had been a problem for him early in the season. He still isn't shooting particularly well from the 3-point line, but I think that will come. Jeff Allen managed to pick up 4 fouls despite starting both halves on the bench. It seems like Greenberg knows what he is doing, and you can probably guess that Allen would have fouled out otherwise. I am of the thinking that players need to get rest, but for people as athletic as college basketball players, it doesn't really matter if that rest comes early or late. My final point from this game is that Victor Davila continues to impress in the post, and in this game, he really established himself on the boards against bigger guys. He had 9 rebounds, and 5 of those were offensive. That's by far his best rebounding performance of his college career and I am hoping he can continue with that instead of falling away. As a team, VT average close to a rebound for every 2 of our misses on offense... that's freaking sweet. For all of Chieck Diakite's defensive accolades, he had terrible hands and was a poor rebounder, and we're starting to see the benefits of having guys who hit the boards hard and can actually corral the loose balls.

Other thoughts at this point of the season:
  • Your mom looks fantastic in that orange and maroon bikini I bought her
  • Something stinks about VT playing in the Philly Hoops Group Classic. Tech played against both Temple and Delaware in that competition on what was supposedly a neutral floor, but it really wasn't. Temple is in Philly, so that was basically a home game for them. The University of Delaware is 45 minutes from Philly, so that was close to being a home game for them as well. Maybe that's why VT was dominated by Temple and somehow escaped with an embarrassing win over a poor Delaware squad. If Tech had offers from anyone else... Madison Square Garden, Anchorage, Maui, Puerto Rico, etc, then we should have accepted them. It's moronic to schedule supposedly neutral games when they aren't really neutral. If VT had no other decent offers, then I apologize and recant on what I just said, but I find it hard to believe we couldn't find more favorable games early in the season.
  • I want to see a game where VT blows up from the 3-point line. If that happens against VMI, then that is fine, but I find it difficult to believe that our team is really so poor from that spot on the floor. I promise I will rhyme no more.
  • We're in a good spot right now, but a lot of our success this season will depend on the next two games. We can't afford to drop a game at home against VMI, and that's definitely a possible outcome. VMI runs the fastest offense in the NCAA ranks, leading them to score an average of 92 points per game, but it also leads them to give up 98 points per game. However, that doesn't fit in well with VT's style of play... we like to limit possessions and slow the game down. If our players get too excited at the prospect of playing a running-the-floor type of game, we could end up losing. If our players stay disciplined and work for open shots, we will win by a landslide. And there's also the possibility of our players looking ahead to our biggest away game of the year against Penn State on Saturday. That would be a mistake. But I believe the Hokies will not do that, and I think we come out with a win against VMI and a loss against Penn State. I think that will be our only loss going into ACC play where we will most likely lose our opener to UNC in Chapel Hill.
  • Our ACC schedule for this season is very favorable. We match up well with 4 of the 5 teams that we have to play twice (and consequently, we don't match up nearly as well with 5 of the 6 teams that we only play once). We are going to have a tough time matching the size of the other teams in the ACC, particularly Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State. We match up very well with UVA, NC State, Miami, Maryland, and Boston College. If there was ever a season for Seth Greenberg and the Hokies to make a surprising run towards the top of the ACC, it's this year as the Hokies have a favorable ACC schedule, a junior-heavy roster, and they're being overlooked by many both in the ACC and in the media. We could really give everyone a gigantic poop-burger to eat, and it'd be oh so satisfying.
  • Our team seems to be turning around their offensive woes. The 3-pointers aren't dropping for a lot of our starters, but we're getting great production out there from Ben Boggs, Manny Atkins, and Erick Green. The 2-pointers are definitely starting to fall and so are the foul shots. Davila was 5-5 in free throws against Georgia, showing that I might have known what I was talking about when I said his form is better than what his stats at the line indicate (this was maybe two games into the season where I said that, I think).
  • I love Hokie basketball, but you knew that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

4 games later...

Sorry for the hiatus everyone. I was out of commission the past 2 weeks trying to get my ducks in a row so I could go on Thanksgiving vacation. I am back in full force now and ready to talk some basketball! Most of you would probably rather talk football, but you're going to have to wait a day or two because I love Hokie basketball first and Hokie football second. I hope this doesn't mean that I will love one child more than another when it's time to start popping out the kids... uh oh.

So, Virginia Tech has had 4 basketball games since my last b-ball post. They have shot poorly in 3 of those 4 games, and yet somehow they managed to win 3 of those 4 games. I mean, that's incredible. I guess we should have expected to win some games we shouldn't have this season since we lost so many that we should have won last season, right? Somebody once told me that everything evens out in the end (Jerry Seinfeld?), so it must be true. If you hear it on TV, it's the truth. We beat the lowly Campbell Camels in their home arena, then we lost to Temple in what was a demoralizing and uncoordinated effort, then we managed to eke out a win against Delaware the next night in an embarrassing overtime win over an awful team, then we had what I would call was our first quality win of the season against Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Since I like things in bullet form, here are my most recent thoughts on VT:
  • To say Dorenzo Hudson is struggling is like saying that pancreatic cancer is a tough disease to beat. Let me give you his shooting percentages... .372 field goal percentage (above .400 is considered okay for a guard, below it is definitely not okay), .200 3-point percentage (above .333 is okay for a guard... Hudson is way below), and he's shooting a horrific .357 from the foul line (over .700 is okay for a guard). Those stats are miserable, and you'd better believe Seth Greenberg knows it. He can get the same production in every other stat category from freshman Ben Boggs, but unlike Hudson, Boggs has also been shooting the ball well. I would not be surprised to see Boggs take over the starting role at some point this season if Hudson can't find his shooting touch (it took Hudson almost the whole season to find it last year).
  • Boggs came off the bench about 2 minutes into the first half against Iowa when the Hokies were already down big and hit two clutch 3-pointers to help pull us even. Boggs plays with a ton of confidence, which is something our team has really lacked so far this season. You're also not going to lose anything on defense when you bring Boggs in... he fights and scraps to get in position. He played with a ton of energy and I loved every minute of it. He's also a local boy, from Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke, VA, which is sweet.
  • The other freshmen probably still need more playing time. Erick Green is hardly in long enough to realize which player he's guarding, and Manny Atkins seems like someone who can spell Terrell Bell at the 3.
  • Speaking of Bell, he's been terrific. He's not really hitting his 3-pointers yet, but everything else he gives our team helps to offset that. He changes shots with his athleticism and gets blocks. He is a fantastic offensive rebounder. He is a smooth scorer around the rim and creates fastbreak opportunities by getting his hands in the passing lane. It feels kind of like we traded Vassallo's shooting for Bell's everything else, and I'm very okay with that, especially if Bell's shooting can be considered "adequate", which I think it can.
  • Jeff Allen might never put it all together. Mentally, he is still a freshman. He makes the same mistakes he made as a freshman and I really haven't seen any improvement in his game. He takes bad shots early in the shot clock, he gets called for too many cheap fouls, he gets out of position regularly on defense, and he shoots too many outside shots when he can get easier points down low. With that said, I can't think of too many other players in the ACC who have his abilities, and that's why I still love him as a Hokie. He can score with both hands in the post (he had a soft, turn-around-lefty-hook against Iowa that reminded me of that fact). He has long arms and can get rebounds that other players his height can't. He has an incredible knack for poking the ball away for steals and he gets good elevation for shot-blocking. He also seems to see the floor pretty well and usually makes good passes. If he would just play smarter and grow up in his game, he could seriously be the next Charles Barkley. I'm not even remotely kidding about that... the similarities in the way they both play and their body types is so astonishing, you would think Jeff's father was the Round Mound of Rebound.
  • I think Victor Davila is going to be an excellent post player by next season. His play against Iowa showed me that he is starting to understand how to position himself defensively. Guarding the bigger Brendan Cougill (who shoots well from 3-point land), Victor did well in getting out to defend the guard on ball screens, then getting back to front Cougill as he raced to the basket, then getting behind Cougill as he was pushed out to the foul line, then racing out to defend another screen. There were plenty of chances for Davila to mess up just once and leave Cougill open, but that didn't happen and Iowa got a poor shot attempt. That's the kind of stuff we really need to keep seeing from Victor. He has great post moves on offense and everybody knows that. Rebounding and defense are what need to continue to improve, and I think they are.
  • Delaney's 3-point shot is MIA. That's not Miami, that's Missing-In-Action. Common mistake. He just isn't shooting with the confidence that we usually expect from Malcolm Delaney, but he'll come around. He's too good of a shooter to not come around. What's key is that he keeps getting his points by driving to the basket and earning free throws, and he's done that. He has 2.5x as many free throw attempts as the next closest person on the team (Victor Davila with 19). That shows you that Delaney is playing smart and doing what he needs to do to score the ball. I'd like to see Greenberg rest him for an extra minute or two in each game, but for now, things seem to be looking up.
Our next game is at home against Georgia. The Bulldogs are not good at basketball... in fact they're pretty terrible. They are 4-2, but they haven't played anybody of note and lost to basketball "powerhouse" Wofford on November 17. On top of that, the Hokies should be charged up by the fact that we lost to the awful Bulldogs last year on a last second buzzer-beater. I think the guys should be pretty charged up for a win in the Cassell. You may also notice Georgia Assitant Coach Stacey Palmore on the sidelines as he was with the Hokies from 2004-2009 before Mark Fox recruited him to the peach state.