Friday, October 26, 2012

Ready for Hokies Basketball in 2012?

Judging by the feelings from most of my Tech alumni friends, the rest of you Hokie fans are not terribly excited about Virginia Tech's prospects for having a noteworthy season.  Trust me, I completely understand the negativity.  We have a brand new coach in James Johnson (from here on known as "JJ") who has never been a head coach at the NCAA level, let alone in Division I.  We lost our most highly touted recruit for 2012, as Montrezl Harrell decided to take his talents to the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.  We also lost our most highly touted recruit for 2011, as Dorian Finney-Smith's mother decided he was too big-time to be missing shots 2 feet from the rim at Virginia Tech and opted to move him to the University of Florida.  Okay, there might be some sour grapes there, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see DFS flourish under Billy Donovan, but if he thought he was too good for VT then good riddance.

So the Hokies will enter 2012 short-handed and will employ new offensive and defensive schemes.  We have 8 players currently on scholarship... one of them, 6'10" r-freshman C Joey Van Zegeren, was red-shirted last year and was considered a project when we recruited him.  Is he ready to contribute?  Another, 6'8" freshman stretch-PF Marshall Wood, probably would be red-shirted this year in a perfect world to give him time to add some beef.  Will he be able to bang down low with the big boys in the ACC?  Here are some of my thoughts on the 2012 Hokie roster in bullet-form, which is my passion and desire.

  • James Johnson has a lot of passion for his job and that passion is infectious.  Schematically, JJ has indicated that he wants to get out and run more on offense this year.  Lots of coaches say this (Greenberg said it just about every year) because it's more fun for the players and appeals to recruits, but not a lot have the balls to do it.  So far the team has been practicing this way though.  The increase in tempo has the potential to result in more sloppy play and bad-shooting teams get burned by the fact that they are creating more possessions in the game, hence more chances to miss shots.  It also has the potential to break down and tire out our roster, which as I've said is not deep.  On paper, it seems like a bad idea for this year but it may inspire our players if they like it.
  • At his roots, JJ is a defensive coach.  He's big on mixing up defenses... full court pressure, full-court trap, 3/4-court trap, 1/2-court trap, man-to-man defense, zone defense... you name it and I'm sure we'll see it at some point this year.  Primarily you're going to see full court pressure and man-to-man defense, but JJ has said he's open to playing more zone if foul trouble is an issue.
  • PG Erick Green returns for his senior season as the undisputed leader of this team.  He had his best season as a Hokie last year, shooting well on 2s, 3s, and from the free throw line.  He will again be asked to be the scoring leader for the Hokies, and you can bet on him stepping up to that role.  Green considered going somewhere else for his senior season after Greenberg was fired, but immediately committed to coming back to VT when James Johnson was made the head coach.  The players really love him and I expect Erick Green to play hard for JJ.  Green will be in the running for first team All-ACC, especially if his assist totals increase a bit.
  • If Green is the president of the Hokies, then r-junior C Cadarian Raines is the vice-president.  Raines' voice is respected on this team, and his hard work started paying dividends on the court in the second half of last year's schedule.  Raines has struggled with foot injuries throughout his college career and was truly healthy for the first time last season.  He brought a toughness on defense, on the glass, and defending the rim that was missing when Victor Davila was in the game.  These are traits that everyone knew a healthy Cadarian Raines would bring, but to our surprise he also showed a wonderful post game on offense.  Raines has been working on a variety of moves on the block, and I'm expecting he'll contribute around 10 points per game if not more.  He will need to improve on his rebounding numbers though.
  • Junior SF Jarell Eddie had a bit of a breakout season last year showing a fantastic ability on catch-and-shoot jumpers.  He also proved to be our best free throw shooter.  He's supposedly been working in the offseason on shooting better off-the-dribble, and he has the potential to rival Erick Green as the scoring leader for our team.  Eddie is also a solid rebounder with great size for the SF position.  Last season, Greenberg was forced to play him out of position at PF because Finney-Smith wasn't big/strong enough to handle that role.  JJ has indicated Eddie will play exclusively on the perimeter as a small forward this year, which is his strength.  At the very least, Eddie is a solid 3-and-D player, but his ceiling is definitely higher than that.
  • Sophomore SG Robert Brown is the most explosive player for the Hokies.  As a freshman, he displayed an array of offensive moves that few freshmen possess.  Brown can shoot it from deep, drive and finish at the rim, terrorize in transition, shoot the pull-up jumper, or use his push-shot that he can float over tall defenders in the paint.  I think he has incredible potential as both a scorer and defender, but I'll be a bit surprised if he can reach that potential this soon... he may be a year away still.  Sometimes when you have as many abilities as he does, you get caught trying to decide how to attack the basket.  Brown also struggled mightily from the free throw line last year in spite of having good form, so it seems like he may have some mental demons to master there.
  • The final member of the starting five is sophomore PF C.J. Barksdale.  He's my pick as breakout player of the year for the Hokies, and a lot of that is because he has the opportunity for more minutes. Last year his per-minute numbers were better than Dorian Finney-Smith's, and everything I've heard indicates that he's looking like a beast in practices.  I think he will replace DFS as the rebounding leader on our team and should score about 10 points per game, showing a mid-range jumper that wasn't there last year and some scrappy play around the rim.
  • First off the bench is sophomore PG Marquis Rankin.  Rankin did a nice job with limited minutes last year and showed to be our best on-ball defender as a frosh.  Coming out of high school he was noted to be a good finisher around the rim and a so-so outside shooter.  Well he showed the exact opposite last year, proving to be a threat from deep but not really succeeding in his forays into the paint.  I'm hoping to see some steady growth from him as he'll play almost as many minutes as the starters.  Rankin is our best player at pushing the ball forward on the break, and that fits in well with the style that JJ wants to play.
  • Freshman PF Marshall Wood is an absolute gem of a find, in my opinion.  He has an inside-out game as a face-up PF who can shoot the 3-pointer.  He also rebounds very well, showing a toughness in the paint.  This season I expect him to get pushed around a little bit as he hasn't had much time to add muscle mass, but I'm predicting that he will be on NBA draft boards before leaving VT.  He also needs to improve his handle.  I think his game will ultimately remind you of former Duke Blue Devil Kyle Singler, except without the a-hole sneer on his face all of the time.
  • The final scholarship player is r-freshman C Joey Van Zegeren.  Nobody really knows what to expect from JVZ, as he's been injured during a couple of practices that have been open to the public.  Being the optimistic guy that I am, I think that we're going to get some good minutes from him this year.  I've heard him get some comparisons to fellow Dutchman Robert Krabbendam stating that he will have a similar contribution when he's in the game, which I think is absolutely absurd.  Krabbendam was a stiff.  He was the kind of player who gets a scholarship because he's 7 feet tall.  JVZ, on the other hand, showed to be a very athletic player in high school with a good-looking jump shot and the ability to block shots at a consistent rate.  What do I expect from him this year?  I expect him to play 10-12 minutes per game, giving us a good defensive presence when he is in there.  I think he'll struggle a bit offensively, but I also don't expect him to take many shots.
  • There are a number of walk-on players on our roster, and JJ may end up giving some quality minutes to one or two of them depending on how well they play in practice.  Odds are that one or two of the scholarship players will suffer a somewhat serious injury this year, so you may see Joey Racer, Will Johnston, and/or Christian Beyer a little more often than you would like.  I'm really hoping one of those guys can step up to the challenge.
So now that I've given you a sneak preview of this year's head coach and the players on the team, I'll give you my sad prediction for this season.  In the end, I just don't see our team being able to fend off injuries for an entire season and I think our schedule is too awful to put us in the running for a post-season tournament even if we finish with a good record.  Our best out-of-conference opponents are Iowa, OK State, WVU, and BYU.  Yuck... not much chance for a signature victory there.  You could potentially see the Hokies finish something like 11-2 in their out-of-conference play and still not get into either the NIT or the Big Dance.  Usually you can count on the Hokies playing in a tournament around Thanksgiving or Christmas with the chance to play one or two highly ranked opponents.  Not this year.  VT plays in the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic as the only high-major team in the tournament.  The other teams include: Bradley, Colorado State, Portland, Georgia Southern, Mississippi Valley State, North Florida, and Cal State Bakersfield.  Again... yuck.  And then to top off the fun, we play a very weak ACC slate.  3 of the top 5 teams in the ACC figure to be NC State (#1), UNC (#3), and Florida State (#5)... we play each only once.

So I'm sorry to say Hokie fans, if your definition of success is making the NCAA tournament or at the very least making the NIT, then I think I have bad news for you.  It'd be an incredible story if VT were able to make that happen this year, but I just don't see it.  However, I'm still going to watch the team and root for our boys because I always keep hope for the most improbable things to happen to us.  Keep hope alive.  Go Hokies!