Saturday, January 11, 2014

season preview: Virginia Tech

Media prediction: 15th of 15

Last season:

Record: 13-19 (4-14); ACC 12th seed
Postseason: none
KenPom: 158th of 347

Returning scoring: 47.9%
Returning rebounding: 77.2%
Returning assists: 33.5%

2012-2013 all-ACC:

1st team: G Erick Green
2nd team: none
3rd team: none
HM: none
Defensive: none
Rookie: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Starting lineup:

PG: Devin Wilson (Fr.)
SG: Ben Emelogu (Fr.)
SF: Jarell Eddie (Sr.)
PF: Marshall Wood (So.)
PF: Joey van Zegeren (rSo.)


G Adam Smith (rSo.)
F C.J. Barksdale (Jr.)
F Cadarian Raines (5Sr.)
F Trevor Thompson (Fr.)
G Will Johnston (Jr.)
F Christian Beyer (Jr.)

Coach: James Johnson (2nd season)

ACC schedule:

Twice: Boston College, Maryland, Miami, Virginia
Once: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, NC State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Wake Forest

In winning their first conference game, against Miami, the Hokies might already have overachieved this season.  By no small margin were they selected dead last in the conference; stink up the joint with the nation's leading scorer on your team, and then lose him, and that's what'll happen.

It's no surprise that second-year coach James Johnson has been madly tinkering with the lineup.  Ten Hokies have already started at least one game this season.  Two have started all 15: senior small forward Jarell Eddie and freshman point guard Devin Wilson.  With Erick Green gone, leadership of the team has passed to Eddie, who's gamely taken up the torch and leads the team in both scoring and rebounding.  Eddie's not much of a natural scorer inside, but he supplements his game with good three-point shooting.  Wilson plays so much time because James Johnson has little other choice; there are no other real point guards on the roster.  He's been a pretty good distrubutor and is a good driver and gets to the free-throw line a lot, but also turns over the ball a ton.  Unsurprising in a freshman.

Tech gets most of the rest of their scoring from shooting guards Adam Smith and Ben Emelogu.  Both are new faces; Emelogu is a freshman and Smith a transfer from UNC-Wilmington.  Both can hit threes as well.  Smith will often play ballhandler when Wilson is out of the game.  Emelogu, though the Hokies like his length and scoring ability, is a foul-prone defender, while Smith is smallish and is more or less just a body in the way.  The backcourt is rounded out by Will Johnston, a good three-point shooter who is otherwise more or less a replacement-level player.

Up front, the biggest inside scorer is veteran forward C.J. Barksdale, who has a solid midrange game and the most automatic free-throw shot on the team - he's missed only 3 of 25 attempts this year.  Marshall Wood has filled out his frame, and has improved his rebounding and three-point shooting, but actually is much less of a threat inside.  Tech's true bigs are Trevor Thompson and Joey van Zegeren, but neither are reliable scorers.  Both can rebound and block shots, and van Zegeren gets quite a few putback points, but they're not going to threaten most teams with halfway decent big men.  Finally, there's power forward Cadarian Raines, always a reliable complementary scorer, but a player who's seen his role (somewhat inexplicably) diminish this season.

The Hokies are actually not a bad team defensively.  They're big with a lot of frontcourt depth, and most of those players are reasonably effective on defense.  They block a lot of shots.  Good teams have blown them up at times, so they've still got a ways to go, but neither can one score with impunity.  There's one jumbo-sized weakness, though: turnovers.  Tech is literally last in the country in steal percentage.  They don't create turnovers, ever; when you're that far down on the list, you're basically only getting the ones that other teams hand you.

On offense, they'll struggle to score down low, and have all season.  Barksdale and Wood are midrange to perimeter scorers, not grinders, and the grinders they do have aren't offensively oriented.  They would have more of an interior threat if Johnson gave Raines more minutes, but he gets less than 15 a game.  Their ace in the hole is three-point shooting.  They're currently 11th in the country there, and five of their 11 rotation players are legitimate threats to hit one.

A team like that is just scary enough to give you trouble and pull off an upset here and there.  But it's also with good reason that the vast majority of ACC media voters pegged them last in the conference.  Eddie is streaky, interior scoring is lacking, and their freshman point guard sometimes has trouble distinguishing uniform colors.  Relying on three-point shooting can blow up in your own face as much as the other team's.  This Hokie team won't go so easily to the cellar as the media vote would lead you to believe, and along the way they'll probably three-bomb their way to a big upset, but they're still going to finish with an overall losing record and sit out the postseason.

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