The REALLY, Almost Too Late 2011-12 Virginia Tech Men's Basketball Preview

It's your team now kid!

Well ladies and gents, believe it or not it is November and time for the latest installment of Virginia Tech basketball, or as Niemo from Tech Hoops calls it, the Hokies 3G (or the third generation of big-time (numbers-wise, but really could mean both) recruiting classes). Again I waited until the eve of the first game, but this time I decided not to try to get it out last night (for obvious reasons), and although I'm still basking in the glory of another Hokie victory, I will try to switch gears and do a worthwhile basketball preview befitting of our guys on the hardwood. Just don't expect it to match the awesomeness of last night.

2010-11 SEASON RECAP

What can I say here? More of the same. More of the same cruel joke. AGAIN we were not included in the NCAA Tournament field. AGAIN! FOUR YEARS RUNNING! So there is the theory (supported by the results of the selection committee) that there is some bias being shown and an agenda against Tech on Selection Sunday. Seth Greenberg threw that one out there on the night of Selection Sunday only about an hour after he found out his team was "snubbed" and wouldn't be dancing for a fourth consecutive year. So I'll give him the benefit of the doubt even if his comments were a little Oliver Stone and George Orwell for me. BUT, if we are on the bubble again this year/in the near future and see it burst I'll be a convert in a heartbeat.

Granted we haven't given the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee a lot of reasons to stamp their seal of approval on us when it counted most (too numerous to list here), but there is some kind of expectation based on our recent résumés, echoed by the media, that we should have been included. Last year, well I can see why we weren't in the field. Our RPI was below average for an at-large team, even in an expanded field, we had very few OOC wins of note despite a grueling schedule, we finished lower than expected in a so-so year for the ACC, and we had several BAD losses. I know we suffered a year of injuries only equaled by the '09 Mets, but as a selection committee, you cannot let that play at your heartstrings and make an emotional decision on who you admit to the tourney. Sob story or not the best teams should go. And despite using that as my biggest defense for the selection committee, that's also my biggest issue with them!

Most pundits have agreed that it's not so much that Virginia Tech deserved to be in, but that the teams that were in ahead of them DID NOT! WARNING TO ALL VCU FANS: IF THE TRUTH IS TOO HARD TO DEAL WITH, SKIP THIS SECTION NOW. Despite their improbable run in the NCAA Tournament, VCU was one of the many glaring inclusions over teams like Colorado and Virginia Tech. Yes, they went all the way to the Final Four, and so therefore some people think it's hard to argue against their inclusion. But I don't. Inclusion to the NCAA Tournament is based on WHAT YOU HAVE DONE UP TO THAT POINT, not how good you are. VCU had BY FAR the weakest tournament résumé of any team in history and wound up in the Final Four. Kudos to them for doing that, and I'm not taking any of that away from them, but the bottom line is they didn't deserve to be there. Perhaps the verbal onslaught launched against VCU by the ESPN pundits after the selection inspired them to go so far. VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart suggested as much would happen in his interview with said pundits. But alas, this isn't an article about VCU or UAB or USC and how none of them deserved to be dancing. This is about the Hokies. So suffice it to say, last year was an incredible disappointment based on our expectations and for the most part, for reasons that were both unfortunate and beyond our control.

For more on the 2010-11 season, here's my season-ending synopsis on the Hokies and their misfortunes.

2011-12 SEASON PREVIEW

Notes on the Pre-season

  • The Hokies were picked 6th in the ACC by the media in the pre-season poll.
  • Redshirt-Junior Forward Allan Chaney was not medically cleared by the Tech medical staff and will not play for the Hokies.
  • Redshirt-Senior Forward J.T. Thompson suffered a torn ACL for the second consecutive year, but this time in his other leg
  • Guard Marquis Rankin had to have surgery on his knee and will be out for at least a few weeks, maybe up to a few months.
  • Starting Point Guard Erick Green has an Achilles injury and may miss the first couple of days.

The Schedule

This year I'll just send you the link instead of going game by game. It's just faster that way. Have fun ruining YOUR eyes!

The Players

Here is the Hokies' roster on hokiesports.com. Each player has his own profile and bio/player card, and I admit I spend like 1/3 of my time on the internet on the site. If you have never visited the site you're pretty much what Richard (David Spade's character) calls the passengers who don't know how to buckle their seat-belts on the flight to Chicago in Tommy Boy. That's right folks, it's 2011 and the jokes don't get any newer (including those jokes told by the selection committee).

The Starters

PG #11 Erick Green Jr. 6'3" (apparently shrunk 1"...don't you just love basketball!?) 185 lbs. 11.6 ppg. 2.7 apg. 2.3 rpg. 1.8 spg. 41% fg. 25% 3pt. 78% ft.

SG #5 Dorenzo Hudson r-Sr. 6'5" 220 lbs. 10.4 ppg. 3.1 rpg. 1.4 apg. 43% fg. 22% 3pt. 71% ft. (9 games)

SF #31 Jarell Eddie So. 6'7" 218 lbs. 2.9 ppg. 2.2 rpg. 0.5 apg. 37% fg. 22% 3pt. 69% ft.

SF #15 Dorian Finney-Smith Fr. 6'8" 192 lbs. NEWCOMER NO STATS

C #14 Victor Davila Sr. 6'8" 242 lbs. 7.4 ppg. 5.1 rpg. 1.2 bpg. 0.9 apg. 57% fg. 46% ft.

The Reserves

PF #33 JT Thompson r-Sr. 6'6" 225 lbs. WILL NOT PLAY

PF #4 Cadarian Raines r-So. 6'9" 238 lbs. 0.5 ppg. 0.5 rpg. 0.3 bpg. 25% fg. (4 games)

PF/C #42 C.J. Barksdale Fr. 6'8" 232 lbs. NEWCOMER NO STATS

G/F #1 Robert Brown Fr. 6'5" 190 lbs. NEWCOMER NO STATS

PG #10 Marquis Rankin Fr. 6'1" 165 lbs. NEWCOMER NO STATS

PG #21 Tyrone Garland So. 6'1" 180 lbs. 2.7 ppg. 0.4 apg. 38% fg. 30% 3pt. 74% ft.

PF/C #2 Joey van Zegeren Fr. 6'10" 220 lbs. NEWCOMER NO STATS

PF # 3 Allan Chaney r-So. 6'9" 235 lbs. WILL NOT PLAY

G #13 Erik Sorenson r-Fr. 6'3" 175 lbs. DNP NO STATS

G# 24 Joey Racer Sr. 6'1" 165 lbs. NEWCOMER NO STATS

The Expectations

The Hokies are a work in progress, and were probably ranked about right (6th) in the pre-season ACC polls by the media. That is of course, before once again JT Thompson's injury (tore his ACL, though in a different leg, for the second year in a row in pre-season practice). That will hurt, not only from an energy standpoint but an experience standpoint. That means Virginia Tech's other resident injury-plagued big, Cadarian Raines will likely be pushed into the starting lineup at PF. He may have some experience, but he is pretty green too, logging all of 186 minutes in two seasons (though two injury-shortened seasons). I just haven't seen enough out of him at the offensive end (though nobody has except Seth). He will need to contribute there so that we don't have a black hole at the 4-spot allowing teams to double Victor Davila, really more of a complementary piece himself, so don't expect him to beat double-teams.

They do however have some nice pieces in Erick Green, Dorenzo Hudson (expect a lot of scoring out of the backcourt) and Davila, but there is so much youth and inexperience around them that they're going to be asked to carry too much of the load. Yes, this team is comprised of the most talented freshmen (ranking wise) Tech has ever brought in. But if you'll remember, last year's top recruit Jarell Eddie acted like a punk off the court and got punk'd on the court. If there's one general rule about the ACC and Freshmen it's this: Freshmen are a year away from contributing. Even players like #1 "super-recruit" Harrison Barnes of UNC struggle to find their footing. Don't expect Tech's Freshmen woes to be any different.

This year's goal: stay competitive, build something with these freshmen and MOST importantly, avoid the injury bug (which we've already been unable to do). Seth Greenberg may dream of NCAA Tournament grandeur, but if it happens in 2011-12, I'll be shocked. We're a fringe middle-top of the league team in a down ACC. The team might have larger goals, and I hope they do, but with so much youth, I just don't see it. Any illusions Seth has of a tourney bid are just that. He would have to use his trademark line about himself in that case: He'd have to be "certifiably insane" to think that.

I have listed what I expect out of each player individually this year below.

Erick Green- Erick is now the leader of this team, if not by his presence and leadership then by default. I do think he's a good leader and I do think he's up to the task. This is HIS team now, and I expect him to do well with that pressure on his back. The paramount thing for Erick is health. The more he's out there the better the Hokies will be. He's shown in the past that little nicks and bangs can slow him down and keep him out of games (and according to Niemo of Tech Hoops, he could miss the opener and the first three games with an injury, leaving us with one healthy point guard...and that's just based on what he's listed as. I wouldn't call Garland a PG.) Realistically, if Erick stays healthy, we should expect somewhere in the range of 13-14 ppg. BUT, more important is his ability to stay efficient, both shooting-wise and maintaining his 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, or close to it. That's the one real advantage we will have with Erick that we did not have with Malcolm. Erick IS a true point guard and he's pass first. He will set up an offense and handle the ball with care. I think anything in the range of a repeat performance scoring-wise and 4-6 range in assists per game will be great. If he can up his 3 pt. percentage to around 30% that would be huge, considering he stands to get more attempts and the Hokies' lack of 3 pt. shooting. He has a fundamentally sound enough shot, it's just the results have not been there to this point.

Dorenzo Hudson- For Dorenzo last year was devastating. He went home and apparently got out of shape in the offseason (according to a trusted source close to the program), and then came back with an injury that caused him to miss the year after playing only 9 games. That loss really hurt, and Tech was already behind the 8-ball at that point. But enough feeling sorry for ourselves. I'd really like to see a bounce back year for Hudson. Although his stats look okay on the surface, anyone who watched Tech play in Dorenzo's 9 games knows the true story of his play: he looked AWFUL! This was the same player that just 6 months earlier was the Hokies' best player. But like I said in my season review, I don't really even try to analyze Hudson's 2010. It's not worth it. He was playing through a tough injury on a team that was already too dependent on his performance, forcing him to play BIG minutes. Additionally Greenberg chose not to run sets on offense for Dorenzo that were the main component of our offense closing the 2009-10 season either out of concern for him being able to handle cutting around screens and the overall fatigue of being that much involved in the offense (kind of like how Kemba Walker was allowed to take defensive possessions off for having been UConn's whole offense...at least early in the season) OR out of some misguided attempt to, well...I'm stumped. If it was the latter I've lost my faith in Seth Greenberg's ability to call offensive sets (which isn't at an all-time high anyway). But I'm going with/hoping/praying that it's the former. I mean the guy is a head basketball coach at an ACC school, he's GOT TO see how effective that play was (which is why he ran it so often in 2009-10).

For Hudson, I'd really like him to have a bounce back season. I don't know if he has it in him, but the Hokies will again need it out of him (which is sad because I believed he was an NBA player before the injury). He HAS to be this team's #1 offensive option for them to have any kind of meaningful success. I'm not saying he has to go crazy and equal his 15 ppg. from two years ago (though that would definitely be the kind of production Tech needs), but to see 11-13 ppg. from Dorenzo, especially early on would be comforting. He will need to improve his FG% to around 45% and bring his 3 pt. % back around 30% if not north of it. I'd also like to see him be a much better ball-handler, something that is a necessity if he has any chance of moving to the next level. We've been told he's worked on that it seems like every year now. He really has to stress that. Holding onto the ball and making smart passes/contributing to the assist totals is integral. He will also have to be among the Hokies primary options off the drive (something they've struggled to identify in the past) to prevent the offense from stagnating. But most importantly, even if things go wrong (which undoubtedly they will to some extent), he needs to show the team quality leadership and how to develop much like Deron Washington did in 07-08. I know Davila's a senior too, but he's more the Vassallo type (and no not just because he's Puerto Rican): quiet.

Jarell Eddie- Eddie suffered a nightmarish freshman season in 10-11. Advertised as a highly-touted freshman, Eddie struggled to fit in offensively. He didn't show much effort. He fell in love with a mid-range jumper that he didn't possess. His recruiting report which listed him as a jack of all trades but a master of none was as Mike Gundy would say "in-ackerit!" He may possess a greater skill set than he showed last year, but he was far from putting it all together. He coasted on athleticism which still didn't afford him much success.

Moving forward, Jarell along with Finney-Smith have to be the most versatile players on the team. Without post depth, both players will have to do some double-duty down low, something that both players are too slight for and have very little to no experience doing on the collegiate level. That being the case, both players will have to work incredibly hard and smart to match their more physical and experienced opponents. Effort was a problem for Eddie last year, apparently both on and off the floor. He was arrested in the spring after being caught with marijuana. He beasted the two games against Wake Forest, but so did the rest of the world. But for the teams not named Wake, he missed the heat-check mid-range jumpers he put up time and again. There is so much that he has to improve on that I'll just stick with some small stuff. One, he has to give more effort and sell out when he's on the floor. Two, he has to learn about offensive flow and how to get his shot, not just to look to go iso and then take a step up jumper from 18-20. He needs to drive and develop his shot off of that. If the effort is there and he is as good as he was billed, he can become a good player. But right now my expectations are that he'll be a minutes eater with no more contribution than 4 ppg. 3 rpg.

Dorian Finney-Smith- Finney-Smith comes to Tech with the distinction of being the most highly ranked VT commit in the recruiting-site age. He's the first player who was a top priority for power teams that Tech beat out for his services. He did extremely well in the Canadian exhibitions, leading the team in scoring in the first game with 15 points and scoring 11 points in the second game. For the record, I don't expect him to come anywhere near that. I would love to see him score 9 a game, but 7 or so would be okay provided he was shooting a good FG% and not forcing shots. He needs to help on the boards substantially after the Hokies lost Thompson and found out there would never be a maroon and orange clad Allan Chaney on the floor. He needs to be the primary driver in the lane and use his athletic ability to penetrate and kick. The kick part is crucial. You have to let the defense know you can do both equally well.

Additionally, he has to use his length and athleticism on the defensive end of the floor to prevent players from driving on him and getting him into foul trouble and use his head to prevent giving up post position to bigger and bulkier wing/point forwards. His ability to cover floor is crucial to this team as they lack a true wing/point forward to play help side defense. I'm expecting Finney-Smith to be that guy. So all in all, pretty big expectations for this guy.

Victor Davila- Davila really turned his game into a more well-rounded back-to-the-basket player, albeit undersized. His height is adequate for the college level, and his bulk has helped him to gain the upper hand against many opponents. But, offensively, he sometimes struggles to prevent from getting his shot blocked by taller defenders.

Defensively, Davila made a tremendous improvement. He did often find foul trouble, but with the minutes he was putting in (at one point in the middle of the season he was SIXTH among ACC players in minutes! AS A POST PLAYER! Unsurprisingly he was the only post player in the top-10), it's impossible to expect much better with only two post players out there. Somebody has to absorb those fouls and too often last year it was both.

Davila missed some time at the end of last year with a shoulder injury. Apparently he was carrying it the whole way, but as we were down to 6 guys there at the end, he had to tough it up and suit up. The thing that concerns me there is that this is apparently an injury that never heals, it just gets better and worse. It will be important to watch as a post player can take a pounding over the course of a season.

Davila was inconsistent last year catching the post feed, but it was a million times better than what he was before. He at least seemed to grow some fingers on those stone hands. What worries me about Davila is his ability to pass out of the double as he becomes the Hokies' primary post man this year. He fared well last year in the instances where he was doubled, but we're talking about a small sample size (most of his assists came that way though). His defense and rebounding need to continue to be up to par, and ANY increase offensively would be sugar and cherries on top. We're talking about 8-9 ppg. and 6-6.5 rpg. Increased assists and the same or fewer turnovers would also be nice as he will only be doubled more, and though it's not always the case in Greenberg's offense, SHOULD receive more post feeds.

One last thing that worries me about Davila is his free throw shot. He's gone back and forth in that department. Every time he looks like he's turned the corner and gets confidence he regresses and misses shots in ugly fashion. We have to have post players who can hit FT's. If not, there's no stopping the hack-a-vila.

Cadarian Raines- Cadarian MUST become at least a serviceable big man down low and not just a space eater. This Virginia Tech team is not good enough to have an invisible man out there on offense. He has to at least present a threat to opposing teams that helps to open up lanes and shots for other guys. On the surface, his shooting percentage is AWFUL for a big man. But a lot of the experience Raines has been as an offense-defense sub for several minutes at a time where he has been asked just to set a pick or fill a spot and don't come anywhere near the ball. When he has gotten touches, he has shot. Like I wrote last year (and obviously after missing almost all of last year there's not much else to work with), it felt like the team tried to get Cadarian to play catch up with his offense after missing the first semester of his freshman year with an injury. They would feed him the ball, he would turn and shoot, we'd get the rebound, feed him, he'd turn and shoot, etc, etc, etc. You can imagine how seldom that happened (i.e. only against teams where he was in the game and we could afford to do that). So that makes his shooting percentage trouble even more stated.

An ideal situation for Raines would be having him for an entire season injury free. But an even more ideal situation would be one where we not only had him available every game, but that we had him on the floor, out of foul trouble and in shape. Raines has struggled markedly in both areas, but most visibly in how many fouls he picks up. Granted almost all of the fouls he was called for last year in his limited action were a crock. I didn't see ONE I agreed with. He definitely was the officials' least favorite Tech player last year in the four games in which he played. They must have been told he was Jeff Allen. If it sounds like I'm being hard on Raines, it's because we really need him this year. He may be the key. With only three legitimate post players in their rotation, Raines needs to show the improvement that everyone has been raving about that has led them to say he's the Hokies' most improved player. An absolutely remarkable season from Raines would be 6 ppg. and 5 rpg. while shooting over 40% (still not good for a post guy, but much better than he has shown before), but perhaps more likely is something like Victor Davila's sophomore campaign: 5 ppg. and 4 rpg. or even as low as 4 ppg. and 3 rpg. He CANNOT afford to shoot as poorly as he has in the past, and that means working on his low post moves and concentration/touch around the rim. Whatever his improvements on the offensive side, he MUST continue to fill the role of enforcer on D, because that's where his value is, and otherwise he's not worth having on the floor right now.

C.J. Barksdale- C.J. to me has to be among the two biggest point producers off the bench. From what I've heard, C.J.'s offensive game is much better than Cadarian Raines. If he gets around the same amount of minutes, which based on the few numbers that they have down low, seems pretty likely, expect him to make up some of the offensive shortcomings of Raines. I think C.J. needs to put up a healthy 6 ppg. 4 rpg. so that the Hokies continue to have legitimacy down low without Raines or Davila in the game. Obviously we don't know a lot about the freshman having not seen them on the court, but I get a feeling that Barksdale is going to have to step up and be firmly entrenched in the rotation.

Robert Brown- Robert Brown has several responsibilities for this team. He will probably play both wing positions and will need to use his length to play the passing lanes and hound ball-handlers. But, offensively is where Brown must carry the most weight. He will have to drive to set things up for kickouts and be the guy receiving the kickouts and get WET from 3. He may already be the Hokies' best 3-pt. shooter. We could really use a 3-pt. shooter, and if Brown could hit as few as 33% of his attempts, that would be a great help. Overall I'm looking for 3.5-4 ppg. Also crucial will be his ability to hit mid-range shots. Too many players can hit from one foot outside the line but not one foot in. Developing a good all-around game requires both.

Marquis Rankin- Marquis starts out the season injured after undergoing knee surgery just before the season. This is disconcerting considering he needed to get some time in early against the lesser teams on our schedule before we got into the meat of it and required a competent backup point guard to run our offense effectively. I think Rankin will jump Garland on the depth chart eventually, though Garland may actually factor into the conversation more because of his experience and Rankin not having the early time to prepare. But, this kid has the better point guard instincts and he is ALL kinds of fast. His height might be an issue, but his speed and quickness are elite. It seems like he's a poor man's Avery Bradley right now. Great defense right now, superior athlete, but his shot hasn't developed 100% yet.

I would love to see Marquis get some minutes to spell Green because he's most likely our future PG. If he could get us 1.5-2 apg. and 2-3 ppg. that would be great, especially down the stretch. Really having a guy out there that can run an offense over Tyrone Garland is an upgrade.

Tyrone Garland- Garland was up and down a year ago, but it wasn't because he didn't try. He endeared himself to Tech fans because he was relentless in his time on the court. He just needs to score. That's what he does. He isn't a point despite his size, so he has to work to get his shots. Sometimes iso made him think bad shots were good shots last year when he ran the point with Delany/Green resting. Their rests were short-lived as a by-product.

Tyrone COULD become a better ball-handler and passer, at least so he could run the offense and set guys up when he's in the game. If we got any improvement from Garland, to the tune of even 3-3.5 ppg. and 1 apg. that would be a huge improvement.

Joey van Zegeren- Van Zegeren is a wild card because he is a non-traditional college post player. He is from Holland and watching his tape, he's akin to Yi Jianlan with a better outside game. Seth once picked up a huge bust in Robert Krabbendam in Holland, and it didn't work. But with a scholarship open and a lack of bigs I guess Seth figured what the heck? Unlike Krabbendam, Zegeren is a surprise underneath, although he's surprising from deep as well, something Krabbendam thought he had, but didn't. ANY minutes Joey can offer us as a body are good. Any bonuses in production, ESPECIALLY from 3-pt. range will be gravy.

Erik Sorenson, Joey Racer- I don't really know these kids, but let's hope we get to play them a lot. Not because of injuries, but because we are up so much we can afford to.

My Predictions

This year I'm also going to avoid giving a record for several reasons. One, this team is harder to predict. Too many unknowns. Two, I don't want to jinx us. Those of you who know me know that I'm not superstitious, I'm just a little stitious!

I think this team CAN win as many as 20 games. But they COULD also win no more than 15. The difference could be the loss of J.T. Thompson, or the maturation of freshman. It can go either way. Certainly a new era of Tech basketball has started...and maybe that means the refs/selection committee that have been telling jokes about us for years can swallow their whistles and other objects...(VCU!!!! Ahem...) and look past the group that is now gone and give them a fair shot to prove what they can do. Oh, and end our heartache.

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