There are seven regular season games remaining in the 2013-14 Hokie basketball odyssey and barring a complete reversal of fortune, Tech is in danger of losing 20 games (or more) for the first time in
school history since 1955, and just the third time in history. Which begs the question:
Is this the worst mens' basketball team in Hokie history?
Let's examine across eras:
The Frankie Allen Years
Frankie Allen was an assistant coach for 11 seasons under Charlie Moir—the winningest basketball coach in Tech history—until circumstances beyond his control elevated him to the head job.
Editor's Note: Some watchdogs might have even referred to it as a "lack of institutional control."
In the fall of 1987, the NCAA put Virginia Tech's football and basketball programs on probation for a litany of violations under Moir, and former head football coach and Athletic Director, Bill Dooley. The infractions resulted in Dooley's resignation as well as Moir's; along with university President William E. Lavery.
Athletic director Dale T. "Dutch" Baughman, hired to replace Dooley and the man who hired Frank Beamer, also resigned once he realized the full extent of the problems within the athletic department. Needless to say, they were dark days for the VT athletic department.
Allen won 19 games in his first season but proceed to lose 17, 18 and 16 games in his final three seasons before being dismissed. The low point in Allen's reign was the 18-loss 1989-90 club. Despite having 70 steals from star point guard Bimbo Coles the Hokies were terrible defensively, ranking 232nd out of 292 teams in points allowed per game. In setting the tone for one of the worst seasons ever, Tech dropped the opening game at home to Marshall then lost at James Madison ten days later. Against its only three ranked opponents, Tech lost by a combined 80 points.
The Topsy-Turvy Tenure of Bill Foster
Foster would eventually lead Virginia Tech to the 1995 NIT Championship and an NCAA Tournament bid the following season in 1996, but his tenure got off to a rough start. Tech lost 18 games in both 1991-92 and 1992-93, posting a record of just 1-18 in true road games during that span.
The 92-93 campaign was the worst of Foster's teams posting just a 1-11 record in a weakened Metro Conference that lost both Cincinnati and Memphis to an aborted short-term experiment called the The Great Midwest Conference. The Hokies should have been able to capitalize, but were instead embarrassed against the remnants of what was once as respected a conference as the SEC or the original Big Eight. The Hokies finished 249th out of 298 teams in points scored per game but the building blocks for the future were there.
The backcourt of Damon Watlington and Shawn Good, Shawn Smith, Travis Jackson and Jim Jackson (no relation to Travis, but his brother David was on the way also) were all members of that team and would be pivotal players on the terrific teams that would come to define Foster's time in Blacksburg.
The Ricky Stokes Experiment
Upon Foster's retirement, top assistant Bobby Hussey was given the controls, and had two very forgettable seasons, leading to the hiring of Ricky Stokes. A former player at UVA, Stokes was given his first opportunity to be a head coach for Virginia Tech when he was hired in 1999. In his first season the Hokies squeaked out a winning record at 16-15, but things turned ugly through the Hokies difficult transition to their third basketball conference in under 10 years.
Tech moved from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East and received a rude welcome during the 2000-01 season. The Hokies posted a 2-14 conference record, a 1-10 road record and an overall mark of 8-19. While the conference losses were expected, Tech dropped embarrassing non-conference games at home to William & Mary and Liberty, then lost on the road at Chattanooga. The Hokies managed just a 6-9 record at home, the first losing season in the history of Cassell Coliseum.
A few years back, the good folks at Sports-Reference devised something called Simple Rating System. Basically, the number is a team's average scoring margin weighted with strength of schedule. The ratings go back to 1980 and the best number for Hokie basketball belongs to Seth Greenberg's 2006-07 NCAA Tournament team with a mark of 14.35. The worst number is -5.37 and belongs to Stokes' 2000-01 group.
James Johnson's Current Team: The Worst Ever?
Obviously the season is ongoing but things haven't been pretty thus far. Tech's record sits at 8-15 overall and just 1-10 in ACC play (including 10 consecutive losses, and 12 of their last 13). The team is on pace to eclipse the 20-loss mark and if we assume the worst and the Hokies lose their final regular season games and one ACC Tournament game, that would make for a school record 18 consecutive losses to end the season.
Probably the best chance to snap the streak will be Saturday at home against Miami, the only ACC team Tech has defeated this season. If nothing else it would be a nice reward for continuing to work hard despite a terrible record, plus it would make reaching double-digit wins on the season a real possibility.
As the effort against No. 25 Pittsburgh showed Saturday, Tech is still fighting and has ability. There have also been flashes against then No. 1 Michigan State and No. 2 Syracuse, but both teams ran away late after strong efforts by the Hokies.
As of this moment, I still think the 2000-01 team was the worst based on poor conference play and non-conference losses. The losing home record doesn't help, but at 7-7 right now even if Tech beats Miami, games against Virginia and North Carolina could easily leave the Hokies with an 8-9 mark this season in Cassell.
The good news is that story has yet to be written. Even if the worst happens and there are no more Hokie wins this season, the young players on this team could prove to be vital cogs in a championship machine a few years down the line.
Just ask Bill Foster about that. Unfortunately for Johnson, he may not get the same chance.