After entering the ACC slate of our schedule 11-3 many of us felt pretty confident with how the Hokies had performed. But true to Virginia Tech athletics form we (word for used the bathroom) the bed, putting forth two of the ugliest games we've played since we turned the corner as a relevant basketball program in 2006-07. So now, where there were a lot of exclamation marks a week ago, now there are question marks. But here's a look into the Hokies' season to this point and how well they've met the expectations.
In my pre-season basketball preview, I announced my expectations for this team and the individual players. Although the last two games have been pretty awful, for the most part the players and the team have exceeded my expectations to this point. As I said in the preview, "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."
Those predictions aren't that far off to this point. I saw someone say the other day on Techhoops.com, the Hokies making the tournament this year is a pipe dream. That's the truth, but some people are just coming to that conclusion. The person I am least satisfied with at this point is Seth Greenberg. That's right, me, the Seth Greenberg homer is a little upset with the way he's coached these kids. But I'll get to that. Here's what I'm seeing individually that I like/dislike.
Erick Green- Erick has exceeded my point total prediction by several points. He has been our best player by far. I knew he would be the leader of the team, and that this was his team, but his efficiency on the offensive end has been spectacular (though he has fallen off the face of the earth from beyond the 3-point line, shooting over 60% through his first five games and shooting 29% from deep in the last 10 games). His assists are down, which is surprising and a little disappointing, but part of this has to be accredited to his role of being the number one option on offense. What was refreshing about him was how much he was the anti-Delaney, a true point guard who had no qualms about sharing the ball to find the best shot. However, since there haven't been any other real options developing, he's started to evolve a little into a Delaney-ish player. I don't want to see ANYONE taking those kind of shots. They cost the team. But all in all, Erick has FAR exceeded any expectations we could've had for him at the beginning of the season.
Dorenzo Hudson- Though Dorenzo has been a disappointment to this point, he is meeting my point expectations and has been pretty good at the defensive end of the floor and money at the free throw line. That's the good. His ball-handling has been bad. Unfortunately, there's tons of ugly. His 3 pt. shooting percentage and shooting percentage are disastrous. I said in the preview that we needed him to be the #1 offensive option. As well as Erick Green has played I know it would sound silly, but I'm going to repeat it: WE NEED HUDSON TO BE OUR #1 OFFENSIVE OPTION! Green can still lead us in points, but Hudson will HAVE to make an improvement. As we said above, we don't want Green to be our #1 option because it leads to bad/no sets and poor ball movement. In Hudson's defense, Greenberg has completely gone away from the screen and curl play that Hudson was so successful on in 09-10, and as a result Hudson hasn't been able find good shots on offense. What isn't helping him is how much he fires from deep: TOO MUCH! I think he sees it as his way to get involved in the offense and get touches/shots. But he's been missing them...and badly. Some of them would actually be good shots if he was hitting, but too often players are closing out and he's been rushing to get them off (as he has all his shots). This is where a pump-fake would be incredibly useful.
To get him going again, we need to get him going towards the basket, using him more on the fast break when and if we ever run, and getting jump-shots off of screens and curls. That last one is on Seth. Again, Dorenzo was the team's BEST offensive option at the end of 09-10, and part of that was due to how money he was from mid-range and coming off that screen and curl. If Greenberg doesn't get it together and rediscover his BEST offensive play that's all on him. He's having a first-half of the season like Deron Washington had his senior year, but as you'll remember, Washington caught on fire and put together one of the most dominant all-around statistical seasons in Tech history. We can only hope Hudson does the same.
Jarell Eddie- I was WAY off in my pre-season prediction and expectations for Eddie. For one, I anticipated Cadarian Raines would be the starter at PF and Finney-Smith at SF in a more traditional look. But Eddie has certainly been a pleasant surprise. He has been one of our best rebounders, a dominant 3-point shooter and overall a very good shooter from the floor. He is among the most improved players in the ACC and the statistics support that (statistically third most improved). The one thing I want to see from Eddie is the ability to take the ball to the hole. As hot as he has been from range, I want to see him take his pump and one-step in jumper to the rim occasionally. It will add an element to his game for opponents to defend and put a good foul shooter at the line. I'd also like to see him improve his rotations and close-outs on defense. Other than that, it's up to Greenberg to get him and Robert Brown on the floor more often if Hudson struggles.
Dorian Finney-Smith- Despite my lofty pre-season expectations for DFS, he has nearly met them and exceeded them on the boards. Defensively he's been pretty good, shutting down some good players, but struggling at times. He hasn't really learned to use his length to his advantage yet and other players have been able to use their girth against him in the post (YIKES if that's happened out of conference, because IN conference...just YIKES. He's about to be Deron Washington on the low block all over again). The one thing that HAS to change for him is his aggressiveness on offense. He has been incredibly passive and strictly a facilitator to this point. He looked a LOT better in that department against FSU, getting into the lane, driving and getting to the line. We have to have him be the penetrator in our offense with his skill set or we'll continue to struggle getting into a good offensive flow and pass the ball aimlessly around the perimeter. If you'll remember Harrison Barnes looked equally as aimless until about this same point last year (most Fr. in the ACC do) before he broke out and became a star player. Though Barnes may have a higher upside offensively, DFS has the edge rebounding and playing defense. We'll see if he's able to make a similar transition.
Victor Davila- Davila has really shrunk away on the offensive end, but again, he hasn't been touching the ball. He hasn't shot as well as he did last year in his limited opportunities, and that's the product of his patented hook shot being off. Greenberg and the guards are at fault for NEVER feeding the post. Seth has to address this because without a low post player getting shots we will continue to be a perimeter-only team. Davila also has to rebound the rock better. His rebounding has dropped off this year to his lowest rate since his freshman year. To be successful in ACC play we need some semblance of an offense down low. Seth and the guards need to figure that out and at least TRY to feed the post or else we're dead in the water. At least he's hitting FT's better. And jeez, can someone who's a big PLEASE go hard and dunk it!? We're leaving points on the board with missed layups and blocks by GUARDS (I'm talking about Davila and Raines here)!
Cadarian Raines- Cadarian has been one of the energy players off the bench for this team. That is something that outside the "norm" for post players, but along with Brown and Barksdale (I could make an argument for those guys in that role as well), he may be the the biggest energy guy off the bench. He has helped us with his defense and rebounding (though his D has taken a small step back), his offense/aggressiveness and his energy/intensity. Cadarian has nearly exceeded my expectations, and that's huge considering my expectations were with him as a starter!
Greenberg has defended Davila, (and really he should, because again it's at least partly his fault Davila isn't touching the ball) but there is not a scenario I can imagine in which if he continues to play the way he plays and Cadarian continues to play the way he plays that Cadarian doesn't start to REALLY get the bulk of the minutes. If that happens, he will need to score more often (again, more post feeds...). But regardless, he will need to continue to provide energy and improve his touch around the basket (he's a little like Mark Madsen down there. He gets so excited it's like he's going a million miles an hour) and rediscover how great of a defensive player he can be.
C.J. Barksdale- My expectations for C.J. were a little high considering he's kind of been the odd man out in the rotation, getting the fewest minutes of any player who has played at least 15 games. However, like I said above with Raines, in the time he has seen he has made the most of it, often having one or two good, impact plays in his short time in the game. He fights for rebounds, he drives the basket and he doesn't give up position automatically on defense. His future is bright, but he's doing about as much as can be asked in the limited time he gets.
Robert Brown- Brown has exceeded my expectations scoring-wise. In fact, early on he looked like he was going to become our top offensive player. However, he has slowed markedly because of one thing: shot selection. Sure his best attribute is the 3, but that doesn't mean to pop it regardless of the situation or the defense. He needs to shot from other places on the floor, particularly mid-range. He has shown as sweet runner in the lane, but often he is content to sit out there on the perimeter and wait for someone to drive and kick it to him. He is a natural scorer. And he CAN get hot from 3. But he can also struggle, which he has shown quite a bit as well. I would like to see him round out his offensive game much like A.D. Vassallo did (as they're almost identical offensively at this point) by pumping and taking the ball to the basket more often (he and Hudson are the two biggest offenders of this) and developing a mid-range on offense. On defense I'd like to see do a little more, and effort I believe is the biggest issue on that end. He can also be a little vulnerable with the ball as he proved against FSU with 0 assists and 4 turnovers.
Marquis Rankin- Marquis is hitting my assists projection for him, but he is not making it happen offensively. He is a lot like Hank Thorns at this point in his career, although he hasn't played nearly as much as Hank did from the start in his freshman season because of an injury. He has struggled shooting the ball, especially from deep. He needs to eliminate that shot from his perceived arsenal, because right now he just doesn't have that one. He is an elite on-ball defender according to Seth, and has pretty much looked the part so far. He also has done a pretty decent job running the offense and getting into sets. But, unless there's some improvement offensively, we really could be in trouble. Garland afforded us the option to go either way off the bench (scorer or passer), but now we're stuck with the option of a true PG. We haven't seen enough of Marquis yet, but I'll grade him on what I have seen.
Tyrone Garland- Garland had actually upped his scoring average, upped his assists and shot the ball better from the field. But he was still turning the ball over at a torrid rate and trying to bank in 3's every chance he got. His decision to transfer was not a huge blow to the Virginia Tech program, but it could be problematic as I mentioned above since our backup scoring option at PG is now gone, and our guard numbers in general took a hit (which will affect us in the future years as we are not deep numbers-wise there). I will not grade him because he is no longer on the team.
Joey van Zegeren- Van Zegeren appeared with VERY limited minutes in three games this year before the coaches decided to end his season because of concussion issues. Again, not going to grade a guy who played 10 total minutes. Although, it's ominous to see another big go down for the season to injury. But he didn't belong out there on the court this year. He's certainly a project and certainly not ready. His only stats in 10 minutes were two fouls and a block.
Erik Sorenson, Joey Racer and Will Johnston- Erick Sorenson, the best of these three players (an invited walk-on) left the program before the season began. Joey Racer earned a scholarship either courtesy of Allan Chaney or Tyrone Garland and Will Johnston joined during the middle of the non-conference season. I can't really grade them on the normal scale, so I created my own. And WHY DO WALK-ONS THINK ALL THEY CAN DO IS TAKE A THREE AND TURN THE BALL OVER!?
Paul Debnam Scale Grade: D- (or Paul Debnam--)
Team Grade: C+