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Making The Grade: A Look at C.J. Barksdale

The next installment in an ongoing series reviewing the performance of VT men's basketball players from this past season and projecting into 2014-15.

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

C.J. Barksdale got off to a disappointing start to the 2013-14 season when he was suspended for the first three games as a result of an unnamed violation of team rules.

That's not what you want from your only scholarship junior (Note: Will Johnston was on scholarship for the first time last season) in terms of leadership. Still, C.J. was an important part of Tech's team last season both because of his skill set and the complete lack of experience in the frontcourt.

In total, Barksdale missed 10 games for the Hokies as he battled through numerous injuries and the season-opening suspension. Tech fans really only saw him truly healthy for a handful of games and yet, C.J. remained productive.

On the season Barksdale averaged 8.1 PPG while pulling down 4.2 RPG.

Despite playing 248 fewer minutes than he did in 2012-13, Barksdale scored just four points less (171). That's possible in part due to his increased use of the three point shot.

In his first two seasons at Virginia Tech, Barksdale didn't attempt a single three pointer. This season, he made 11-of-31 (35.5%) showing his impressive shooting range for a forward, and letting teams know that his game does in fact extend outside the arc. At the beginning of the year, there were plenty of groans when C.J. put up a three, but in the end he actually shot slightly better than Devin Wilson's 14-of-45 (31.1%).

There were numerous possessions when he settled for a jumper too early in the shot clock, but just 31 attempts considering how much VT was behind, is an indication of how much he tried to make his perimeter attempts work within the flow of the "offense." You would assume that this restraint might afford him more of a green light in his final season next year, but with new coach Buzz Williams looking to make his mark, nothing can be certain.

Barksdale showed solid consistency in hitting the baseline jumper for two as well, while making 51.2% of his field goal attempts. His range can create match-up issues by drawing post defenders outside, and it also helps to clear the paint for attempts off the dribble.

That shooting ability translated to the free throw line as well where C.J. made 81.1% of his shots. That's a notable outlier on a team filled with average to bad free throw shooters.

When healthy, Barksdale is one of Tech's most talented players and easily the most refined post player on the roster. It's absolutely critical for him to be healthy if the Hokies  hope to climb out of the ACC cellar next season. That starts by coming into preseason in great physical shape, something that hasn't always been the case.

C.J. can stand to improve in a couple of areas. He needs to get to the free throw line more to take advantage of his strong shooting. There will always be a ceiling there because of C.J.'s fondness for jump shots, but he can create opportunities by being aggressive in the paint.

That's where his rebounding has to pick up as well. There's limited help to make up for the loss of Tech's leading rebounder Jarell Eddie. In all likelihood, the Hokies will be playing "small" lineups due to the lack of post players (barring Tech adding another big man on the recruiting trail) which puts the bulk of the rebounding duties on Barksdale, Joey van Zegeren and true freshman Satchel Pierce.

Improved rebounding gives Tech second chances that rarely happened last season on the offensive end and will give Barksdale more chances at the line.

There's no reason why C.J. Barksdale shouldn't be at least a 10 and 5 player in 2014-2015. His scoring average has increased each season in Blacksburg and there will be no shortage of minutes for healthy big men in Buzz Williams' first season at the Hokie helm. If he truly plays to his potential and stays on the court, C.J. might just get some All-ACC love.

Overall Grade: B-


CJ Barksdale-Virginia Tech Men's Basketball 2013-2014 Highlights (via CJ Barksdale)

Flyer's 13's #HAWTTAKE

Last man standing. No Doe Doe, no Robert Brown, no Marquis Rankin alongside him. A bombed out husk of a recruiting class. But as the last man standing, he has quietly also been the forgotten man. Originally viewed as a big recruiting get from Danville, he was immediately overshadowed by the overrated #15 prospect in the country, Dorian Finney Smith (now playing in Final Fours at Florida), who came from the more notorious 757, and already had an older brother at ODU in Ben Finney, who had taken Seth Greenberg squads to school a time or two. With a player at each spot 1-4 on the floor, a recruiting tactic Seth Greenberg had used twice prior (in the Zabian Dowdell group, and the the Malcolm Delaney/Jeff Allen group) VT basketball was primed to take it to the next level.....again.

Let's face it though, C.J. Barksdale is not the 6'8" that he is listed at. He may be 6'6" and a half. So he was never truly the complementary power forward to Doe Doe's big wing. There was some redundancy there. So he sat more than I expected his freshman year, not playing more than 20 minutes. He didn't have much of a game at all, inside or out. It appeared as though it were another case of a high school big man struggling to make the transition to major D-1 competition. He shot just 42% from the field that year, and without taking a three, that is fairly abysmal for a post player.

In 2012, after Doe Doe had transferred out, Barksale grew his game a little bit and take advantage of the minutes, unburdened by the fear of a quick hook. The team was bad enough to live with his mistakes, and foster a little room for growth. Barksdale took stock of things, and realized that he was going to need to add a few things to his game, and that's when we began to see his dribble drive, which is very good for an ACC power forward. He has a quick first step,  has a knack for shielding the ball from shot blockers, and he has the strength to absorb the contact and finish around the basket. Yet, he still couldn't command respect for this skill because his perimeter shot was suspect. His sophomore year was a throwaway season for the record books and for most Hokie fans, but it was very formative for C.J. in terms of shaping his game.

This past season, the one we're grading him on, was not a sterling one individually. Like the rest of the team he showed some life there in late November, including what many thought might be a "Honey I'm Home" debut in his first game back from suspension against VMI in which he put up a 16/6 in going toe to toe with All-Big South performer DJ Covington. A week later he had a double-double against Radford. But an injury suffered prior to VCU subsequently held him out of the Miami win in Coral Gables. He was never truly healthy all year,  battling knee and ankle naggers, even missing the ACC tournament game against Miami.

The question we all have about C.J. going forward is "Can he carry the load, can he be counted on?"  Let's examine the numbers: In 84 career games, Barksdale has just 16 games in double figure points, and just three in double digit rebounding. Since it's a bit stringent of me to ask for 10 rebounds a game in a 40 minute contest, I reduced it to incidences of seven or more rebounds, and it turns out CJ has 16 of those as well in his three years. So at 16 for 84, we are at a crossroads. We know he's capable of the production, but we still question whether he can be counted on to produce consistently.

The question also remains as to whether he's a Small Forward or a Stretch Four, because he isn't your prototypical back to the basket post player. Quite frankly not many teams can afford to have two guys clogging it up in the middle with the drive and kick offenses that have dominated the college game since Coach K made it trendy. But enough about teams who have only made one Final Four in the last 10 years (I know I was shocked too!). If his three-point shooting wasn't a mirage, it can be the next weapon to his arsenal, and will open up things tremendously on the block.

Defining C.J.'s role next year might once again prove elusive, with the defection of the "soft" Trevor Thompson to Ohio State, and the merciful termination of Cadarian Raines eligibility. VT will have the exciting JVZ back manning the paint, and a promising freshman who has inside-out capabilities in seven-footer Satchel Pierce. The spot at the three is open, but so is the spot at the four. Once again I have a feeling that it will be a mix of roles, with Barksdale never getting as comfortable as he should as the assignments will be dictated by match-ups.

By year four, you'd have hoped Barksdale would have emerged a bit more, and that he wasn't beset by injuries. But the fact that he has produced in moderation for a team struggling through a downturn leaves reason for optimism. What can he do with proper guidance, and more focus? To put it succinctly:  probably better than he has. As I stated earlier, he has added something to his game each off-season and kept his nose down, steadily working. No one can question his mental make-up in battling through the messy Greenberg divorce and James Johnson's lack of....everything.

I hope it all comes together for Barksdale next year, and he is able to have the kind of senior year that others (like Erick Green and Raines) have been unable to enjoy at VT the past two seasons as the shells from outgoing AD James Weaver's friendly fire continued to explode all around them. The team has strong leadership in the form of Devin Wilson and Ben Emelogu, and the bench is no longer rudderless;so  if C.J. is comfortable adding to that "leadership council" then so be it, if not, his quiet type of production is always a value-add.

Final Grade: Incomplete (still work to do....I expect 12/6 from him next year though.)

We'll be back with more of these. Just getting started, as we enter the interminable period between Spring Practice and Fall Practice. Until next time, Nuestro Cassell es su Cassell.