Virginia Tech tips their season off Friday night in Cassell Coliseum, hoping to build off a successful 2016 campaign where they gained national traction. With a solid recruiting class under his wing, Buzz Williams should have the talent necessary to make a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
The Hokies had just one appearance in the AP Top 25 last season, but garnered sixteen Top 25 votes in the preseason poll. CBS Sports went as far to say that Virginia Tech would be the best college basketball team in the commonwealth, not UVA (take that, Hoos). Expectations are heightened for the 2017 season, and it will be exciting to see if the team can deliver.
vs. Detroit Mercy
vs. The Citadel
vs. St. Louis (2K Classic)
vs. Washington OR Providence (2K Classic)
vs. Houston Baptist
vs. Morehead State
@ Ole Miss
vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore
@ No. 5 Kentucky
vs. North Carolina A&T
So, you have the usual slate of mediocre-to-bad teams in the non-conference schedule, just like in years past. However, the Hokies shot for the stars this offseason by announcing a December matchup against the No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena. Needless to say, this will be one of the Hokies’ most difficult pre-conference games in years. Kentucky usually boasts a star-studded freshman class, and their 2017 class is no different. In fact, with six top-25 commits and eight of the top-72 freshmen per 247 sports, this may be one of the best recruiting years in program history. The one downside to having so many freshmen is that it may take them a while to really get going and hit their stride, so the Hokies are lucky to catch them during the earlier portion of the season.
Last season, the Hokies drew Michigan as their opponent in the ACC/B1G challenge. This year, they will host the Iowa Hawkeyes at home. Iowa only won 19 games last season, leading to a second-round exit in the NIT. In the previous three years, however, the Hawkeyes have made NCAA tournament appearances, so this will be a squad eager to prove that last season’s performance was an aberration.
The last game to note in the non-conference portion is the Hokies’ trip to Mississippi, completing the home-and-away two game series the programs initiated last year. Virginia Tech won that contest 80-75, staving off a late Rebel comeback at Cassell. Interestingly enough, KenPom rates Ole Miss as the 52nd ranked team and the Hokies the 53rd ranked team in his preseason rankings. Obviously, that means this game is must-watch TV.
The Hokies will also participate in the 2K classic at Madison Square Garden, facing off against St. Louis first, then the winner of Washington v. Providence the very next day.
Syracuse (Dec. 31st @ SYR)
‘Cuse followed up a Final Four appearance in 2015 with an early NIT exit in 2016. That downtrend may continue as Syracuse lost three key players this offseason: seniors Andrew White and John Gillon graduated, while sophomore Tyler Lydon entered the 2017 NBA draft. As a result, Tyus Battle, a sophomore guard who flashed in his freshman year, averaging 11.3 points will likely be the key to the team this season.
The Orange also bring in the 39th ranked recruiting class in the country, with three 3-stars and one 4-star coming into the fold. O’Shae Brisset and Marek Dolezaj could make immediate impacts and provide depth to a fairly young squad in a loaded conference.
Virginia Tech has not won at Syracuse since the 1975-1976 season, back when neither team was in the ACC. The Hokies should win this one, given the talent disparity of the teams this year, but you can never count out a Jim Boeheim coached team – just ask Virginia.
Virginia (Jan. 3rd, Feb. 10th @UVA)
As the Virginia Tech/UVA football game becomes more lopsided every year, the basketball rivalry has seemingly closed the gap. Splitting with the ‘Hoos the last two years is proof of that, even though the Hokies have not done well on the road against a well-coached and disciplined team. At the tail end of last season, Virginia struggled on offense. Like really struggled. Like scored under 60 points in six of their last ten games struggled, which is god awful.
Losing London Perrantes won’t help their cause, as he was not only an expert at circus layups, but also the primary playmaker on an inconsistent offense. Marial Shayok may prove to be an underrated departure, as his athleticism on the wing allowed Virginia to shut teams down on the perimeter. Ty Jerome and Kyle “I’m not your friend” Guy both need to build off their freshman years and step up this season, especially since the 2017 class UVA brings in is not anything special.
UVA also had fifty-seven Top 25 votes in the AP Preseason Poll while the Hokies had just sixteen, so it’s not like this is an opponent that has gotten significantly worse. It is more than slightly annoying that the home game is over winter break for the second time in three years. C’mon ACC, you can do better than that.
Pittsburgh (Jan. 6th)
The Hokies won in Pittsburgh last year for the first time in 50 years, extending the win streak over the Panthers to two. After last season’s win, the Hokies started to gain momentum which eventually landed them in the NCAA tournament. Pittsburgh experienced a lot of turnover on their roster over the offseason, losing seniors Michael Young, Jamel Artis, and Sheldon Jeter. Those three players combined for a whopping 46 points per game. They won’t even have Cameron Johnson, a 6-foot-7 knockdown shooter, who transferred to UNC over the offseason as a graduate student.
Due to the departures of impact seniors, Pittsburgh welcomes in seven new basketball commits. However, they are all rated as three-stars or under, so it’s hard to see any of them making an immediate and notable impact. The Panthers finished with just four conference wins last year, and it may take some time for them to get it together this season with all the changes they have endured.
Wake Forest (Jan. 10th @WF)
The Demon Deacons’ best player last year was John Collins, who gave the Hokies fits down the stretch with his excellent post play and versatile offensive game. He was selected in the first round, and is now balling with former Hokie Malcolm Delaney in Atlanta. The good news for Wake Forest is that juniors Bryant Crawford and Keyshawn Woods have excelled so far in their young careers, and can pick up the slack.
Wake Forest also recruited two-guard Chaundee Brown, whom 247 rates as a high four-star prospect. The Demon Deacons love spreading the floor and hitting from long-range, and Brown gives them an opportunity to add to that philosophy. Games between the Hokies and Deacons have typically been high scoring on the basketball floor, as opposed to the football field (you know the picture I’m talking about), and it usually makes for some entertaining games. I’d expect that to continue this season.
No. 16 Louisville (Jan. 13th @LOU, Feb. 24th)
Ah, good ol’ fishy Louisville. The Hokies won’t have to worry about looking Rick Pitino in the eye for either of these games, as he will inexplicably still be trying to clear his name after appearing as guilty as you can in the NCAA recruiting scandal. I guess sometimes you do need to resort to paying recruits a hundred grand cause you can’t do your job well enough without cheating.
Pitino aside, Louisville’s athletics program is in disarray. It sucks, and while I don’t feel sorry for the school, I do for the fans, because I would hate for my team to be a part of something like that. The good news for them is that their team is loaded this year, so interim coach David Padgett will have plenty of talent to work with. Outstanding guard Donovan Mitchell is now with the Utah Jazz, but Quentin Snyder and Deng Adel both return with another year of experience under their belts. In addition, Jaylen Johnson seeks to take on a bigger role as does VJ King, a five-star freshman last year who was sidelined due to injury for most of the season. If both of them can live up to their potential, this can be a dangerous team, given that they respond well to their new coach. That doesn’t even factor in their recruiting class, which pulled in one 5-star and three 4-stars.
The Hokies have to play the Cardinals twice, which is not an enviable position, with or without Pitino.
Florida State (Jan. 20th)
We will refer to this matchup as the MJ Walker game, as the Hokies lost out on fringe five-star recruit MJ Walker over the summer to the Seminoles, missing out on completing a historic recruiting class. However, given the state of Florida State’s football team, it appears that they will need as much firepower on the basketball team to keep the fans happy. FSU had a relatively successful 2016-17 season, finishing second in the ACC with 12 conference wins, but laid a stinker in the second round of the NCAA tournament, falling 91-66 to the hands of Xavier. Like Buzz Williams, Leonard Hamilton will look to build on last year’s success and hopefully grow from it.
The Seminoles proved to be a bad matchup for the Hokies last season due to their length, which was the primary reason they were dominated on the glass and lost to FSU twice. The good news for Virginia Tech is that two of Florida State’s longer players from last season, Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon, are now playing pro ball (Isaac for the Magic and Bacon for the Hornets). But given the Seminoles’ recruiting class and already proven depth, they should be more than ready to handle the upcoming season despite not having surefire lottery-pick talent.
Having Kerry Blackshear will be huge for the Hokies this season. He may not be as fierce as LeDay, but at least he gives Virginia Tech more of a chance to compete on the glass due to his length.
No. 9 North Carolina (Jan. 22nd)
The last time the Tar Heels came to Blacksburg, the Hokies rallied from a 20-point deficit and nearly stole a game from the long-lived blue bloods. This season, the Hokies will get a chance to beat the reigning national champions, who will likely be weaker this season. It is actually crazy to see how much talent the Tar Heels lost this offseason. Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, and Tony Bradley are all playing professionally. In fact, just one of the top five leading scorers from last year remains on the team – Joel Berry, a rising senior, who balled out for UNC in the NCAA tournament.
However, UNC rarely suffers from a lack of talent even when they lose a substantial amount like they did this offseason. Cameron Johnson, the transfer from Pittsburgh, will look to spark the offense by spacing the floor by remaining a 40% three-point shooter. Theo Pinson might still be the most versatile playmaker in the conference. Seventh Woods did not have myriad opportunities last season, but he was a five-star recruit for a reason – not just cause of his awesome name. Roy Williams and his team will be fine, and will once more compete for the top spot in the ACC. Not that everyone didn’t know that already, evidenced by their No. 9 AP Preseason ranking.
No. 14 Notre Dame (Jan. 27th @ND)
How the hell is Bonzie Colson still playing? That dude has been destroying the league for Mike Brey’s squad since the Cretaceous Era. In a way, that sort of summarizes what Notre Dame is. A tough, veteran, smart team that won’t make critical mistakes and will force you to beat them. The Irish are competitive every year, and given the No. 14 preseason ranking, the expectation is that they will be very competitive this year.
Notre Dame lost their second and fourth leading scorers, Steve Vasturia and VJ Beachum, who have also seemingly been in South Bend forever. However, the core of Matt Farrell, the aforementioned Colson, Pfleuger, Ryan, and Martinas Geben should get the job done on the defensive end, which is where Notre Dame truly excels. DJ Harvey, a four-star freshman, is highly regarded among the Notre Dame staff and figures to get plenty of minutes in 2017 to provide a spark on offense.
This will be a very tough game on the road, but I will give the Hokies a chance as long as they don’t make stupid late game errors.
Boston College (Jan. 31st @BC)
The Boston College Eagles, after an 0-18 conference record in 2015, rebounded with an impressive 2-16 record last season. Seriously. That 2015 team was devoid of talent and effort, but Jim Christian did an admirable job with the hand he was dealt, finding some players including Ky Bowman (who the Cassell crowd referred to as “Cheeto Head”) and Jerome Robinson. Not to mention, Hokies’ killer Jordan Chatman who hit as many three-pointers as Joey Slye has – or so it seems. There are plenty of nice pieces on Boston College’s roster that have potential.
Even though Boston College will be better this year, it would not be a good look if the Hokies lost this contest in Chestnut Hill. But it’s impossible to know when a team will be put on upset alert, especially on the road in this conference.
No. 13 Miami (Feb. 3rd, March 3rd @MIA)
The Hurricanes earned the No. 8 seed in the Midwest region of last year’s NCAA tournament, where they promptly exited after being blown out by Michigan State 78-58 in the first round (seriously, send a thank you note to the Spartans). Unfortunately, Miami looks to be a much improved team this year, reflected in their No. 13 AP ranking to start the year. Seniors Davon Reed and Kamari Murphy have left Coral Gables, but enter
sandman the nation’s 9th best recruiting class and young players ready to step up. Bruce Brown and Dewan Huell were both five-stars coming out of high school, but were relegated to lesser roles in their freshman year. This year, they will be given the opportunity to shine. In addition, Miami brings in 5-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker who is ultra-talented (but Nickeil’s better) as well as three other four-star recruits.
The last two years have resulted in some fun contests, especially in Cassell. These games are usually defensive until one team starts to pull away in the second half. It would be quite a result if the Hokies beat the Hurricanes in Miami, which they have failed to do since 2013. I think a split between the two teams seems like a reasonable and likely result. Also, why does it seem Virginia Tech plays Miami at or near the end of the regular season every year? Some variety would be appreciated.
North Carolina State (Feb. 7th)
Dennis Smith Jr. was a one-man wrecking crew for NC State last year against the Hokies, notching an impressive triple-double which probably helped him land a top-10 spot in the NBA draft. He was fun to watch, with the operative word there being “was”. Without him, the Wolfpack must find a replacement for their best playmaker on offense. NC State does have a nice core of young players that have loads of potential, including sophomores Markell Johnson and seven-footer Omer Yurtseven as well as juniors Torin Dorn and Maverick Rowan. Lavar Batts, a four-star point guard, is also a viable candidate to come in and be a playmaker.
Even with Smith last year, the Wolfpack were not able to make a postseason tournament. I don’t know that if that changes this season, but I’d be a fool to be confident about that. I’m just happy I don’t have to watch BeeJay Anya anymore, the Wolfpack’s 300-lb center who graduated this offseason.
No. 1 Duke (Feb. 14th @DUKE, Feb. 26th)
If you’re not a Duke fan, don’t look at their incoming recruiting class. It feels like you can say that every year, but it feels especially true this season.
· Marvin Bagley – candidate to be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NBA draft
· Trevon Duval – outstanding playmaking point guard who can be a scorer
· Wendell Carter – a long post player who can score at will
· Gary Trent Jr. – another five-star recruit who might not even play all that much cause this team is just THAT talented
This doesn’t even include returning studs like Frank Jackson or Grayson Allen. It truly is unfair, despite losing Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard, Amile Jefferson, and Matt Jones. Duke still has players on the roster like Marques Bolden, who was a five-star recruit rumored to transfer after playing just over six minutes per game his freshman year.
I would be incredibly surprised if the Hokies were able to take one of these games from Duke, although I felt that way last season when they blew the Blue Devils out of the building. Still, that was without Grayson Allen, and Virginia Tech has to play Duke twice later in the season where they should be hitting their stride.
Not the opponent you want to play twice in a season. Although, for all we know, all this hype might just lead to another second round NCAA tournament exit.
Georgia Tech (Feb. 17th @GT)
Despite going just 8-10 in the ACC and 21-16 overall, the Yellow Jackets were talked about as a team that could sneak into the NCAA tournament via a play-in game, which ultimately didn’t end up happening. Josh Pastner’s squad instead made it to the finals of the NIT where TCU obliterated them. For what appeared to be a non-basketball school, it was a solid stepping stone into the 2017-18 season. The core of Josh Okogie, GT’s leading scorer from last season, Ben Lammers, who practically led the nation in blocked shots, and Tadric Jackson (Tyrie’s cousin) will be the trio to focus on this season.
This was a pesky, defensive side last season, which nearly stole a game in Cassell until Seth Allen stole it right back with one of his trademark late-game heroic moments. Buzz Williams heaped praise onto this team a year ago after the win in his post-game presser, and for good reason. Georgia Tech might be a sleeper team in the ACC this season. The one concern I do have with the Yellow Jackets is their depth.
Clemson (Feb. 21st)
The kings of close losses last year will be without their stalwart forward Jaron Blossomgame this season. However, Clemson brings in the 46th ranked recruiting class in the nation with some decent talent to collectively fill that void. Without their two leading scorers from last season, the Tigers’ junior guard duo of Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed will shoulder most of the load on offense. I expect both to average over 13 points per game. Dontae Grantham is another nice piece that will have an impact in the front court.
I don’t think Clemson matches up all that well for the Hokies, but there are months left until these two teams meet. The Hokies need to take care of business at home this season due to a tougher road schedule than normal, so this game will be a must-win in all likelihood.
Tyrie Jackson, r-Freshman
H/W: 6-1, 20
“Pig” Jackson has unbelievable athletic ability for the position, and pairs that with a solid shooting stroke, making over 60% of his three-point attempts in high school. After redshirting last year due to the immense depth at the position, Jackson is poised to make an immediate contribution on the defensive end this season while adding some spacing on offense.
Wabissa Bede, Freshman
H/W: 6-1, 195
I covered the role of each freshman for the 2017 season over the summer. You can find Bede’s article here.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Freshman
H/W: 6-5, 210
I covered the role of each freshman for the 2017 season over the summer. You can find Alexander Walker’s article here.
Disclaimer: Walker is probably going to get much more playing time than I initially thought. He’s really freaking good.
Justin Robinson, Junior
H/W: 6-2, 190
Due to the departure of Seth Allen, Justin Robinson will be entrusted to be the primary playmaker for the Virginia Tech offense. He has incredible vision and handles, but will sometimes “wow” you one play then make you roll your eyes the next. In his junior year, Robinson could be the key as well as the engine for this team.
Justin Bibbs, Senior
H/W: 6-5, 220
Not only a great shooter (43.4% from three in his career), Bibbs has become Buzz’s trusted guy to guard the opposition’s best perimeter player. Last season, he played an instrumental role in holding London Perrantes to 7-of-22 from the field in the Hokies’ double OT win over UVA. His role in spacing the floor and making timely shots is critical for Buzz’s small ball system.
Devin Wilson, r-Senior
H/W: 6-4, 195
After taking a break from the hardwood season to focus on football, Wilson is back with Buzz to pester opposing point guards. With quickness and experience, Wilson is a welcome sight to a Hokies’ team that struggled defending the perimeter last season. He may not be much of a threat on offense, but because of the Hokies’ firepower at the position, he does not need to be. He should be able to excel in his role as a defensive specialist that has plus playmaking.
Ahmed Hill, r-Junior
H/W: 6-5, 205
Ahmed Hill was an enigma last season, starting the year on fire but going White Walker cold near the end of conference play. Still, his presence as a three-point extraordinaire made kept defenses off-balance when Virginia Tech really hit their stride at the end of the year. Hill’s size is another factor, allowing the Hokies to go small when they want due to Hill’s rebounding ability.
PJ Horne, Freshman
H/W: 6-5, 215
I covered the role of each freshman for the 2017 season over the summer. You can find Horne’s article here.
Chris Clarke, Junior
H/W: 6-6, 210
Probably the most talented upperclassman on the team, Clarke spent nearly the entire offseason recovering from a torn ACL after a promising year. In 2016, Clarke recorded the first triple double in program history, showing off his versatility. We have seen him guard multiple positions and box out players six inches taller than him. The good news was that Clarke was able to participate in the Hokies’ exhibition match against South Carolina. He will no doubt be a crucial cog in this team’s success due to his ability to defend, pass, and attack the rim.
Nick Fullard, r-Junior
H/W: 6-10, 235
The Hokies don’t have a true center on the roster, and with just Kerry Blackshear as the other big man, Fullard may be forced into some minutes this year. I don’t have a good feel for how much he will play, but if he can provide valuable rest time for Blackshear, the Hokies will be able to compete with some of the bigger teams in the ACC.
Justin Ammerman, Junior
H/W: 6-3, 185
Kerry Blackshear. r-Sophomore
H/W: 6-10, 260
Blackshear missed the entire 2016 campaign, but now will be forced to emerge as the team’s best post player given his size and stature. I would say Blackshear plays about or near 30 minutes a game, given that he stays out of foul trouble. He may be the most important person on the team this season, because without Blackshear, the Hokies have no chance to compete with teams on the glass.
Ty Outlaw, r-Senior
H/W: 6-6, 220
Unfortunately, Ty Outlaw tore his ACL over the offseason after an outstanding 2016 campaign where he simply couldn’t miss, breaking the program record for most three-pointers made in a game. The Hokies will be without his services this season, which is a real shame, because he fought so hard to be able to play last season.
If the Hokies can stay healthy, unlike last season where Chris Clarke had the unfortunate knee injury, they can make the NCAA tournament. However, the path to March Madness will be tougher this year, and it is conceivable that they could play well and just not have a good enough record to make the cut.
However, my official prediction is this: the Virginia Tech Hokies not only make the cut, but also win an NCAA tournament game for the first time 2006-07.