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What the Hokies Must Do to Get Back to the Big Dance Next Season

Virginia Tech must continue to grow this offseason, even with the departure of their two best players.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia Tech vs Wisconsin Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the early exit from the big dance, the Hokies have plenty of reason to feel good about their season and the future. Virginia Tech was dealt a difficult hand with injuries and a shortened rotation and made the most of a tough situation, making the tournament for the first time in a decade. The 2017 recruiting class will bring an influx of talent to the team, with highly-touted recruits Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede. Buzz Williams’ program continues to show phenomenal growth, and the team should be primed to make back-to-back NCAA appearances for the first time since 1986.

That being said, there are certain areas the team needs to improve upon if they want to move up in the ACC standings and ascertain a higher seed in the NCAA tournament in 2018.

Get healthy – and stay that way.

One of the reasons the Hokies should be back in the tournament is because they will return most of last year’s team, sans Seth Allen and Zach LeDay. Another huge personnel-related reason is that they will also get Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Chris Clarke (assuming he can heal before November) back from injury. They are arguably two of the top five best players on the roster, especially when it comes to rebounding, an area that cost the Hokies a win against Wisconsin. The Hokies have had at least one key contributor out for a significant portion of the season for the past two years.

It is not just about having a healthy roster to start the season, but also one to finish it and head into the postseason with a full arsenal. This season, Duke had one of the best recruiting classes in recent history, but some of those freshmen were banged up during the year. They got healthy at the right time, and are one of the hottest teams in the nation as a result.

Injuries are a part of the game. Sometimes they are unavoidable. Having more bodies in the rotation next season should minimize the impact of an injury. Nevertheless, having your best players healthy at the right time is obviously better than not in the postseason.

Someone must step up and become a leader.

Seth Allen and Zach LeDay’s losses are unquantifiable. Sure, the Hokies are getting great talent from their recruiting class to replace them. What will be nearly impossible to replace, however, are their intangibles. Allen himself willed the team to victory more than a few times, and his presence as a scorer and playmaker were vital to the team’s offensive success this season. He was a spark off the bench that the team relied on as a leader.

Zach LeDay was a quintessential Hokie in terms of his effort (not to mention his trademark scowl). He showed that you can’t measure heart, being one of the better rebounders in the ACC despite standing at just 6-6. The energy he brought to the game was contagious, which made the players around him better as well.

Justin Bibbs, Devin Wilson, and Ty Outlaw will be the only seniors on the roster next season. While each of them play important roles, none of them really stands out as an obvious leader. So who on the team steps up and assumes a leadership role? Maybe it’s Justin Robinson, the one-guard who will have the keys to run the offense next season. Maybe it’s Chris Clarke, who might be the most gifted player on the team. There are no standout candidates, as of right now.

Improve defensively.

Broad, I know. But the teams that make it far in the tournament are the ones that can play strong defense. Nearly every metric showed the Hokies’ were lackluster on that side of the floor. Giving up 84 points to slow-paced Wisconsin team is the equivalent of giving up 95 points to a team that runs at an average tempo.

The Hokies also had one of the worst perimeter defenses in the country. Bronson Koenig’s eight-triple performance would be a lot less worrying if it was just the first time that a player made eight or more threes. It was a domino effect of not being able to defend the interior, forcing the defense to collapse leaving shooters wide open.

Some of that was due to a lack of size, which should be corrected next season with the returns of Blackshear and Clarke, and the additions of Seth LeDay and Nicholas Fullard. Rebounding is another key problem that needs to be solved, as the Hokies were one of the worst teams at giving up second chance points.

The Hokies cannot rely on another year where they shoot over 40% from three because it just does not happen all that often. There are many talented offensive teams in the ACC, so improvement on defense is a must for the 2017-18 season.