The Virginia Tech Hokies dropped their second straight game after Saturday’s 59-51 loss at Clemson. With the loss, the Hokies fall to 7-4 in ACC play and 18-5 overall. At this juncture of the season, that sounds pretty good for Virginia Tech basketball, right?
Well, things could—and should—be even better. The Hokies have had to deal with some things that weren’t quite fair this year with the Chris Clarke situation and the Landers Nolley NCAA snafu. Both players were expected to be big-time contributors this season. Well, the Hokies haven’t had either player all year and still started the season 18-3.
Unfortunately, the current situation the Hokies are facing is because of the loss of senior point guard Justin Robinson. You see, Robinson isn’t your typical point guard. He’s a record-setting multi-year starter who not only runs the offense with high efficiency but is also the team’s second-leading scorer. Robinson is also an outstanding defender and is the team’s best overall player.
Robinson injured his ankle in a January 30 win at Miami and hasn’t seen the court since. And, even worse, we have no clue when he’ll be back on the court. Robinson was seen on crutches in Tech’s loss to Clemson.
Now, the biggest question facing the Hokies is can they win without him? Tech passed its first test in the historic 47-24 road win at N.C. State but has flunked its past two games with losses against Louisville and Clemson. In all three games, the offense was inept.
The ACC is a rugged league. There is never an off night. And a glance ahead at Virginia Tech’s schedule over the rest of the regular season and it is a bit daunting. The next game is a home date against 3-7 Georgia Tech. Remember, this is the same team the Hokies barely beat with a healthy Robinson in Atlanta. After the meeting with the Yellow Jackets, the Hokies travel to Pitt. Yes, Pitt’s record isn’t good but please don’t mistake this for last season’s Panthers. New coach Jeff Capel has this team competing on a nightly basis and the Panthers will be a tough out.
After that, the real run begins as the Hokies host No. 3 Virginia, before a trip to Notre Dame and then a return to Cassell to host No. 2 Duke. While Georgia Tech, Pitt and Notre Dame may be a toss-ups, this Hokie squad isn’t beating UVa or Duke. It would’ve been tough with Robinson, without him it’s virtually impossible.
After the game against Duke, the Hokies travel to No. 22 FSU and finish the regular season against a Miami squad that took North Carolina to overtime in Chapel Hill on Saturday. Sure, Miami isn’t very good, but this current Hokie squad sans Robinson is punchless on offense.
With seven games left, the Hokies need to finish at least 3-4, preferably 4-3. The NCAA Tournament is a virtual lock unless somehow this team falls completely apart and doesn’t win another game. I don’t see that.
What the Hokies need is for Nickeil Alexander-Walker to become dominant. He has shown flashes at times that he can be dominant. But for player who some fancy a future lottery pick, head coach Buzz Williams needs a lot more from him. That isn’t to let guys like Ahmed Hill, Ty Outlaw, Wabissa Bede or Kerry Blackshear off the hook. All these guys need to be better. However, Alexander-Walker is the key.
In the loss at Clemson, Alexander-Walker scored 13 points, hitting just three of 14 from the field, had five turnovers and fouled out. Simply put, he must be better than that with Robinson sidelined or this offense will continue to struggle against even the bottom-feeders of the ACC.
Bede, who replaced Robinson in the starting lineup, scored zero points at Clemson.
Getting through the ACC schedule with Robinson was difficult enough as the Hokies generally only went seven deep. Now, without him, Blackshear, Bede, Outlaw, Hill and Alexander-Walker are having to play close to 40 minutes. It’s extremely difficult to continue at that pace.
Here’s hoping for some good news on Robinson soon or a once-promising season could spiral out of control rather quickly.