It’s finally here. College basketball season has arrived, and the Virginia Tech Hokies tip off the 2023-24 season on Monday against the Coppin State Eagles.
It’s been an eventful month for the Hokies, and not necessarily in a good way. Virginia Tech lost a key member of the 2023-24 roster when sophomore guard Rodney Rice left the team. It was a tough blow for head coach Mike Young so close to the season, as the Hokies can’t replace Rice on the roster.
Rice, one of the top recruits in program history, was expected to be a significant contributor to this year’s team. While his departure is disappointing, the show must go on, and the Hokies have several experienced players ready to make an impact.
Young returns for his fifth season as Virginia Tech’s head coach. His coaching staff has one new assistant. J.D. Byers replaces Mike Jones, who took a similar position at Maryland. Byers comes to Blacksburg from Penn State, where he never coached a game. After Byers was hired by Penn State, the opportunity with the Hokies opened up, and Byers’ wife, Marci, is Virginia Tech’s head volleyball coach. Before his hiring at Penn State, Byers spent six years as an assistant at VCU.
Christian Webster is back for his eighth season with the Hokies, while Kevin Giltner returns for his fifth season in Blacksburg.
- 0 G Hunter Cattoor, 6’3”, 200, GR, Orlando, Fla.
- 2 G MJ Collins, 6’4”, 195, SO, Clover, S.C.
- 3 G Sean Pedulla, 6’1”, 195, JR, Edmond, Ok.
- 4 F Mekhi Long, 6’7”, 200, GR, Bryans Road, Md.
- 5 C Patrick Wessler, 7’0”, 255, R-Fr, Matthews, N.C.
- 10 G Brandon Rechsteiner, 6’1”, 185, FR, Acworth, Ga.
- 11 F John Camden, 6’8”, 220, R-So., Downingtown, Pa.
- 13 G Jaydon Young, 6’4”, 205, FR, Goldsboro, N.C.
- 15 C Lynn Kidd, 6’10”, 235, SR, Gainesville, Fla.
- 23 F/G Tyler Nickel, 6’7”, 220, SO, Harrisonburg, Va.
- 31 F Robbie Beran, 6’9”, 215, GR, Richmond, Va.
- 33 G Michael Ward, 6’2”, 175, SO, Bethesda, Md.
- 34 F Mylyjael Poteat, 6’9”, 265, SR, Reidsville, N.C.
- 55 F Conner Venable, 6’3”, 190, FR, Washington, D.C.
What the Hokies lost
We covered Rice. While looking at his stats from one year ago, you’d think Rice’s absence wouldn’t be too difficult to overcome. However, he was hurt for much of last season and started to show some of his potential in March. If Tech had lost Rice in the offseason, the Hokies could’ve mined the transfer portal for a replacement. His late departure leaves the Hokies in a bit of a bind.
Outside of Rice, Virginia Tech lost three contributors from last season: F Grant Basile, F Justyn Mutts and G Darius Maddox. Maddox left the team during the season and has since transferred to George Mason. However, Tech’s top losses were Basile and Mutts — who completed their eligibility.
Mutts became an institution in Blacksburg after transferring into the program. Not only was he a good scorer, but he was an excellent rebounder, defender and passer. Mutts was beloved by coaches, fans and teammates. He’ll be difficult to replace.
Basile is another tough departure. He led the Hokies in scoring at 16.4 PPG last season and became much more comfortable during the ACC slate. Basile could play down low but was also comfortable on the perimeter.
The new guys
Robbie Beran comes to Blacksburg from Northwestern. The Richmond native is long and a good defender, who started 99 games in the Big Ten. That starting experience will come in handy for the Hokies. Beran averaged a career-high 7.5 PPG last season but will be counted on to score more for VT. Beran is also an excellent outside shooter, as he’s shot 46% from beyond the arc for his career.
Long comes to Virginia Tech from Old Dominion. The 6-foot-7 wing can play multiple positions and will be counted upon to replace Mutts’ production. Long averaged around 11 points and nine rebounds per contest last season. He can also shoot from the outside, having knocked down 36% of his attempts from the 3-point line last season.
Beran and Long will start for Virginia Tech.
The most exciting transfer is Tyler Nickel. The Harrisonburg native is a 6-foot-7 wing who is the state of Virginia’s all-time leading scorer. When you look up the history of players from the Old Dominion, it’s quite an impressive list. Nickel is tops on that list.
Nickel is known for his outside shot, but he can also take defenders off the dribble. The question is, how advanced is his defense? Nickel will be a part of Virginia Tech’s rotation, although he will not start initially.
The new freshmen newcomers are Brandon Rechsteiner and Jaydon Young. Rechsteiner is a player the Hokies were on early in the recruiting process before he blew up a bit. The son of pro wrestling legend “Big Poppa Pump, Scott Steiner,” Rechsteiner is a terrific point guard who is an outstanding shooter. Rechsteiner could eventually become an All-ACC player for Young, but we aren’t sure how much he’ll play as a freshman.
Young has good size and is an excellent athlete who continued to improve in each season of his high school career. The Hokies believe they found a steal in Young, who impressed over the summer. Young is similar to MJ Collins.
The starting five
Here’s our prediction for Virginia Tech’s starting five:
- F Long
- F Beran
- C Kidd
- G Pedulla
- G Cattoor
This could obviously change. Rice would have been in the starting lineup in place of Kidd, giving the Hokies three guards. That could still be the case, with Collins in the starting five over Kidd or, perhaps Beran. I believe Beran starts. He is glue-type player who may not put up big numbers, but he is going to help you in a number of ways.
This should be the year that Cattoor finally leads the Hokies in scoring and earns an All-ACC bid. The leading scorers will be Cattoor and Pedulla.
Kidd gives the Hokies size and rebounding. He made strides season and was a key member of the rotation. If his game takes another leap this winter, that’s good news for the Hokies.
Long should give Tech similar production to Mutts, although he may not score quite as much.
Let’s assume the above five players start the season. That means Collins would be the top guy off the bench and would play in three-guard lineups. ESPN analyst — and former VT head coach — Seth Greenberg has raved about Collins. While he struggled offensively as a freshman last season, he received valuable playing time. That will benefit him in 2023-24. If Collins takes a step forward in all facets of his game, he’ll be one of Virginia Tech’s top players this season.
Poteat will see plenty of action off the bench. He flashed at times last season and is a rugged player.
Nickel, Camden and one of the freshman guards should also plenty of time. I am guessing it will be Rechsteiner, who can spell Pedulla at point guard.
Tech isn’t necessarily deep, but the Hokies could be, as there are several interesting players. It’s all about development. If Collins and Nickel develop, Virginia Tech should be a good offensive team this season.
I believe Virginia Tech’s upside went down a bit when Rice left the team. Rice can create his own shots, and, while he may have been a bit overrated as a prospect, you can’t teach that type of athleticism. This roster lacks it, unless Young makes his presence felt as a freshman.
Collins is one of Tech’s most important players. If he develops, he can be a 10-12 PPG scorer this season who can knock down outside shots and play excellent defense.
Pedulla was terrific in the first half of last season, but played so many minutes that it was clear he wore down as the season progressed. The hope is Cattoor and Rechsteiner can relieve him at times, keeping him fresh late in games. Pedulla is not afraid to take the big shot and could be an All-ACC player this season.
Cattoor’s return was huge for Young. He improves every season, and the former ACC Tournament MVP is due for a breakout season.
The Hokies need Long to replace Mutts’ production. While that could prove to be difficult, Long was a productive player at ODU. He can also give the Hokies more from beyond the arc than Mutts. If Beran can give Tech 8-9 PPG and 5-6 RPG while playing good defense, he’ll be an asset.
I look at Nickel and John Camden as X-factors. How soon will Nickel be a part of Young’s regular rotation? He could give the Hokies a scoring boost off the bench. Camden is a similar player to Nickel, who can shoot from the outside and provide offense off the bench. If Tech can get production from one — or both of these two players — it should be fine offensively.
Rice’s loss hurt the Hokies, but it was not a devastating blow. The perception of his loss may actually sting more than his actual loss on the court. While you’d love to have him, it does create opportunities for others, such as Collins, Young, Rechsteiner, Nickel and Camden.
A lot needs to go right for the Hokies to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, but it’s certainly plausible. They need to stay healthy, which has been an issue in recent years, and be among the ACC’s top three-point shooting teams. On paper, that looks likely, but it must happen consistently on the court.