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Heading into basketball season, there was a lot to be excited about as a Hokie fan. Virginia Tech returned four starters from a team that finished fourth in the ACC and advanced to the second round of the NIT. It appeared that they would be blessed with more depth, and a run to the NCAA Tournament was considered a distinct possibility. Now that the Hokies are one-quarter of the way through their ACC slate, things have changed.
Virginia Tech has suffered injuries, illness and other off-the-court problems that the team canít control. They are 0-4 in the ACC and have lost those four games by a combined 16 points. The Hokies are the same team for the most part, but they arenít closing out games the way they did a year ago. So without bringing their record into the equation, letís take a look and see how this season is going, and compare it to where Tech was 17 games into last season.
Everyone knows the Hokies have some serious depth problems. Four Virginia Tech starters are averaging over 31.4 minutes per game. Deron Washington has seen his minutes increase from 23.1 to 31.4. Coleman Collins is up to 34.9 from 28.2 a year ago. Jamon Gordon has gone up from 34.4 to 34.9, while Zabian Dowdell has increased from 30.5 to 35.3. Gordon, Dowdell and Collins all rank in the top five of the ACC in minutes played.
Markus Sailes is averaging 24.9 minutes per game with 13 starts. With the return of Wynton Witherspoon to the lineup, Sailes will come off the bench for the remainder of the season. Witherspoon is averaging 18 minutes per game. A.D. Vassallo is averaging 11.2 minutes per game, but those numbers have been dropping recently.
While it seemed like the Hokies didnít have much depth last season, it is even worse this year. Through 17 games last season, 11 players had played in ten games or more. This season, that number drops to nine. Before Witherspoonís return from injury, the only relief Tech had in the backcourt was A.D. Vassallo, and Shawn Harris in limited situations. Last season, VT brought Marquie Cooke, Wynton Witherspoon and Shawn Harris off the bench to play in the backcourt.
Things are even worse in the frontcourt. Last year, the Hokies had Chris Tucker, Allen Calloway, Jeff King and Robert Krabbendam coming off the bench. They each didnít play every game, but they were available, and they played a lot in certain situations. This year the Hokies have Chris Tucker and Cheick Diakite, who combine for 2.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. Last year the Hokies were getting 34 minutes per game from their frontcourt reserves, and this year they are getting about 17.
Injuries have played a big part in the lack of depth. Wynton Witherspoon has missed part of the season, and nearly took a redshirt year because of a fracture in his left foot. Frontcourt players Robert Krabbendam and Terrance Vinson are redshirting because of injuries.
So if youíre wondering why the Hokies arenít hitting that shot, or forcing that turnover in the final minute to win games like they were last season, depth and fatigue are probably playing a role.
Just take a look at the stats of Zabian Dowdell. Last year Dowdell played 30.5 minutes per game through 17 games, and this year he is up to 35.3. His shooting has dropped this season. Last year he hit 48.7% of his shots, including 44.4% from three-point range, in his first 17 games. This year he is shooting 41.5% from the field and 36.8% from three-point range. His overall field goal percentage this year is worse that his three-point percentage from last season.
Some of that could probably be attributed to late game fatigue. Jump shooting requires a player to leap off the floor and try to release the ball at his highest point, and fatigue hurts a playerís jumping ability, as well as his concentration. His shooting performance has also been hurt by the graduation of small forward Carlos Dixon. Dixon was an outstanding three-point shooter last season for the Hokies, and without his presence this year, opponents can pay closer attention to Dowdell.
Despite moving from point guard to shooting guard, Dowdellís turnovers have gone up. He had just 30 turnovers after 17 games last season, but he has committed 46 this year. His assist numbers have gone down slightly, from 49 to 48.
In contrast to Dowdellís regression in some areas, Jamon Gordon has improved his numbers. His scoring and rebounding are virtually the same: 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds this year, compared to 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds last season. But Gordonís shooting has improved dramatically. His field goal percentage is 45.4% this season, a big improvement over 40.6% last year. His three-point shooting has gone up as well, from 22% to 34.8%. His free throw shooting has also climbed, from 52.9% to 63%.
Gordon has also improved his already very good assist-to-turnover ratio. Last year Gordon had 76 assists and 46 turnovers through 17 games, and this year he has 86 assists and 35 turnovers.
Virginia Tech has improved their rebounding since last season. Or more accurately, other teams arenít getting as many rebounds against the Hokies. VT averaged 31.9 rebounds per game at this point last year, and are getting 31.8 this year. But opponents are grabbing 34 rebounds against the Hokies this year, as opposed to 37.2 last season. Tech is still last in the ACC in rebounding margin, but there has been some improvement.
Last season the Hokies were known for forcing turnovers and taking care of the ball. That has been the case this year as well. Although VT has only forced 288 turnovers so far this year, as opposed to 352 at this point last year, they still lead the ACC in turnover margin. But that hasnít helped them win games since ACC play began. The Hokies have forced 46 turnovers the past two games against UNC and UVA, but still lost both games in the final minute.
Virginia Tech is doing many of the things they did in winning eight games in
the ACC last season. Unfortunately for the Hokies, they havenít done quite
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