is two weeks old, the court in the main coliseum is clearly close to being ready
for ACC basketball with the subtle updated changes, and many people are counting
down the days until December 19, when North Carolina arrives at the Cassell for
the first Virginia Tech ACC conference basketball game. But while most everyone
acknowledges the steep road that the program has in trying to make some noise
and become a bona fide player in the conference, year two of the Greenberg reign
will be closely monitored to gauge just exactly where the Hokies will fit within
the conference hierarchy.
We all know that the quality of basketball has just gotten
better with the arrival of sixteen ACC conference games on the schedule. We all
know about the year-in-and-year-out success of ACC programs in the NCAA
Tournament. We all know that most everyone will understandably predict that
Virginia Tech and Miami will take up residence in the bottom of the conference
standings. We all know that after achieving 7 conference victories during the
final Big East Conference campaign, few would expect the Hokies to come close to
matching that total in the first season in the ACC.
But exactly what might we look for in this first season,
now that it is so close, and what areas might help shape the season overall?
Aside from looking at the best barometer of success -- the team record -- what
other aspects might make the inaugural ACC season a success? Well, from this
view, there are 10 keys that could very well end up determining the overall
success of the season, and while they will likely shape the overall team record,
they are really independent of that aspect.
In no particular order, five of ten key questions that
might have a substantial impact on the season are listed below. In next week’s
notebook, we will discuss the remaining five keys.
Key #1: Cleaning The Glass
Losing the 8.9 rebounds that senior forward Bryant
Matthews took with him when he graduated leaves a huge void on the team to fill.
6-3 guard Jamon Gordan is the leading returning rebounder on the team from last
year, with his 4.4 average.
The Hokies pulled down 34.7 rebounds per game last season,
being out-rebounded by their opponents for the season last year by one full
rebound a game. And that was with Matthews, who was undoubtedly
the best rebounder on the team. Looking to replace your best rebounder, with no
obvious replacement in place or among your incoming recruits, and to keep your
team rebounding deficit from last year from ballooning, will be a very serious
challenge for Greenberg and this team.
Someone will have to step up and get those 9 rebounds that
the Hokies lost in Matthews. Someone will have to step up and prove that they
can get the tough rebounds in traffic late in a road game in a hostile arena,
where often the play is more physical at the end than earlier in the game.
Someone will have to get the “man” type of rebounds that teams have to have
in competitive, physical games which are predicated on securing as many
possessions as possible late in a game.
Coleman Collins is the most obvious choice to improve upon
his 3.7 average from a year ago, accumulated in less than 24 minutes per game.
But it will take others. Carlos Dixon must be a dependable rebounder. Deron
Washington, despite his narrow frame, is a player that brings a history of being
a good rebounder. Whether he can do so effectively at 190 pounds, and playing
minutes at the power forward remains to be seen.
Key #2: The Matthews Hardball Factor
No, this isn’t a roundtable discussion among the group
of political experts talking about the latest tracking poll on the Presidential
Election on Chris Matthews’ Hardball show. But there is a “hardball”
factor that needs to be discussed concerning this year’s edition of the
Hokies, the hard-playing, intense, consistent efforts that Bryant Matthews
brought to the table last year. Matthews averaged 22.1 points and 8.9 rebounds,
he shot 47.3% from the floor, and he lead the team in three point shooting.
Replacing those numbers will be a large task, but it was
much more than that which was provided by Matthews. His play allowed three
freshmen starters to flourish while finding themselves last year, knowing that
Matthews would always draw the bulk of the attention from opponents. Matthews’
excellence allowed Coleman Collins especially to get better looks at the basket
than he might expect to see this year, given that Matthews drew so much double
team attention last year.
Matthews was looked to by a very young team for its big
baskets, big shots, important rebounds and to lead the way. His consistent
effort and intensity in practice and games paved a path for a very young team to
follow. Finding some way, or some player, to step into that void should be
carefully monitored this season. This is a new year and how each player will
respond to the different attention they are sure to see from opponents will
shape how effectively each will be from an individual standpoint.
Key #3: Turning Up The Heat
a backcourt last year that saw two true freshmen average over 30 minutes per
game, while a sophomore guard who had very little playing time as a freshman
stepped into the lineup to average 32 minutes as well, one of the great
mysteries of the season was in how little full court pressure this young and
inexperienced backcourt saw during the course of the season. By and large,
Zabian Dowdell, Jamon Gordan and Markus Sailes never really saw opponents turn
up the heat with intense defensive pressure, especially during Big East
Conference games. Why there wasn’t more pressure is unclear.
Perhaps it was the cockiness of conference opponents who
had seen Virginia Tech finish out of the conference tournament in all three of
the previous years. Perhaps they didn’t feel they really needed to game plan
for Virginia Tech, and just needed to play their game and they would win. After
three previous seasons of success against the Hokies, that could be understood.
But, other than concentrated attention on Bryant Matthews, the team fortunately
never saw any game in/game out defensive full court pressure.
That shouldn’t be the case this year. We can expect to
see opponents in the ACC attack Tech with full court pressure. By adding
freshman point guard Marquie Cooke to the mix, Greenberg has equipped his
program with additional ball handling, and Cooke is a true point guard. But the
backcourt will need to prove early on that it can capably handle pressure or
else it will be inevitable all year. That is the modus operandi of many
Virginia Tech averaged 13.3 turnovers per game last
season. Opponents averaged 18.1 turnovers. That 4.8 difference per game was both
surprising, after earlier seasons under former coach Ricky Stokes that saw the
team struggle with turnovers, and a very positive development. Maintaining that
strong turnover ratio from last year could be a helpful occurrence toward having
a successful season this year.
Key #4: Establishing A Defensive Personality
When you look at the season-ending team statistics from
last year, there are several glaring problem areas that jump out at you,
especially when surveying the defensive numbers from a year ago. Greenberg had
some significant success with his 1-3-1 trapping half court pressure, and the
team was able to force 18.1 turnovers per game from their opponents. This helped
create some transition opportunities and it can be expected that Greenberg will
continue to mine that well again this year.
But expanding upon that pressure package to incorporate
some full court variations, and establishing a base half court defense should be
watched closely. With interior size and depth limited last year, and with a
player that was so critical to the team’s success that he had to insure that
he stayed on the floor as often as possible, Greenberg may have played more zone
last year than he would have liked. This year’s team is still lacking in depth
and interior size, but it does have more depth along the perimeter, so seeing
more full court pressure might be a direction that he looks toward moving.
In addition, Greenberg might also employ more man-to-man
than was evident last season. Finding a defensive personality, and establishing
that will be a key component for this team. Tech ranked dead last in the
conference in field goal % defense last season by allowing opponents to shoot
.458 from the floor. That figure actually spiked to .499 during conference
games, also ranking last in the conference. The Hokies also allowed opponents to
shoot .385 from the floor on three point attempts, ranking ahead of only Miami
in the conference. The Hokies also ranked 12th in the conference in rebounding
margin, so seeing some real tangible improvement in these areas, while adding
some twists to last year’s defensive variations might help the team see
defensive improvement, while establishing a team personality there.
Key #5: The Return of 'Los
Carlos Dixon was a three year starter under former coach
Ricky Stokes before sitting out last season as a redshirt, due to injury. He
returns for his final season under a new coach and to play in a conference that
he grew up in the middle of, the ACC. Dixon has proven himself in the past to be
a fine offensive contributor, capable ball handler and solid defender. With the
loss of Matthews and his 22 points, Dixon is one player that can be expected to
take up a significant part of the slack. Dixon can shoot the basketball, score
in bunches and we have seen him take over games at times. He is also injury
prone and prone to turnovers and suspect shot selection.
A thriving Dixon who is driven to have an outstanding
senior season playing in the heart of the ACC could go a long way toward helping
replace the contributions of Matthews. Dixon is truly a wild card on this team,
and not having played before under Greenberg means both of them will need to
rapidly learn about each other. Dixon will not walk right in and have a position
given to him, especially with the four freshmen that Greenberg has added to the
team to go along with the four returning starters. But Dixon can be a force on
this team and can add in areas that the Hokies find themselves lacking, notably
scoring, perimeter shooting and defense.
A huge final season from Dixon could be just the type of
impetus that could help the team surprise people in their first ACC season. He
is certainly capable of that, but also capable of maddening bouts of
inconsistency, which serves only to tease and frustrate people at the talent
that is there. Which 'Los will we see this year? That could be a very important
issue to watch unfold.