In: F Jarell Eddie (Fr.), G Tyrone Garland (Fr.), G Erik Sorensen (Fr.)
Out: F Lewis Witcher, F J.T. Thompson (out for season with torn ACL)
The NCAA's expanded 68-team field came a year too late for the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Or two years, three years or four years too late, if you ask Hokies coach Seth Greenberg.
For the past three seasons, the Hokies have been something of Selection Sunday's Susan Lucci, always nominated, rarely a winner.
Greenberg has let his displeasure be known, and, frankly, it's hard to blame the coach. If there's any constant to the ACC since expansion, it's the Hokies being a thorn in the side of traditional league powers and winding up the topic of discussion on Selection Sunday.
Since joining the league, they've knocked off Duke in Cameron, North Carolina in the Smith Center and both Wake Forest and the Tar Heels when each was the nation's No. 1 ranked team. And yet, two of the last three years, they've had a heck of an argument for being the team the selection committee simply forgot. In 2008, the Hokies won nine ACC games. In 2010, they won 10. In each instance, they simply earned the honor of a league record for most wins without inclusion, matching Florida State's 9-7 snub and then upping the ante with their own double-digit marker.
There have been reasons, of course. Last year's non-conference strength of schedule, for example, looked like an Albert Pujols batting average without the decimial point -- 339. But arguing there are 34 better at-large teams than Greenberg's bunch has required some stretches in logic. After all, the only teams to win more than their 26 games in ACC play the last three seasons have all been to the tournament at least twice.
Fortunately for the Hokies, this year's team would likely comfortably slide into a 48-team field.
No team in the nation returns the type of talent and experience the Hokies do. Virginia Tech has all five starters back from a season ago, four of whom are seniors. That quintet of starters has combined 324 games in its Virginia Tech career, which is more than Purdue's vaunted Baby Boiler class, even including the injured Robbie Hummel.
So, in a sport dominated by the non-shaving set, the Hokies are one step removed from waving AARP cards and setting up shuffleboard. But 2011 will likely be one time to defer to your elders.
The Hokies' attack begins again with Malcolm Delaney. The senior has been one of the league's elite talents during his tenure in Blacksburg and is unquestionably the league's top guard at the outset of the season. He led the ACC in scoring last year and was sixth in assists. He's not a great outside shooter -- a troubling theme for this squad -- but he's dangerous off the dribble.
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If there's any major red flag on Virginia Tech's perimeter, it's long-range shooting. The Hokies hit just 30.7 from behind the arc last season, which also helped sabotage their effective field goal percentage (46.6). Delaney was below his career average last year and could be due for a rebound, but Hudson has never been a particularly effective outside shooter. Terrell Bell, who will play some power forward this season, is the top returning marksman. Virginia Tech is an excellent defensive team, but poor shooting leads to a lot of empty possessions to recover, particularly with a team without the luxury of substitutions.
In the frontcourt, senior Jeff Allen (pictured top right) has grown from a talented but undisciplined freshman into one of the ACC's best post players. He's the ACC's active rebounding leader and is offensively gifted enough to add several points to his 12 per game average last season. Allen has managed to earn his way into disfavor with Greenberg on more than one occasion, but thus far in the preseason, he's saying all the right things and seems to be fully vested.
He also seems to be in improved shape, which will be important for the Hokies. If there's a single glaring weakness it's the team's lack of depth. If matters weren't grim enough on the Blackbsurg bench, the team suffered a heavy blow when senior sixth-man J.T. Thompson went down with a season-ending knee injury in September. Thompson was a defense-and-rebounding specialist and was arguably the team's top man on the offensive glass. Meanwhile, Allan Chaney, a power forward transfer from Florida, who was expected to see plenty of minutes this season, has been ruled out for the year with a heart condition. And Cadarian Raines, a sophomore expected to step up in Thompson's absence, has suffered a series of foot injuries and has only recently discarded a protective boot.
Starting center Victor Davila is the only player on the team taller than 6-foot-7 that might be fairly described as healthy.
But if there's any consistency to the Hokies, it's that, no matter who plays, they'll take the court with a chip the size of Blacksburg on their shoulder, make life difficult for the rest of the ACC and be a big story on Selection Sunday.
Only this time, it'll come with a happier ending.
Most Important Player: Allen. With no frontcourt depth, Allen needs to be both effective and smart with his minutes. He's yet to hit his potential, so perhaps facing his final go-around and without an NCAA tournament bid to show will spur him along. Along with N.C. State's Tracy Smith, Allen should be the league's top true power forward and should threaten a double-double every night.
Question to Answer: Make it two: Is Virginia Tech deep enough and efficient enough? Depth is the team's biggest issue heading into the season, but the Hokies won't be the first team to ride five solid starters a long way, particularly seniors and a junior used to the grind of college basketball. But the team has to shoot the ball better. The Hokies effective field goal percentage last season (46.6) ranked 263rd in the nation. The only BCS-level teams to finish worse were dregs Indiana, Southern California, LSU and DePaul.
Best-Case Scenario: Five great starters is enough. The Hokies play near iron-man basketball, but get key minutes from Raines and the supporting cast. An upset win over Kansas State early in the season marks these Hokies as a cut above the previous three, and Virginia Tech finishes second in the ACC, plucks a top-four tournament seed and advances into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, led by first-team All-American Malcolm Delaney. Yes, he's that good.
Worst-Case Scenario: Lack of depth haunts the Hokies in key games, particularly in the world of oversized ACC frontcourts The Hokies fall behind early in the non-conference season with losses in an early stretch of games that includes Kansas State, Mississippi State, Purdue and likely Oklahoma State, all before Christmas. The Hokies finish around .500 in ACC play and leave it in the hands of the Selection Committee once again. We'll let you wager how they vote.
FanHouse Prediction: There's too much talent and too much urgency on this team to miss the NCAA field, particularly in a 68-team format. Delaney isn't the loudest sort, but his quiet leadership will keep the team on course, spurred on by Greenburg's intensity. The Hokies fare well in early non-conference games and knock off Purdue in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, before finishing second in the ACC. Virginia Tech might march to the Sweet 16, but foul trouble to a key player in the tournament, and total lack of 3-point shooting, will eventually catch up to this talented, but shallow, team.