With tomorrow's rivalry matchup with the Hokies nearing, Wahoo fans are excited about taking on Virginia Tech in a sport that doesn't involve a brown, oval shaped ball. Virginia Tech enters on a 5 game losing streak, sitting at 1-5 in ACC play. Since the graduation of Erick Green and the transfer of lots of other good players, it's tough to keep track of who is playing for James Johnson and the Hokies. Luckily, our friends at Gobbler Country checked in to answer some questions about the VT squad. (I also answered some questions about the Hoos - check that one out too).
Streaking the Lawn: Let's start off by looking on the bright side for the Hokies. Tech has drastically improved their defense from miserable (ranked 257 in the nation in adj. efficiency last year) to medioce (120th thus far). How have they done it?
Gobbler Country: To your question on defense. Last season we had a few folks whose hearts were clearly not in it, particularly as the schedule wore on and the losses mounted. Some were looking to leave because Greenberg had been fired, some were disgruntled at playing time. Even our star Erick Green was not playing his best, because the team needed him to conserve energy for the offensive end. If he didn't, the Hokies wouldn't score. Last year was a complete dumpster fire, sparked by former AD Jim Weaver's lack of foresight in waiting until so late to fire Greenberg. It cost us prized recruit Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), highly-regarded Dorian Finney Smith (Florida), who is a rebounding force if an underachiever on offense before the season, and Robert Brown (UAB) upon the season's conclusion.
This season the defense is anchored by Joey Van Zegeren whose wing span discourages a lot of interior attempts. We also have rangier guards who are defending the three ball well. The Hokies are a long team, sporting a starting lineup that is all 6'4" or taller. Our bench is also tall, with 6'1" Adam Smith the most diminutive of the bunch. The combination of length and attention to denying open three point looks has to be the chief factor, coupled with the fact that the new mentality in college basketball is to shoot a layup or get a three. If you defend both of those well, you wind up with improvements. The Hokies are 21st nationally in opposing 3-pt. FG %.
In calling a spade a spade though, take a look at the Hokies out of conference strength of schedule. Yes, Michigan St...and yes, VCU. Beyond that, truly a scrub-laden docket. As the ACC season rambles on, look for any decent Hokie metrics to wilt under ACC intensity.
STL: On the other side of the ball, Virginia Tech has struggled to fill the offensive vacuum vacated by the great Erick Green. Jarrell Eddie has taken on much of the load - how has he handled it?
GC: I'd rather not speak on Jarrell Eddie. But since I must, I will just say that the league is on to Jarrell. He doesn't have an explosive first step. Sure he can get hot if he has space, but his release isn't particularly quick, and he is having to rush shots a lot. Early on, the Hokies offense was predicated on getting up a shot before the transition defense settled into their halfcourt defensive set. This led to some outbursts, and a lot of shooting early in the shot clock.
ACC teams are too smart for that, they'll cede the defensive rebounds in order to make sure they get the extra man back. Since opening the ACC campaign with 24 points and the game-winning basket in OT at Miami, Jarrell has scored just 21 points in the other four ACC games. He was averaging 17+ ppg against the easier teams on the schedule, but give ACC coaches time to game-plan for him, and he's become ineffective, and very content to fade into the woodwork. As it stands, with him being a senior, and this being kind of a sunk season, I am happy to sit him down and take a look at some other players. But since our coach is in open revolt against some of our players' practice habits, we are currently starting walk-ons, which makes playing Eddie a necessity for him in order to try and maintain his authority for the public eye.
STL: Beyond Eddie, there are lots of names that Wahoos are unfamiliar with - who else we have to worry about?
GC: Well, to play along here, we do have some young talent. All of whom can pop off for five minutes. But the consistency won't be enough to throw a scare into your disciplined, well-coached (God am I jealous of Bennett) team. Freshman Ben Emelogu will be a thorn in your side before he's done in Blacksburg, and we have another freshman at PG, Devin Wilson who is going to be solid in a year's time. He already is on pace to set the freshman assist mark by a large margin.
You may be familiar with CJ Barksdale. He has been nicked up all year, and served a three game suspension. But he has looked strong lately both inside and out, and helped play Clemson's KJ McDaniels to a virtual draw.
I would say redshirt senior Cadarian Raines might be a handful, and in fact he had two good games against UVA last year. But he pissed in Johnson's cornflakes and comes off the bench only on dares it appears. He dropped 17 in the opener, then dropped 20 against Notre Dame last weekend. With Johnson's erratic sub patterns apparently based on "borrowing a feeling", a Hokie fan can never tell where the offense is going to come from.
STL: You guys do have a couple respectable wins, including an early-season home victory over West Virginia and a road ACC win in Miami. But there's also those home losses to teams like USC Upstate and UNC Greensboro. What do you think has contributed to the inconsistency we've seen?
GC: As to the inconsistency, every coach in the ACC is on buzzword speak: You can't win with young guards. Yet I look at Syracuse, and those guys are young. I'm pretty sure talent is the lynchpin here, not just experience. VT is rooted in this style of play where we appear to be content if the game enters the final five minutes and is still undecided. We are about a 40% winner in such situations (games decided by 3 or less); and much worse outside of the conference, more like 1 out of every 3. It's a young team, that lacks play-makers on the ball, and we have nobody who can create their own clean looks when it counts. We have the talent to be at least four games better in the standings. I personally think we should be 12-5 right now, and an NIT lock. Yet, we probably don't make the post-season.
Johnson is another one of those coaches who coaches to his system regardless of the personnel at his disposal. A good coach wins with what he has, even if the style doesn't suit his aesthetics. Johnson is a stubborn man, and it's going to doom his first head coaching gig in the end unless things change like ....tonight against Wake.
STL: Expectations may have been low, but James Johnson's tenure thus far can't have been what fans had hoped for. Where do Hokies fans see their program heading in the next few years?
GC: The program is in purgatory/limbo, whatever you want to call it. We have a new President and a new AD coming in early in 2014. Johnson has two more years on his contract after this one. It's not an overly expensive contract. I've been relatively quiet on Johnson's job security this year, because I believe in being fair. His first year of recruits are this year, it's tough to judge a guy on just that. But I can judge a guy who insists on jamming square pegs into round holes and a guy who seems limited in his creativity. For instance, why not try Raines and JVZ in the post at the same time til this past Sunday? It's almost February! It's a pretty apathetic scene at Cassell Coliseum right now, and the lack of enthusiasm was laid out extensively in a great piece on TechHoops wherein it described the money the basketball program is losing on paper. In just three short years, from penthouse to outhouse. (GO AHEAD, INSERT VT JOKES HERE)
STL: Prediction time. How do you see the matchup with UVA playing out?
GC: How do I see this game playing out? Game is at the JPJ...that's worth +10...talent differential is worth +5....Joe Harris's dreaminess is worth at least +10 more....i predict UVA wins by 22....final score: 67-45, but it will feel much worse, falling behind to UVA by 10 may as well be 30 for VT.
STL: Did you manage to get through this whole Q and A without mentioning football? How about bass fishing?
GC: Trust me, with the way our season went I'm not really in the mood to talk football either. But since you brought it up, here's something I was thinking about as I tried a swig of your beloved Zima before spitting it out into an ascot left over from our Scooby Doo Pimps and Hoes party:
UVA pays it's football coaches a combined $500k-plus a year more than VT pays their football coaches. Hope that lights your fire and keeps you warm til Spring when London can start burning things down again himself. Can't wait to ask you guys what you think about building on 2-10 come football season :)
Good luck Saturday, though I have little doubt you'll need it. And PS, can you make sure Joe knows I asked about him?
All the best to the Hokies as they attempt to recover and make this basketball rivalry a true battle again...and hopefully stop destroying our RPI in the process.