[Duke joke] Gobbler Country [Cody Journell joke]
4-14 in conference play is not how I imagine most Hokies wanted the post-Greenberg era to begin. How does your fan base feel about last year's results?
Honestly, outside of the first seven games of last year, and likely the latter part of that range, there isn't really much of a dedicated Virginia Tech basketball fan base. Generally, last year was a disappointment, especially considering the 7-0 start I mentioned. The Hokies only won 6 games the remainder of the year, which was, to use a new word, disappointing, but more so was the manner in which the rest of those games were lost. It appeared that effort was lacking, perhaps as a result of trying to run an uptempo offense with only eight (and seven for about half of the season) healthy scholarship bodies. But beyond that, teamwork wasn't there. Nobody was talking. Nobody was calling out screens. Nobody was rotating for help defense. There was very little effort at the defensive end of the floor, and consequently, it spilled over into all phases of the game. But I would be remiss if I didn't come back to the seven scholarship roster. That's why, for what it's worth, James Johnson's first campaign was simply a trial run. Hopefully he learned a lot, as you would expect any rookie coach to do. The place I want to see him improve the most is with his in-game adjustments, which for the greater part of the year, did not exist.
Aside from Erick Green, what's the biggest piece you've lost since last season?
The only other scholarship player who was on last year's roster that is no longer is Robert Brown. Brown was as enigmatic of a character as any other player in America. He had the shot selection of Russ Smith, but the consistency of, well, a much lesser player. He often took ill-advised shots just seconds into the shot clock or fading away with a defender(s) all over him at the buzzer. Brown was Tech's second-leading returning scorer, returning leader in assists and was at least an average defender who could play the lanes and even make a nasty rejection at the rim on occasion. He was also a superb athlete. But, Brown was a black hole, and when the ball went to his side of the floor, it stayed there. So in theory, as he was not a very efficient player, he can be replaced in the aggregate.
Who is the player who needs to step up the most this year?
Can all of them be an answer? Seriously, so little is known about this team and who will score, rebound, assist or defend that it's a fool's errand to guess. But, since you're asking me, I'm going to go with the three most-senior members of this team: Cadarian Raines, Jarell Eddie and C.J. Barksdale. All three have had their moments, but have been far too inconsistent. Eddie HAS to regain his shooting form and be a scorer. Barksdale has to stay focused and not have any lapses like the one that led to his suspension a year ago. Raines needs to finish at a better clip, but he needs more natural feeds instead of trying to force feed him when the offense realizes they've forgotten him. He is the Hokies best player in my opinion, or at least best returning player. Even in an up-tempo offense, for however long that lasts, Raines needs to see more of the ball. Furthermore, the team is being captained by a true freshman, Ben Emelogu, though Johnson has claimed others may earn a captaincy at a later date. For now though, it would appear that either Johnson is trying to motivate these guys, or that he really does not trust the leadership of this team.
Who is the player UVa fans ought to look out for the most?
Again, it's hard to say, but outside of those three older players listed above (Eddie, Raines and Barksdale), there are few known commodities on this team. Adam Smith, a UNC Wilmington transfer, is a dangerous shooter, and figures to factor into at least a large role at one of the guard spots. Ben Emelogu, as I mentioned above, is captaining the team. Johnson has been very high on him. Marshall Wood had some highlights in a half season a year ago, but doesn't show the shooting touch to match his willingness to let it fly. But until this team sees competitive action, it could go any number of ways.
What's your outlook for the season? What's a success, what's a failure, and what's something you can live with?
That's the question that probably would see the most differentiation among Tech fans. Some would probably answer to win the conference or make the NCAA Tournament, but miracles aside, that is not happening. I think a huge success would be sitting at or breaking the .500 mark, but that is unlikely to happen given the conference's addition of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame and the number of conference games. I think a success would also be winning 8 or 9 non-conference games. If Tech can do that, I think knowing the quality of the rest of the conference, I can live with what happens there as long as it's not an 0-fer. A failure would be winning anything less than 10 games, and that probably starts with not taking care of business in some winnable non-conference games. Going through the schedule, I predicted an 11-19 record, and despite that being worse than last year's total, this team shouldn't be judged on win-loss record as much as it should its effort. If they play hard in every game, they will earn my respect, which is something to say for a team which probably has the least amount of talent of any team in the conference.