What's wrong with Virginia Tech basketball?
We're now eight games into the college basketball season, and the Virginia Tech men's basketball team has yet to resemble the NCAA tournament-bound squad everyone predicted it would be this preseason. The Hokies are 4-4 after last Sunday's loss to Virginia.
Perhaps the most troubling part about this is that surprising record isn't for lack of effort, and the team hasn't played horribly in any game. But it seems something, whether it's poor shooting, a failed box-out, turnovers or just plain bad luck, always goes wrong when the Hokies have faced a decent opponent this year.
I'm not even sure Coach Seth Greenberg knows what to think at this point. It's still very early, but eight games against the quality of competition the Hokies have faced is enough of a sample size to make some early-season judgments. Just take a look at these two quotes from Greenberg's postgame chat with reporters Sunday night and it's easy to see just how conflicted he is about this group.
"Everyone wants to be doom and gloom and I’m just telling you it’s the beginning of the season. We’ve got 15 more league games. We can be 15-1.”
... Five minutes later ...
“This isn’t the team I expected to coach. Let’s be honest. So yeah, I expected this group to be a little more consistent, but this isn’t the team in the summer that we planned on coaching."
The real issue, and it became painfully clear against a disciplined Virginia team, is that these Hokies have no identity. They aren't a good jump-shooting team, they don't rebound well, they don't have anyone who can consistently take their man off the dribble, they lack a true point guard, they give up far too many points in the paint and they're foul-prone. Eight games into the season, it's hard to pinpoint any area of the game where Virginia Tech is excelling. Just look at these stats I dug up:
Points: 64.4/game; 264th in the country
Rebounds: 34.5/game; 231st
Offensive Rebounds: 10.5/game; 256th
Defensive Rebounds: 24/game; 182nd
Field Goal Percentage: 43 percent; 207th
Three point percentage: 30.4 percent; 269
Assist-Turnover: 0.76; 257th
Fouls per game: 20.2/game; 128th
As much as Greenberg would like to think this season is still young, his team doesn't have very many chances to state its case to the NCAA tournament selection committee. There's a home game against Penn State this Sunday and that matchup in the Bahamas against Mississippi State before ACC play begins in full.
And with the conference weaker than in past years, counting on double-digit ACC wins to be enough is a risky proposition -- especially after what happened last March when Virginia Tech won 10 games in conference. Out of the Hokies' final 21 regular season games this year, only one is against a ranked opponent -- Feb. 23 against No. 1 Duke. Think about that for a second. That means if Virginia Tech goes 17-4 down the stretch, it would end up with a 21-8 record, and depending on how that Duke game goes, no marquee wins to its name. Can you say bubble team?
"I'm not too worried because I know we can get better," forward Jeff Allen said. "Right now, I really don't have an explanation for it, but I just know it's gonna get better."
Luckily, the Hokies have had this entire week to regroup after losing to their in-state rival at home. Here's a few things I'm sure they're working on, and should have them worried.
1) The disappearance of Dorenzo Hudson -- This sounds like it could be a season-long issue after Hudson revealed last week that he's still bothered by the stress fracture in his right foot that forced him to rest this summer instead of train. After averaging 15.2 points per game as a junior, Hudson has a combined 10 points during the Hokies' three-game skid. For a team as offensively challenged as Virginia Tech, that just can't happen.
He revealed last Friday that he never expected the foot injury to hamper him this long, and isn't sure when the pain will go away for good. "You just have good and bad days," he said. "Some days it hurts me more than the others, sometimes I can go out there and play through it.”
Hudson was never the greatest shooter, so the foot injury is a real problem. You can tell it's become an issue in terms of elevating off the floor and his continuing inability to drive to the basket.
“He’s not getting open as easily," Greenberg said. "He’s not getting out in transition and he’s not coming off screens as hard as he has in the past.”
2) Bench play -- This is where the mounting injuries have really affected the Hokies. Forward Cadarian Raines missed his fifth game of the year last Sunday, and Virginia Tech has yet to find somebody to replace sixth man J.T. Thompson, who will miss the entire season with a torn ACL. Virginia Tech's bench has been outscored, 178-79, so far this season
Meanwhile, the Hokies' best player off the bench, sophomore Erick Green, has played well in spurts in the back court. But the Hokies need him to make more shots. When he comes into the game, teams are slacking off him and giving him open three-pointers. But after Greenberg spent much of the preseason talking up how much Green's shot has improved, that is not the case.
He's made just two of his 12 shots from long range, many of which have missed badly. Personally, I don't know if Green will ever be a knockdown three-point shooter. He certainly wasn't when I covered his senior year of high school at Paul VI Catholic, and his funky shooting motion and slow release don't exactly conjure up flashbacks to Dell Curry.
One player who could help the Hokies is freshman Jarell Eddie. He looked like an impact player in Virginia Tech's first two games, averaging seven points and five rebounds. But the 6-6 forward is playing out of position at power forward because of the Hokies' lack of interior depth and has just seven points and 11 rebounds in the six games since.
"We haven’t created that energizer bunny off the bench that say JT Thompson would give us. We gotta find that guy," Greenberg said. "We’ve got to figure out now if there’s no Cadarian, no J.T., my challenge is to figure out how to put Jarell Eddie and whoever else that comes off the bench in position to contribute."
3) Lack of a true point guard -- Outside of last Wednesday's loss to Purdue, senior Malcolm Delaney is scoring at an almost identical pace to last year. But he's averaging just 3.3 assists and more than five turnovers per game thus far. Look no further than that stat when wondering why Virginia Tech has gone four games without scoring more than 30 points in a half.
As talented as Delaney is offensively, the Hokies need him to set up his teammates more. Virginia Tech is averaging just 11 assists per game, which ranks them 267th in the country. While the team's defense has been fairly solid considering they've relied on just one player taller than 6-7 this year, it's a lack of easy baskets that is making things so difficult on the offensive end.
Is Delaney capable of doing this, considering he's better suited as an undersized shooting guard? Is it even in Delaney's DNA to be a distributor? Whatever the case may be, the Hokies have shown that something needs to change if they are to make the NCAA Tournament come March.