Opponent Preview: @ Virginia Tech (Sat., Nov. 10, 2:00pm EST – ESPN3)

Note: This is the first ETSU opponent preview for the 2012-13 season.  The following preview has been compiled from information gathered from espn.com, blueribbonyearbookonline.com, etsufans.com, etsubucs.com and the opposing school’s website.  Information in this report is as of Oct. 1.

Virginia Tech

TV: espn

Virginia Tech Hokies

Enrollment: 28,836

Location: Blacksburg, VA

Basketball Facility: Cassell Coliseum (10,000)

Cassell Coliseum
Cassell Coliseum

Athletic Conference: ACC

Versus ETSU:  Virginia Tech leads series 14-3.  Last meeting ETSU 53 – VT 64 (Nov. 12, 2011)

 Last Season 16-17 (.485)
Conference Record 4-12 (t-9th)
Starters Lost/Returning 3/2
Coach James Johnson (Ferrum ’93)
Record At School First year
Career Record First year
RPI Last 5 years 54-65-58-66-118

 COACH AND PROGRAM

Basketball-challenged Virginia Tech opted to start over, sorta, when athletic director Jim Weaver fired Seth Greenberg and turned to former Tech assistant James Johnson, who had hardly gotten his boxes unpacked in his assistant’s office at Clemson.

Head Coach James Johnson
Head Coach James Johnson

 

Johnson, a 19-year veteran of nine different college jobs, was a popular choice back in Blacksburg. He had been Greenberg’s assistant for five seasons before leaving in April after last year’s injury-riddled, not-even-getting-to-the-bubble 16-17 finish.

And, as it turns out, Greenberg was unpopular with more than just the NCAA tournament selection committee, who snubbed the Hokies after 20-win seasons the previous two years. Last season, Tech missed the postseason altogether for the first time since 2005-06, and Greenberg was suddenly in trouble.

Enter Johnson, who it was hoped could keep together a pretty good nucleus and a solid recruiting class, both of which he had already played an important role in luring to Blacksburg. But Johnson had left Tech, as had Greenberg’s entire staff, and that’s the sort of thing that caught Weaver’s attention.

Thus the 40-year-old Johnson became the ACC’s only current head basketball coach with no previous head-coaching experience.

“I want a team built around defense and toughness, that’s what I want to hang my hat on,” he said of his philosophy. “And we’re going to try to play fast, get up and down the floor, but we’ll rely on defense and toughness.”

Those are the same things Greenberg preached in his 10 years ranting and raving on the sideline. His teams were blue-collar and scrapped and fought so hard that they often seemed to run out of gas at the end of the year, though that storyline might have been rewritten save a series of agonizing ACC tournament setbacks.

Then last year, before the Hokies even tipped off, they lost J.T. Thompson, their most reliable inside presence, to an ACL injury for the second straight year. That just stinks of bad luck, something the dreaming Weaver was obviously hoping to remedy with a semi-shakeup.

But while Johnson does seem to have a lot of the tools to succeed — proven recruiter, good guy with some goodwill stored up in Hokie Nation — he couldn’t keep the team together in the transitional offseason.

ACC All-Freshman selection Dorian Finney-Smith transferred to Florida, and prized recruit, 6-8 Montrezl Harrell, who reneged on his Tech commitment, signed with old Metro Conference nemesis Louisville. Thompson successfully lobbied for a sixth year of eligibility, but he’ll finish up at Charlotte. Along with Finney-Smith, who led the team in rebounding, the Hokies also graduated senior starters Dorenzo Hudson and Victor Davila, leaving Johnson more reclamation work to do.

“We have to try to move the program forward,” said the young coach. “We have a good, young nucleus of guys, but we have to have a good recruiting class and add to the mix, add some depth, and hopefully we can continue on. I feel good about where we’re headed.”

Erick Green
Erick Green

The Hokies can hang their hat on a potentially potent backcourt headlined by second-team All-ACC senior Erick Green (15.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.7 apg). The 6-3 Green is the third-leading returning scorer in the league, and his average of 35.4 minutes played last year tied for second in the conference. Green scored in double figures in 30 of 31 games. Not too shabby for a lightly recruited prospect whose only other scholarship offer was from James Madison.

“He’s the kind of player we want,” Johnson said. “He had some talent, but he came in here and worked his tail off. He’s like a lot of the guys we’ve had. He didn’t come in here with four or five stars attached. He’s one of the best guards in the league, and he’s going to have to give us a little bit of everything — scoring and defending.”

Robert Brown
Robert Brown

Sophomore Robert Brown (6.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.9 apg) steps in for Hudson at off guard, and he became a key contributor last year, appearing in all 33 games. What can Brown do for the Hokies? Well, he could be a breakout player. The 6-5 guard’s first break, though, was a foot this summer. He was already out of his boot in August and isn’t expected to miss any practice once school starts.

“We expect him to help us put points on the board, shooting and slashing and getting out in transition,” Johnson said.

Sophomore Marquis Rankin (2.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg) is a pure point guard with enough ability that Johnson is already talking about Brown playing small forward and opening up a spot for Rankin in some sets. The 6-1 Rankin has speed pushing the ball up the court and he’s a solid perimeter defender. He needs to play well to help take some heat off Green.

Johnson could use UNC Wilmington transfer Adam Smith immediately, but he’ll have to sit out this year. The 6-1 Smith averaged 13.7 points and was the leading freshman scorer in the CAA, but he can only help in practices this year, meaning the Hokies are still painfully thin in the backcourt.

Jarell Eddie
Jarell Eddie

Even minus Davila, Thompson and Harrell, the Hokies still have some ability and depth up front. Junior Jarell Eddie (9.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, .448 3PT) is long and athletic and should blossom as a wing scorer. The 6-7 Eddie has a natural feel for the game and was third on the team in assists (1.4 apg). Coaches want more consistency from him this go-round. He won’t have to play out of position at power forward as much this season, and that’s a plus.

Cadarian Raines
Cadarian Raines

Eddie also won’t have to bump up against bigger teams, not with 6-9 junior Cadarian Raines (5.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, .516 FG) and 6-8 C.J. Barksdale (2.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg) both ready for expanded roles. “[Raines] has to give us points inside and score with his back to the basket,” Johnson said. “He rebounds the basketball and has a big, strong, physical body [238 pounds], and can post defend.”

Raines was slowed his first two years by foot injuries, but he came on strong last season when Davila got hurt, scoring in double figures in four of the final eight games.

Barksdale played well early as a freshman and carried that over into several ACC games, but a sprained an-kle slowed his development later in the year, and he’s still forming on that 232-pound frame. Johnson has high hopes for him but isn’t guaranteeing him a starting spot.

Barksdale will battle 6-8 incoming freshman Marshall Wood (24.1 ppg, 12.5 rpg) from Rustburg (Va.) High School. Wood asked for his release after Greenberg was fired, but Johnson was able to convince him to stay, and now he’s the only scholarship signee matriculating this season. Johnson likes his toughness, ability to run the floor and thinks his 42 3-pointers last season in high school speaks to a versatility on offense the other Hokie bigs lack.

ESPN rated Wood the No. 38 small forward in the class of 2012.

Johnson also sees a role for 6-10 redshirt freshman Joey van Zegeren (12.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg in 2010-11 at Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands). The Dutch-born Zegeren can defend the basket with that size (225 pounds) and long arms like no one else on the roster. It’s hard to see him earning more than spot duty, though, with Wood and the front line returnees healthy.

Health is a key. The first hand Johnson has been dealt as a head coach, he has just eight scholarship players.

“We have to stay healthy,” he said. “We have eight scholarship guys that are talented kids, and we’re young. We’ve only got one senior but that means we’ve got a chance for some positive things to happen for us in the future. Right now, though, we have to stay healthy and keep those eight bodies on the floor.”

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B-
BENCH/DEPTH: C
FRONTCOURT: C
INTANGIBLES: C

The Hokies were 11-3 out of the gates last year even without Thompson and with Hudson hobbled on knees that never seemed recovered from his injury the year before. But Tech was painfully young in some key spots on the perimeter with the up-and-down Finney-Smith and Eddie. With Hudson not himself, the offense was prone to disastrous droughts scoring the basketball.

Those problems caught up to the Hokies in an 0-4 ACC start, and then young players and veterans, who have seen so many worst-case scenarios with injuries, tough, heartbreaking losses, and disappointing Selection Sundays, couldn’t get the season back on track. Tech lost 11 games by five points or less. Greenberg’s volatile sideline demeanor seemed less effective, and a fan base that has seen things come so easily on the ACC football field grew more restless.

So now there’s a big change and a young coach with a team that seems to be missing some parts, not the least of which is depth. The Hokies can’t afford injuries, and if they want to play defense and get up and down the floor like Johnson is saying, that’s not going to be easy.

Green has proven he can play big minutes, and he’s a legitimate All-ACC guard. He’s worth watching and it could be fun in “The Cassell,” if his teammates, so many in a bigger spotlight, can keep up.

That’s the optimistic view. Really, though, there’s no guarantee that Raines and Barksdale are ready to take the next step, and that may be the first true referendum for Johnson and his talented staff, building a solid front line that can score, rebound and defend to compete in the ACC.

The second litmus test for Johnson and Co. will be in recruiting a lot more help for the future.

 

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