I want to say I saw this start coming…but then I’d be a liar. Sure, I expected the Hokies to start their season 3-0 under new head coach James Johnson. After all, the Hokies have opened with ETSU, Rhode Island, and VMI so far. Not exactly running the gambit of elite opponents. However, what I didn’t expect was for this team to take on a new identity this quickly. Many of the names may be the same from last season, but the heart and soul of this team is 110-percent different. This is a team worth watching.
Through three games last year (against ETSU, Monmouth, and Florida International) Virginia Tech had 44 turnovers. Compare that to this season through three games and Virginia Tech has only 32 turnovers so far. Also, this year’s Virginia Tech team is working faster than last year’s Virginia Tech squad did – shooting more than 50% within the first 10 seconds of a possession. Scoring quickly was a foreign concept for Virginia Tech teams of old.
And moreover, through three games this year’s Virginia Tech basketball team is averaging 81.3 points per game, slightly up from last season’s 77.7 points per game through three games. It’s important to note, however, that this year’s club is playing at times up to 5 walk-on’s late in games. This hampers offensive output like we saw last night against VMI when with five minutes remaining James Johnson pulled his starters. Virginia Tech had 88 points at the time and had a 30 point lead. VMI went on a 15-0 run and forced Johnson to put his starters back in the game. If this Virginia Tech team had even one more available scholarship player, the Hokies’ offensive numbers would be even more impressive.
But what about this team is markedly different from last season? The answer, simply put, is comfort. These players simply look comfortable in a James Johnson-run team. Under Seth Greenberg the offense looked anemic at times, almost as if the gameplan was to dribble around the perimeter and then start the offensive possession with 10 seconds left on the shot clock.
This year is much different. The offensive playbook has been sliced, diced, and streamlined to a handful of plays. There is less thinking and more doing on the offensive end this time around. Players are encouraged to get up and down the court, work the transition game, and work quickly within the framework of the shot clock. This up-tempo style is not only fun to watch, but it’s fun to play in. The fans love it, and the players seem to love it too.
Combine this new offensive identity with the natural progression of players like Erick Green, Jarell Eddie, Robert Brown, and Cadarian Raines and you have a team that is ready to shed the skin of past years and emerge reborn with a vigor that hasn’t been seen in quite some time at Virginia Tech. The players are invigorated right now, and it’s shining through.
Newfound contributions from Joey Van Zegeren, freshman Marshall Wood, and walk-on Will Johnston are all gravy at this point. Van Zegeren is grabbing boards on the defensive end and is putting in a solid 15-20 minutes per game, Marshall Wood is still coming into his own but is quickly adjusting to the college game, and Will Johnston has proven to be able to hit from anywhere on the court, especially from behind the 3-point arc.
This may not be the deepest or most talented Virginia Tech team we’ve ever seen, but this season doesn’t appear to be headed toward the trainwreck that many pundits and pollsters expected. This group of players, with their energetic new head coach and philosophy, could prove formidable not only during their out-of-conference play, but perhaps even within the conference too. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, the sample size is still very small. But I can’t help but be extremely impressed with the job that James Johnson has done so far.
We’ll truly see the mettle of this team once they play teams like West Virginia, Iowa, and Oklahoma State over the next few weeks, but with two more tune-up games before Iowa comes to town for the B1G-ACC Challenge, this Virginia Tech team could be primed and ready to compete.
The next game up is UNG-Greensboro, and it will be the first road test for this Hokies team. It’ll be interesting to see how this group does away from Cassell for the first time, but I’m expecting good things.
Either way, it’s exciting times so far for the Virginia Tech basketball faithful. Cheers, and let the good times roll.