That Virginia Tech won 15 games and made the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament qualifies as one of last season’s great shocks. The Hokies move into the ACC this season, so qualifying for the tournament is a given (all 11 teams go). Getting to 15 wins again could present a challenge, though. Tech was young last season and isn’t much older now. It must replace Bryant Matthews, who had about as big a year as anybody in Hokie basketball history.
But no one expected a winning record last season, and it happened. Seth Greenberg, in his first season as Tech’s coach, earned "miracle worker" status in Blacksburg. The Hokies are still far from being considered contenders, but not as far as people thought they’d be.
FRONTCOURTThis is where the "Help Wanted" sign hangs.
Coleman Collins, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, had an excellent freshman season (8.7 points, 3.7 rebounds) when he wasn’t bothered by foot and back injuries. He’s athletic and smart. Added physical maturity will make him an all-star.
But one guy can’t do it alone. Carlos Dixon, the team’s only senior, is going to have to play up front more than he has in the past. More comfortable on the wing, Dixon sat out last season with a foot injury. He’s an excellent defender and streaky shooter. He’ll have to improve as a rebounder and become more of a post than perimeter defender.
Allen Calloway has skills. His hands have been a question mark. When he catches the ball, he’s dangerous, and there is playing time available for him. "Coleman and Allen will have a great deal thrust on their shoulders," Greenberg said.
BACKCOURTTech will play three guards -- with good reason. It has a young backcourt that has a chance to be awfully good.
Landing 6-3 guard Marquie Cooke was huge for Greenberg and his staff. The well-regarded Cooke is a three-time all-state player ranked among the top-100 prospects nationally by every major recruiting service. "He’s extremely competitive, and he can get to the basket," Greenberg said.
He’ll be joined by sophomores Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon, both of whom had strong freshman seasons. "Zabian was very good, and he’s gotten bigger, stronger and tougher," Greenberg said. "Jamon is competitive and tough. He doesn’t fear anything."
Markus Sailes went from barely playing as a freshman to playing 32 minutes per game as a sophomore. Statistically, he wasn’t much, but he defended well and did the little things that endeared him to Greenberg. "He played without flaw. He accepted his role," Greenberg said.
That role may be reduced a bit this year, thanks to incoming freshmen Wynton Witherspoon and Deron Washington. Greenberg likes the 6-7 guy who plays on the wing but is capable of going inside when necessary. He has two of those in Witherspoon and Washington.
"Wynton has a great feel for the game," Greenberg said. "He’s just a good basketball player. Deron plays as hard as humanly possible. He has a toughness about him that’s exciting."
Shawn Harris, a 6-4 junior, may be able to help some. Injuries and a short suspension limited him to 16 games last season. He’s capable but could find himself buried if he gets off to a slow start this season.
Bryan Randall, the quarterback on Tech’s football team, joined the basketball squad last January, quickly became a part of the rotation and provided a steadying influence on a young squad. It is not certain if Randall will join the team again.
FINAL ANALYSISIf Cooke is as good as advertised, the Hokies will have an excess of offensive weapons. Cooke, Gordon, Dowdell, Dixon and Collins are all capable of scoring in bunches. Washington and Witherspoon may prove to be as well.
Tech defended well last season despite being overmatched at times, and Greenberg will use whatever gimmicks he can come up with to help Tech overcome its size and strength disadvantages. But at some point you have to be able to match power with power, and Tech is not there yet.
Look for a season much like last season -- good enough to be an NIT contender but not good enough yet to harbor realistic NCAA tournament dreams.