Key Losses: G Marquie Cooke (3.6 ppg, 1.6 apg), G/F Carlos Dixon (13.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
Postseason:NIT: Defeated Temple 60–50, lost to Memphis 83–62 in the second round
Bamako, Mali/Bridgton (ME) Academy
Ft. Lauderdale, FL/Cardinal Gibbons
Toa Baja, PR/Hargrave (VA) Military Academy
Tech's recruits have contributed each of the past two seasons, and the Hokies need at least half -- and maybe three-quarters -- of this year's class to do the same. Vassallo figures to be one of the contributors, since there is a need at his small-forward spot. Diakite figures to be another, since Tech needs a rebounder. Either Vinson or Taylor figures to help, too, and one may end up taking a redshirt season.
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Since NASCAR is all the rage, let's pretend Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg is a crew chief. A year ago, he had a car that ran really well when it had all eight cylinders working. When he didn't, the car sputtered. There were no replacement parts. This season, Greenberg ought to be able to make a pit stop or two without losing much speed. Tech will be more experienced and deeper than it was when it shocked the ACC by posting an 8–8 record in its first season in the league. Nothing was expected last year -- plenty will be expected this season.
With two years of experience and two good feet, junior forward Coleman Collins figures to be a dominant player this season. Surgery to remove a cyst in December last season made it much easier for Collins to maneuver, and he was a different player the rest of the way. Though his overall numbers weren't great, he was much more of a factor once Tech entered league play. He had 20 points and nine rebounds in a victory over North Carolina State and 18 rebounds in a victory over Duke.
Tech's other forward will be sophomore Deron Washington, a leaper who had an up-and-down freshman season. He was much more consistent later in the year, something the Hokies hope carries over to this season. "Deron is obviously extremely athletic and active," Greenberg says. "He's not as strong as you'd like him to be, but he's stronger than he looks."
The lack of depth really hurt Tech up front last season, but figures to have improved. Greenberg is looking for more out of senior Allen Calloway and sophomore Robert Krabbendam. Junior walk-on Chris Tucker can also be a factor.
Greenberg also expects to be able to use freshmen Cheick Diakite, Hyman Taylor and Terrance Vinson. "All three have the potential to contribute," Greenberg says. "I think one of them definitely will, and you might see one of them redshirt. Cheick has the body that is probably most ready to compete."
Tech's starting guards, juniors Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon, made quite an impression their first time through the ACC. This year, you'll hear talk that they may be the league's best backcourt duo. It is not a far-fetched idea.
Technically, Dowdell is the point guard and Gordon is the wing, but they are interchangeable. Dowdell is the better shooter, Gordon the better defender. Both can do a little of everything.
The return of junior Markus Sailes will help. He played 32 minutes per game two seasons ago but sat out almost all of last season because of stress fracture problems in his right leg. Sailes, who was granted a medical redshirt, can play both guard slots and the wing forward.
"For the first time, we have some experience in the backcourt," Greenberg says. "We have guys that embrace their roles. Although Zabian needs to improve on defense, he can create plays off the dribble. Jamon gives us a tremendous toughness and savvy. Markus doesn't make mistakes, plays within himself."
The big question is at wing forward, manned so well by Carlos Dixon last season. Sophomore Wynton Witherspoon, who showed flashes of promise last season, will probably get the first shot at winning that job. Incoming freshman A.D. Vassallo will get a look, too. Greenberg, as he proved last season with Washington, isn't afraid to turn a big job over to a freshman.
If neither works out, Sailes could find himself a regular small forward instead of a backup at three different slots.
Tech has had the luxury of being the underdog each of the past two seasons. That will change this season, and Greenberg is eager to see how the Hokies handle that. "I think that's something we have to address," he says. "It can't be a burden. It has to be something they feel good about, and they've earned. No matter where we're picked, we still have to go out and do it on the court.”
The Hokies would like to make the logical next step and advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time since '96. It's possible.