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ACC Preview #4 - Virginia Tech

You won’t want to sleep on this team because they’re going to be very dangerous.

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Virginia Tech vs Wisconsin
Mar 16, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies guard Justin Robinson (5) drives to the basket against Wisconsin Badgers forward Ethan Happ (22) in the second half during the first round of the NCAA Tournament at KeyBank Center. 
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Last year Duke had a freakish wave of injuries that completely disrupted the season but it wasn’t the only ACC team to take several hits. Virginia Tech did too.

A knee injury ended Chris Clarke’s season. Kerry Blackshear redshirted due to a shin problem. Johnny Hamilton lost his senior year to a thumb injury.

Khadim Sy and Seth Allen were slowed by injuries at times as well. Kyrie Jackson redshirted.

Depth became a real problem for the Hokies last year. Shouldn’t be a problem this year though.

The Hokies do lose Seth Allen, who played well for Buzz Williams after leaving Maryland, and forward Zach LeDay, who transferred in from South Florida and really blossomed as a player.

LeDay was a huge asset for the Hokies and despite his outstanding play prior to last year, he was willing to come off the bench. He still got starter minutes and still was a huge factor for Virginia Tech.

His brother Seth, who never got on the court in Blacksburg, will finish up at ECU.

On the bright side, Virginia Tech returns Justin Robinson, Justin Bibbs, Ahmed Hill, Clarke, Blackshear and Sy. Jackson’s off his redshirt year and has a year of knowledge and repetitions.

This year he should have two reasonable big men in Sy and Blackshear. Sy didn’t have a huge stat line but he was a solid defender. He was slender last year but is now listed at 240 and that’s big enough to bang inside.

Blackshear is 6-10 and 260 and we’d imagine he did a lot of lifting last year as he got over his shin injury. If anything he should be tougher in the paint than Sy.

Both guys give Tech a significant presence inside and both could get a lot better still.

Our favorite Hokie though is Clarke. He’s a 6-6 Swiss Army Knife. He can defend, penetrate, lead a break, pass, rebound - just solid all around. He’s sort of a poor man’s Draymond Green. He’s an incredibly useful player and has more than a bit of charisma too.

The one thing he’s not is a great shooter but that’s okay because Tech has that covered.

Ahmed Hill, Justin Robinson and Justin Bibbs should be able to take care of the perimeter. Hill hit for .37.3% last year from three point range while Robinson clocked in at 35.8% and Biggs at 43.2%.

Ty Outlaw would have helped but he tore an ACL over the summer and his college career is likely over. It’s too bad for the Hokies because he shot 48.7% from deep.

Williams has four new players to work with. Jackson can play after redshirting last year. He’s a point guard and will come off the bench.

His former high school teammate, PJ Horne, is a freshman. He’s a thick 6-6, weighing 230. He’s really an undersized power forward which probably limits his long-term prospects but in college? No problem. He probably won’t be the next Bonzi Colson (we won’t see another Bonzi Colson any time soon) but he’s almost ideal for Williams’ system.

Wabissa Bede is a 6-1 point guard. He had offers from Butler, LaSalle, Mass and Minnesota and Georgia Tech, among others, before choosing Virginia Tech. He’s generally seen as a Top 100 recruit and a solid lead guard.

The final member of the class is Nickeil Alexander-Walker, another kid out of an increasingly impressive Toronto scene. He’s impressed people this summer with his play for Team Canada in the FIBA U18 tournament and also in the Adidas Nations tournament where he shot nearly 60% from behind the line. Don’t be surprised if he ends up starting and even if he doesn't, he looks like a guy who could be on the ACC All-Rookie team and possibly more.

We didn’t follow his Marquette program all that closely but in general his teams reminded us of what he’s built in Blacksburg. He has a preference for athleticism over size, he likes to run and guards tend to be the focus.

This year could be interesting for that template. We don’t know if he’ll use Sy and Blackshear at the same time but he might. We’re sure he’ll make extensive use of Clarke, who could be the fulcrum of the team because he can do so many useful things. And he has a lot of guards to work with. Alexander-Walker will do a lot to minimize the loss of Outlaw.

If Virginia Tech were a stock, we’d buy and hold. The Hokies have improved each year he’s been in Blacksburg, going from 11 wins to 20 to 22. This year we’d expect this team to finish on the other side of 25. And on top of his success, Williams has a fun style. Virginia has had more success with Tony Bennett’s system but what would you rather watch? A running team or, well, an anti-running team?

Williams, who earned the nickname Buzz for his boundless energy, is one of the more interesting coaches in the ACC. He’s diagnosed himself as having OCD and until this summer, when he grew his hair out, was a deep-voiced dead ringer for Curly Howard of the Three Stooges.

He left Marquette partly under pressure for not winning enough (yet still winning) and partly because he said he understood where things were going and wanted to be at a school which had football (read: Power 5).

His work at Virginia Tech has been incredibly impressive to date. His teams are unselfish, smart and consistently play hard. In addition, they actually seem to like each other, which didn’t always seem to be the case with Seth Greenberg’s squads.

Like Jim Larranaga when he was at George Mason, Williams finds guys who are a little too imperfect for the big programs. He gets guys like LeDay and Horne, or Outlaw, who are just a step below what the Dukes and UNCs target, lets them play to their strengths, and turns them into solid units.

For the first time in a long time, Virginia Tech seems like an ACC team and one that’s easy to like and to pull for.

We expect the Hokies will continue to improve and, if this team stays healthy, has Sweet Sixteen potential.

The real challenge will be in keeping him there long term.

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