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ACC Preview #5 - Virginia Tech

Under Mike Young, the Hokies have really become an interesting program

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Virginia Tech at Florida
Mar 19, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Florida Gators forward Colin Castleton (12) dives for a loose ball against Virginia Tech Hokies forward Keve Aluma (22) during the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse. 
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll admit it: we didn’t think Virginia Tech had much of a chance to compete in ACC Basketball. Buzz Williams and Mike Young have proven us wrong.

Williams did a really nice job in Blacksburg before leaving for Texas A&M while Young has really impressed in his first two seasons.

When it comes to ACC Basketball, the quality of play in Virginia, somewhat surprisingly, is getting close to what we see in North Carolina.

In his first season, despite having one of the youngest and smallest teams in D-1, Young still got to .500.

And last season, Young coached the Hokies to third place in the ACC, despite a lot of Covid disruption to his program.

Let’s look at what he loses, who’s back and who’s new for Season Three.

Losses

  • Jalen Cone
  • Carter Diarra
  • Cordell Pemsl
  • Tyrece Radford
  • Wabissa Bede
  • Joe Bamisile

Losing Cone, Radford and Bede are the biggest hits and especially Radford. We love guys who do things they’re not supposed to, and a 6-2 guard is not supposed to be a great rebounder.

Unfortunately, Radford, who would be moving into his junior year, transferred after a traffic stop led to DWI and weapons charges. He’s moved on to Texas A&M where he’ll reunite with Williams, who recruited him to Virginia Tech.

Cone was fun too and seemed like a good fit for Young’s system. Bede was a solid ACC point guard but may already be replaced.

Bamisile didn’t leave much of an impression so he probably won’t be a major loss. He’s off to George Washington after just one year.

Returnees

  • Keve Aluma 6-9 senior
  • Justyn Mutts 6-7 senior
  • Hunter Cattoor 6-3 junior
  • Nahiem Alleyne 6-4 junior
  • John Ojiako 6-10 junior
  • David N’Guessan 6-9 sophomore
  • Darius Maddox. 6-5 sophomore

Aluma, who followed Young from Wofford, has proven himself to be a very good ACC player. He put up 15.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.2 apg and 1.3 bpg. He’s been really impressive.

Mutts was a versatile talent as promised. He’ll be useful again. He and Aluma will benefit from the three point shooters spreading the court and they’re both unselfish.

Young recruited Cattoor to Wofford originally, then after he moved to Virginia Tech, told him he thought he could play at the ACC level too. He was right.

Our favorite thing about Cattoor is that he has a particular talent for moving the ball. He does it quickly and efficiently and it really helps the offense. He’s a real asset. He also shot 43.3 percent from behind the line.

Nahiem Alleyne is an excellent defender and also another three point shooter, hitting 40.8 percent of his threes.

Ojiako is a big guy but he only got in six games last season and hasn’t shown any signs of being more than a practice player so far.

N’Guessan was useful last year but at 6-9 and 205, he’s still pretty thin. He’s sort of a wildcard still who might be a bigger factor than most people expect.

Transfers

Young only brings on one but he’s a good one and a known quantity: Storm Murphy, a 6-0 grad student, was his point guard at Wofford. He’s smart and a stabilizing influence. He may be an upgrade, in many ways, over Bede. He was a perfect fit for Young’s system at Wofford and has competed well at the highest levels.

Freshmen

  • Sean Pedulla - 6-1/190
  • Jalen Haynes 6-8/260
  • Ben Varga 5-10/170
  • Camden Johnson 6-1/175

Call it the Zoom class and think about this too: given his late start in his first year, then Covid, Young has had some challenges getting players and has still put together a very competitive team.

Pedulla is from Oklahoma and, surprise, he can fill it up from outside. He’s likely to be Murphy’s understudy this year. His high school coach said this about him: “He is a lot stronger than people think. The kid is very, very immersed in the weight room. When you look at him, he’s a very unassuming kid. What you don’t realize is that underneath there is a steel assassin, both his mentality and then in his physicality.”

Johnson was listed at 215 when he committed in April but the Hokies list him at 260. Either he hit the weight room or the drive thru. Has he really put on 45 pounds in just under five months? He averaged 20.2 ppg and 10.6 rpg at Montverde last year. Young could really use a bruiser so if it’s legit and he’s in shape, he has an obvious role, assuming he’s ready to take it.

Varga and Johnson were both recruited as preferred walk-ons. It’s not impossible they could contribute at some point but it probably won't be this year.

Young’s path to the ACC is not typical. He played college ball at Emory and Henry, a school most of you will not have heard of, then was an assistant coach there. He moved on to an assistant’s job at Radford, then south to Wofford, moving to the head job in 2002 after three years as an assistant to Richard Johnson.

He had mixed success for several years but Wofford stuck by him and it paid off.

The upsets of UNC in 2017 and again in 2019 were astonishing and the Terriers really pushed Kentucky to the limit in 2019 in the NCAA tournament.

He had developed a reputation as a masterful offensive coach before moving to Blacksburg and he uses the three point shot as well as anyone since Rick Pitino demonstrated what dangerous weapon it was when he was at Providence.

Young and Virginia’s Bennett are both raising the profiles of their programs and what’s interesting is they solved the same basic dilemma but very differently: how to compete against much more talented teams on relatively even terms.

At Wofford, Young used the three to do it and Bennett refined his father’s Packline defense to hamstring more talented opponents. Bennett was a superb three point shooter himself and has never shied away from it. He just prefers a much more deliberate pace than does Young, typically going deep into the shot clock before shooting, which makes the opponent work both ends of the court extremely hard.

Both guys became savants on their respective ends of the court and the ACC has reaped the benefit.

Young’s program is still maturing but based on what we’ve seen so far, the Hokies are going to be a tough out for years to come.