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Last year was an odd one for Virginia Tech. The Hokies started off 11-1 which included credible wins over Penn State, UNC, Dayton and Oklahoma State.
Then, after Hunter Cattoor injured his elbow, things went off the rails for a bit and the Hokies never fully recovered.
Virginia Tech lost to Boston College, Wake Forest, Clemson, NC State, Syracuse, Virginia and Clemson before upsetting Duke to move to 12-8.
The Hokies went 7—6 after that which is pretty much the definition of mediocre. Why?
Part of it no doubt is that Virginia Tech had a tough time replacing Keve Aluma last season. The 6-9 big man followed Mike Young from Wofford and thrived in the ACC. He was really tough.
So was Storm Murphy. The powerful little point guard led Wofford to two upsets of UNC including one at UNC in 2017, before also following Young to Blacksburg, where he too proved to be a quality ACC player.
And of course the injury to Cattoor, who is a critical part of this team, didn’t help.
That was a lot to overcome and Virginia Tech obviously didn’t, finishing 11th in the ACC with an 8-12 record in conference and just 19-15 overall.
It was a deflating letdown for the the defending ACC champs. What will happen this year?
Virginia Tech loses Grant Basile, who was pretty good after transferring from Wright State, Justyn Mutts who was a wonderful forward, Darius Maddox who is off to George Mason and Darren Buchanan, who is now at George Washington.
Maddox was starting when he left the team in January to deal with an unspecified family situation. He was a good and potentially very good player. Hokie fans will never forget this.
Buchanan leaves after redshirting last season, so we’ll never know what he might have done in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech will build on a very solid backcourt for this season. Sean Pedulla, Hunter Cattoor, Rodney Rice and MJ Collins all return.
Pedulla, a 6-1 junior, is an outstanding ACC point guard. He averaged 15 ppg, 3.8 assists and an impressive 3.6 boards. He didn’t shoot the three particularly well - 34.4 percent - but he hit at at 44.7 percent clip as a freshman.
Cattoor is one of the most efficient ACC players you’ll see. He makes smart decisions and makes them quickly. He fractured an elbow in that loss to Boston College in December and that was a really tough blow for the Hokies. He missed nearly a month, returning on January 18th.
Duke fans will remember Collins - he’s the guy who accidentally slugged Kyle Filipowski at the end of the Duke game (to be clear, it was not malicious on his part. The controversy was about how it was handled by the officials).
The 6-4 sophomore, a native of Clover, South Carolina, played well for Virginia Tech as a freshman and had some real highlight moments, including a massive dunk against UNC. He appears to be very coachable and Young sees a bright future for him.
Rice missed a lot of last season after breaking a finger in mid-January. He didn't play at all in the first semester but once he got on the court, he was a rotation guy, getting 20 minutes a night. He lit up NC State in the ACC Tournament, hitting 17, including 5-7 on threes.
That’s going to be a really good backcourt, assuming they defend, which the Hokies struggled with last season.
Also back: Lynn Kidd, Mylyjael Poteat, John Camden and Patrick Wessler.
Kidd, a 6-10 senior, wasn't a huge offensive factor for Virginia Tech, but he had a major impact on defense, which was a big weakness for this team last season. Basile got more minutes - 27.9 to 12.7 for Kidd - but the Clemson transfer should get a lot more time this season - and some help defensively, which we’ll get to shortly.
Poteat transferred from Rice and he was just outside the primary rotation with 8.6 mpg. There are minutes available if he can step up. At 6-9 and a senior, he has enough experience to make a bigger impact.
John Camden, a 6-8 redshirt sophomore, didn't play a whole lot last season, but did get into 23 games averaging 8 mpg. It’s a wait-and-see situation with him.
Wessler is intriguing. He’s a big rascal - 7-0 and 255 - and he was well regarded in high school. He redshirted last season and you’d expect he did a lot of work in the weight room and at stations. He’s the biggest guy on the roster and there’s a role for him if he can step up. All he really needs to do is to play defense and rebound to have an impact. More would be great, but if he makes life difficult in the lane he’ll play.
Young picked up three transfers in the portal: Mekhi Long from Old Dominion, Robbie Beran from Northwestern and Tyler Nickel from UNC.
Long, a 6-7 grad student who moves over from ODU, and Beran, 6-9 and also a grad student (Northwestern in his case), should both help shore up the frontline defense. That was a big problem for the Hokies last season and they’ll be expected to help there.
Less might be expected defensively of Nickel, a native of Harrisonburg, which also produced Ralph Sampson and Dell Curry. Nickel set the Virginia high school scoring record but only got about six minutes a game in Chapel Hill. That’s largely because of his defense. If he can improve there, or if Young can hide him, his offensive ability will help him get on the court. On that end, there aren’t too many doubts about Nickel’s game. And if he does do well, get ready for god-awful puns about nickel and diming, nickel bags and so forth. The line starts here, by the way.
Virginia Tech also brings in three freshmen - Jaydon Young, Brandon Rechsteiner and Conner Venable.
Young didn’t have a big reputation and had only 11 offers. That’s really not bad but compare it to a five-star recruit who might have 100 or more.
None of it matters. Coach Young has a knack for finding underappreciated guards and turning them into monstrous college players. Think Cattoor. Think Pedulla.
Think Fletcher Magee, his Wofford discovery, his Tar Heel slayer.
If Young (the player) is in that class, then he’s done it again. If not, he’s a smart kid who says the first thing he did on campus was to seek out the academic advisor because he’s serious about school. Good on him.
And Rechsteiner? He’s a Top 100 recruit and will back up Pedulla as a freshman. He’s also apparently a scoring point guard - again fitting a Young pattern - and his father is variously known as Big Poppa Pump, The Genetic Freak and, best of all, Big Bad Booty Daddy. He’s former pro wrestler Scott Steiner and if you find yourself seated next to Big Bad Booty Daddy, our advice is to be nice to his kid.
Venable comes to Tech with little fanfare, though one site calls him the best two-way guard in the DMV. But again, given Young’s talent at spotting and developing lesser known talents, we would keep an eye on Venable, who might become venerable - that is, if he sticks around. He’ll likely be at the bottom end of the rotation as a freshman.
So what to expect of the Hokies?
Keep in mind that last season went south when Cattoor went out. We respect him as much as any guard in the ACC, because he makes decisions incredibly quickly. Watch him - he never hangs on to the ball. He wants to move it. And that helps his team a lot.
The rest of the backcourt is really good. Lynn is probably the best frontcourt defender and the transfers Long and Beran should help there.
Offensively, the Hokies could be lethal. The backcourt is deep like Duke and UNC. Nickel is a sniper.
It won’t surprise us if Young rolls out a three-guard offense. He’s got a lot of guards to work with and he could mix and match lineups with other ACC teams depending on who he’s up against.
The biggest questions we see with this team are on defense. Lynn should be fine. Young would be really happy if Wessler is a pain in the butt because that would give him a lot more flexibility on defense. The transfers Long and Beran should help too.
Bottom line really is this: Young is a brilliant offensive coach. You will rarely see a Mike Young team that can’t shoot and score in bunches.
Stopping teams is a different matter. Some of his teams have been excellent defensively while some have been merely adequate. If he can get this team to really play hard on defense, Virginia Tech could be a huge pain for everyone in the conference.