2020-21 Men's Basketball Season Preview: One Week Away
This word is the best descriptor of the 2019-20 Virginia Tech men’s basketball program.
The Hokies, who were dealing with internal turnover of both players and coaches, were expected to struggle: just not to the degree that they did.
Last season was the first with Head Coach Mike Young at the helm, following Buzz Williams’ departure for Texas A&M. The former Wofford man and Radford, Virginia native noted that he had “long admired Virginia Tech from afar for its principles, as well as for the ability of its athletic programs to consistently win with integrity.”
More notably, though, the maroon and orange only managed to return seven of their twelve (58.3%) members of the 2018-19 roster while also adding three new spots, meaning that there were more new faces than old. Stars Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill departed for the NBA (currently contracted by the Pelicans, Wizards and Hornets, respectively), taking much of the Hokie firepower to new locales.
To make things even harder, forward Kerry Blackshear went overseas to play professional ball in Israel while Ty Outlaw headed slightly more northerly to continue his basketball career in Greece. Although Hokie Nation will surely wish these men nothing but the best in their young, developing careers, their on-court play has been missed.
Before the start of the 2019-20 season, a panel of five CBS analysts gave their forecasts for the final Atlantic Coast Conference standings. On average, these men predicted that Virginia Tech would finish in 9th place with a high vote of 6th and a bottom mark of 12th. Unfortunately, the low bar would not even be cleared, as Tech went on to finish in a measly 12th place.
The Hokies seemed to be defying the odds after starting the season on a six-game win streak and posting a record of 10-3 through thirteen games. Everything was going excellently for coach Young until the final portion of the schedule. The team that had once been known for relentless intensity and selflessness could suddenly find no rhythm in their game and plummeted in the conference standings, dropping 11 of their final 14 contests.
Sadly, this season will be a similar start for Tech’s second-year coach, who again will only have seven familiar faces on the roster. This combined with COVID-19 induced restrictions, mandated by the University administration, will present both a challenge and opportunity for coach Young.
If there was one thing that the captain of the Hokies’ ship was known for, it was demanding effort out of his players. According to Mike McDaniel of Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports “The Hokies [were] out-hustling teams… it [went] a long way to a strong start in conference play.”
In a pandemic-driven world like the one that we are living in, artificial energy is hard to come by. This means that Virginia Tech, who only allowed special guests and players’ family members to attend football games in the fall, will have to manifest their internal desire without the assistance of 9,275 raunchy fans in a packed out Cassell Coliseum. This is exactly where coach Young will be looking to establish himself as a top-tier basketball mind, as he will have to conjure schematics capable of dethroning many of the higher powers in NCAA basketball while getting the absolute most out of his players, listed below.
#0 Hunter Cattoor
2019-20 stats: 6.5ppg, 2.5rpg, 1.1apg, 41.8 fg%, 40.2 3-pt%
#1 Joseph Bamisile
2018-19 stats (high school): 28.7ppg, 7.0rpg, 1.8apg, 2.0bpg, 49 fg%
#2 Cartier Diarra
2019-20 stats (Kansas State University): 13.3ppg, 3.8rpg, 4.2apg, 1.8spg, 41.2 fg%
#3 Wabissa Bede
2019-20 stats: 5.2ppg, 3.7rpg, 5.5apg, 37 fg%
#4 Nahiem Alleyne
2019-20 stats: 8.8ppg, 2.3rpg, 1.4apg, 1.8spg, 38.8 fg%, 38.9 3-pt%
#5 David N’Guessan
2019-20 stats (high school): 15ppg, 7rpg, 3apg
#10 Grant Yates
2018-19 stats (Christopher Newport University): .89ppg, .58rpg
#11 Gill Williamson
2019-20 stats (high school): 16ppg, 6rpg, 3bpg
#13 Darius Maddox
2019-20 stats (high school): N/A
#15 Jalen Cone
2019-20 stats: 8ppg, 1.1rpg, .7apg, 45.7 3-pt%
#21 John Ojiako
2019-20 stats: 2.7ppg, 2.7rpg, 54.1 fg%
#22 Keve Aluma
2018-19 stats (Wofford): 6.9ppg, 6.8rpg, 1apg, 66.7 fg%
#23 Tyrece Radford
2019-20 stats: 10.2ppg, 6.2rpg, 1.7apg, 60.4 fg%
#25 Justyn Mutts
2019-20 stats (University of Delaware): 12.2ppg, 8.4rpg, 2.2apg, 53.8 fg%, 1.3spg, 1bpg
#35 Cordell Pemsl
2019-20 stats (University of Iowa): 2.8ppg, 3.2rpg, 1.2apg, 49.1 fg%
The Hokies’ season is currently slated to be 17 games long, not including the postseason. Despite internal competition from the ACC, the opponents for this year’s Tech squad are not as daunting as in previous years.
The obvious key matchups come on January 2nd and January 30th against #4 UVA, with the former taking place in Charlottesville and the latter commencing in Blacksburg. The Hokies have dropped five of their last six contests against the Cavaliers, with the most recent win coming in a memorable 61-60 overtime victory on February 10th, 2018.
Justin Robinson was the high man for his squad that day, recording 20 points and seven assists. Kerry Blackshear was able to drag the Hokies over the hump, snatching an offensive rebound following a Robinson miss before laying it off the glass for a game clinching and-one with only eight seconds left.
This basket outshone the heroics of UVA guard Ty Jerome, who had already hit a clutch jumper in transition near the left elbow to tie the game with just 12 seconds remaining in regulation.
Outside of the two games against UVA, the only other opponent listed on Tech’s schedule that is currently ranked is Florida State. The Seminoles took a leap towards the top of the NCAA men’s basketball mountain last year, finishing 26-5, but had rolled out very solid squads in the years prior as well. While they do not have the flashiest play style in the country, they are elite defensively and hit necessary threes at important times. The matchup between Virginia Tech and Florida State has been slated for February 20th, near the end of the season, meaning that we should be seeing the very best from both sides. The reverse fixture favors the Seminoles, who won 74-63, but could mean nothing if coach Young is able to conjure some of the magic that got his former Wofford squads to make appearances in March Madness.
Without looking too far ahead, though, the first game of the season is only a week away. The nearby Radford Highlanders will take the bus over to Blacksburg on Wednesday, November 25th, for both schools’ first action of the season. Tech holds the lead in the all-time matchup with a record of 8-2, including a victory in the most recent meeting in 2017. This should be a simple win and confidence-booster for the Blacksburg bunch, who will be hoping to capitalize on this favorable opportunity.
The same panel of CBS experts have predicted a slight elevation for Virginia Tech this year, declaring them the 11th best team in the ACC, but still do not show confidence in the Hokies’ ability to climb towards the top of the conference ladder. Coach Young could do with borrowing from the football team and instilling a “lunch pail” mentality in his group of men, who will need to be ready to work mentally and physically should they hope to be competitive this season.