This season has been a roller coaster for the Hokies.
After a hot start only slightly diminished by a loss against the then #8 University of North Carolina Tar Heels, the maroon and orange have dropped two of their last three games, bringing their record to 4-3. The team’s performances have created a dichotomy of sensations for spectators and have both raised and lowered their life expectancies at different points in the season.
Head Coach Justin Fuente has created one of the most feared rushing attacks in college, mixing up carries from Hendon Hooker, Khalil Herbert and Raheem Blackshear like a confused bartender on a busy Saturday night.
However, whereas the offense has mostly thrived this season, the defense has been reeling. Retired Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster’s leadership and schematics could never truly be replaced, and every Hokie fan has served witness to that this season. While Virginia Tech’s defense is outfitted with rangy downhill ballhawks, their inability to stop the run in key situations has put many fans in the unenvious position of deciding what nearby object would provide the most emotional relief should it be thrown at the television.
None of this should matter to the Hokies, though, who will be aiming to ditch their recent run of form this weekend when the #9 Miami Hurricanes travel to Blacksburg for a noon Saturday kickoff.
All of that is great, but what if this football team ditched their cleats for some high-tops?
According to a 2019 CNBC article, the NCAA makes over $800 million every March off of television deals alone during their coveted 68-team tournament. This accounts for over three-quarters of the corporation’s annual revenue and is a major draw to the sports and betting world.
Success in the tournament depends on a number of factors: athletic ability, strength, experience, leadership, determination and, of course, luck.
So, the most important question: which members of the 2020 Virginia Tech football roster would comprise a Division I-caliber basketball program ready to make a run in the spring tournament?
Point Guard: Hendon Hooker
Does this come as a surprise to anyone? The point guard is the decision maker of the offense and the front man on defense. This player is responsible for leading his teammates, running plays out of different sets and having the courage to take on smaller wing defenders and opposing big men inside the paint. Hooker’s 6’4 220lb stature sets him up well to handle the physicality that comes with the game, and his experience as a dual-threat quarterback helps him in understanding that there is both a time to score and a time to facilitate for your teammates. Hooker has also gone toe-to-toe in battles against other quarterbacks, most memorably in a 355-yard total performance against Bryce Perkins’ 2019 UVA squad. The stage of March Madness would not be too large for Hooker, who has demonstrated a reluctance to accept defeat no matter the situation.
Shooting Guard: Rayshard Ashby
Ashby is one of the most feared linebackers in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Hailing from Chesterfield, Virginia, Ashby led the ACC in tackles each of the past two seasons. He has only missed two games out of 44 possible and has serious NFL potential. This 5’10 245lb wrecking ball will take on a Marcus Smart-esque roll for the "footsketball" Hokies. Smart, an Oklahoma State grad, is known for being an iron man with a nose for the ball, suffocating defense and intrinsic leadership that motivates his teammates. As a middle linebacker, Ashby has exhibited a knack to be where the ball will before it gets there, reveling at the opportunity to make a play. Even if Ashby doesn’t have the flashiest numbers in the postgame box score, the win often comes as a result of his relentless hustle in the pursuit of victory.
Small Forward: James Mitchell
In modern basketball, versatility and adaptability on the wings are crucial. Players such as Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Jerami Grant have earned their keep in the NBA not only by being able to score in different ways, but by defending all five positions on the court, too. The 6’3 Mitchell, a former four-star recruit, has been utilized all over the field during his three years at Virginia Tech. Whether lining up next to the tackle as a set tight end, in the slot, out wide or in the backfield, Mitchell has displayed an ability to do anything that is asked of him. A proficient blocker, Mitchell has six receiving and five rushing touchdowns in his last 19 games… again, from the tight end position. Mitchell has been an integral cog in this year's Virginia Tech offense, and will be responsible for filling in the gaps of the starting five. This means that James will have to defend, assist, penetrate, space and rebound depending on what the flow of the game dictates.
Power Forward: Amare Barno
The transition of basketball from a paint-centered approach to that of one where three-point dominance reigns superior has meant that the positions on the court have been able to downsize in order to create more space on the floor. Whereas older power forwards used to be slower enforcers on the inside, modern fours must be able to step outside to defend the perimeter while utilizing their height to protect the rim. Given this evolution in the game, Barno presents the perfect candidate to fill the open spot at power forward. The former linebacker turned defensive lineman is light enough at 235 pounds to keep up with the running backs that he’s responsible for containing, yet his 6’6 frame makes him virtually impossible to overpower. Barno has four and a half sacks to go with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery so far this season as his unique size and skillset present a difficult matchup for opposing offensive lineman. In the case of this team, he will be able to terrorize bulkier defenders while overpowering smaller ones that are deployed against him on the court.
Center: Luke Tenuta
The 6’7 315lb offensive tackle earned a spot on Pro Football Focus’ College National Team of the Week after helping pave the way for 314 Hokie rushing yards against NC State in Tech’s first game of the season. One of the most crucial assets for offensive tackles is footwork, and having the strength to deal with pressure from the biggest nose tackles while also possessing enough agility to suppress the outside rush of quicker linebackers and defensive backs is invaluable. Tenuta’s job for this team is simple: use size as a means to be a consistent force defensively while using quick feet to get in and out of pick and rolls on the offensive end. While Tenuta would not be the tallest center to ever play the game, the former all-state athlete will use his overwhelming abilities to ensure that the lane is locked down in favor of the good.
Sixth man: Divine Deablo
The Hokies entire defense transformed when Deablo returned to the lineup against Boston College after missing the two games prior due to coronavirus-related concerns. After all, with a name like Divine Deablo, how could they not?!
The defense gave up an average of 43.5 points per game while he was gone, yet clamped Boston College to a measly 14 points after getting him back. There is something immeasurable about having the calming force that is your leader on your side, whether he is making the plays or not. Deablo will take on the role of captain and will be relied upon in the fingernail-biting moments. The fifth-year Hokie has drawn NFL comparisons, and his experience in handling expectations is exactly the tonic needed to combat the pressure that is March Madness.
It is our belief that this group of men, selected based on superior individual qualities, would be able to win at least one game in the NCAA tournament. There have been great upsets in the past such as the #16 UMBC squad taking down #1 UVA by twenty points in 2018, #11 George Mason reaching the final four in 2006 and #15 Florida Gulf Coast eliminating the 2013 second-seeded Georgetown Hoyas. With the skillsets and intangibles that this roster possesses, the stage would be set for another iteration in the “madness” of March.
So, what do you think?
Tweet @SonsofSat with your thoughts on the roster, any changes that you would make and, most importantly, how these Hokies would fair in the “Big Dance.”