In less than a month, Virginia Tech's men's basketball team will begin its most anticipated season since the 1995-96 campaign. The Hokies return four starters and all of their backups from a team that was a game away from making the NCAA tournament. Tech made it to the quarterfinals of the NIT and won 21 games, with six freshmen as part of the playing rotation.
Virginia Tech's only loss from last season was Deron Washington, and that was a substantial loss. Washington was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons, and is playing this season in Israel.
Washington was a dynamic player for the Hokies. He provided energy points on offense, served as a good rebounder, and could defend anyone from a point guard to a power forward. His versatility and athleticism will be greatly missed.
In this preview, we'll break down Tech's players into three groups: point guards, wings and post players. Offensively, the 2 (shooting guard) and 3 (small forward) positions are basically the same, while the two post positions are very similar, as well. A couple of guys, such as Malcolm Delaney and J.T. Thompson, could be used in multiple roles as well.
Malcolm Delaney (6-3, 170, So.) is the projected starter at point guard this year following a very successful freshman season. Delaney took over the starting point guard duties after 11 games. Though he's probably better suited to be a wing player, he did a very good job running the point for the Hokies down the stretch.
Before we get into his skill set, it's important to understand his intangibles. First of all, he's the perfect player for Seth Greenberg. Delaney believes in hard work, and he's a big time competitor on the court. He's a tough, inner-city kid. He is a former standout quarterback, and he's developed into the vocal leader of this Tech team. If something needs to be said in the locker room, he says it. He has bought in to the Seth Greenberg way.
Delaney averaged 9.6 points per game for the Hokies last year, shooting 40.2% from three-point range in the process. He was absolutely clutch down the stretch, beginning with the first game of the ACC Tournament against Miami.
|Delaney Down the Stretch in 2007-08|
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Delaney was on fire from the outside, and he had a good assist-to-turnover ratio. He also understands the importance of playing defense. In the ACC Tournament, he outplayed hyped guards Jack McClinton of Miami and Wayne Ellington of UNC.
Delaney isn't a natural point guard, but he proved last season that he can play the position effectively. He will also see a little action as a wing, with Hank Thorns (5-9, 160, So.) running the point as the primary backup.
Thorns started 12 games last season, and took heavy criticism from some Tech fans at times. Most of the criticism was unfair. Thorns set a Virginia Tech freshman record with 113 assists. He averaged 3.23 assists per game, which ranked 10th in the ACC. His assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.69 was sixth in the ACC, and tops amongst freshmen in the conference.
Thorns is Virginia Tech's best perimeter off the ball defender. He is very small and gets through screens well. He is difficult to escape. However, it's obviously easy for taller guards to shoot over him.
One thing Thorns will never be is a shooter. He shot just 28.9% from three-point range last year, and just 34.4% overall. He is a spark plug that played great in several clutch situations last year. However, never mistake him for a shooter. He's not going to fill that role.
Delaney will get the majority of minutes at point guard this year, but Thorns will see action as well. There will also be times when we'll see them both in the game at the same time.
A.D. Vassallo (6-6, 216, Sr.) is Virginia Tech's top player, and he'll challenge for All-ACC honors this season. He finished sixth in the conference in scoring last year, averaging 16.9 points per game. Vassallo is a career 39.3% three-point shooter. When he gets hot from the outside, he is difficult to stop.
Vassallo added some things to his arsenal last year that transformed him from a solid starter into an All-ACC caliber player. He improved his handle quite a bit. He started taking the ball to the basket with authority. He uses the one-handed running floater from either side of the lane. He will also go up and throw down a one-handed dunk in traffic on occasion.
In short, Vassallo is a complete scorer. He can do it from the inside or outside. He can spot up, come off a screen, or create his own shot. He should be one of the top scorers in the league yet again.
There is a battle heating up for the other starting wing position. Terrell Bell (6-6, 205, So.) and Dorenzo Hudson (6-5, 220, So.) are both trying to stake a claim, and we'll likely see both guys start games this season for the Hokies.
Hudson showed flashes last year when he enrolled in December, but as the season went along he struggled with his shot. He is a streaky shooter, so it's not a surprise. Hudson is in much better shape this year, and should be more effective when running the court.
Hudson only shot 21.3% from three-point range last year, and just 35.6% overall. Those are numbers that will make you cringe. However, he's better than that, and he has the ability to get very hot at times. He was known as the best pure scorer of the 2007 recruiting class, with the ability to put the ball in the basket in a number of ways.
Bell is a lanky, athletic wing who has the chance to be an excellent defender for the Hokies. He has the quickness, the height, and the work ethic to make a shut down defender at the college level. Bell flashed a solid midrange jumper last year, but sources indicate that Bell has improved his outside shooting.
Sources also indicate that Bell is probably the most improved player on the team, with Dorenzo Hudson close behind. That's why this battle is so interesting.
Depth could potentially become an issue on the wing, if an injury occurs. Malcolm Delaney will spend a few minutes at wing here and there, but most of his action will be at point guard. J.T. Thompson (6-6, 210, So.) has been working at wing in the preseason, but his best position is still underneath the basket. He isn't the threat from the outside to command much respect offensively on the wing.
While we might see Thompson playing some wing at the beginning of the year, by the end of the season he could be back on the inside. It will depend on matchups. He is a matchup problem when he plays in the post, because opposing power forwards can't keep up with him in a full court game. He is also aggressive enough and athletic enough to outrebound bigger opponents. Ultimately, he adds more to this Tech team on the inside than he does on the wing.
One thing that all the wings must do, with the exception of Malcolm Delaney, is improve their handle. Dorenzo Hudson is a natural 2 (shooting guard), but his handle isn't as good as most 2-guards. Terrell Bell and A.D. Vassallo are 3's (small forward). In short, the Hokies don't have a natural ball-handling 2-guard. Delaney could serve that purpose, but he's needed at point guard.
Of course, VT had the same problem last year with Deron Washington and A.D. Vassallo both playing on the wing. It is something they can and probably will overcome.
Tech's top player on the inside is Jeff Allen (6-7, 240, So.). Allen averaged 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game a season ago. He was the ACC's fifth leading rebounder. Despite his size and the position he plays, Allen also was second in the conference in steals, averaging 2.09 per game.
Allen is very quick for his size, he can handle the ball fairly well on the perimeter, and he can shoot it from the outside decently for a big man. He has a number of low post moves. Perhaps his best attribute is how well he catches the ball. Allen has a great set of hands, and he can elevate and score over anyone in the conference.
There is no question about Allen's talent level. He has the potential to be an excellent college player. There is a question however about his work ethic and his commitment to fulfill his potential. He reported to Tech out of shape as a freshman, and was out of shape at the end of the season. The summer reportedly went better for him from a conditioning standpoint, but he still has to prove it on the court. Is he as dedicated as the rest of his teammates?
Lewis Witcher (6-9, 218, Jr.) is the other likely starter in the post. He is a very experienced player who has started 33 of his 65 career games. His numbers aren't terrific, but Witcher does have talent. Defensively, he's athletic and capable of blocking shots. Offensively, he's got good post moves and good touch on jump hooks.
However, thus far in his career Witcher has lacked consistent aggressiveness and the mean streak to take his game to another level. He picked things up towards the end of last season, but he needs to keep moving forward in the early stages of this season. If he could become a seven (points) and five (rebounds) type guy for the Hokies, he would be making a significant contribution.
Cheick Diakite (6-9, 217, Sr.) is not much of an offensive threat, but he brings intensity and solid defensive skills to the table. He doesn't have a bad shot, but he lacks offensive awareness and travels too much. On the defensive end, he is perhaps the most prolific shot blocker in the conference, when you consider minutes played. Diakite averaged just 11.9 minutes per game last season, but tied for the team lead with 41 blocked shots.
Diakite isn't likely to see any more playing time this year than he saw last season. However, there are certain matchups where a player of his intensity and toughness will be needed. His minutes will go up in those games.
As mentioned above, J.T. Thompson could see time in the post and on the wing. Right now, he's better suited to play on the inside in a fast paced, fullcourt offense like we saw down the stretch last season.
Victor Davila (6-8, 245, Fr.) is a highly touted true freshman who should see minutes in the frontcourt rotation this year. Seth Greenberg was very high on Davila's footwork during his recruitment. He is a player who already has a college ready body. He is big and he can be physical. He enters Tech with low post moves already in his arsenal.
At Starmount High School in Winston-Salem, Davila set school records in points (1,941) and rebounds (1,470). He has the tools to be a very good inside player. Like all freshmen, he'll have to learn the difference between playing hard in high school and playing hard for Seth Greenberg.
Terrance Vinson (6-8, 215, r-Jr.) is available for depth, but he's not expected to see anything other than mopup duty, unless there are injuries. Gene Swindle (6-11, 260, Fr.) is a big bodied center. He's a raw prospect who might take a redshirt this year.