BLACKSBURG—Everything is new at Virginia Tech. A year after the Hokies came within a shot of beating Duke in the Sweet 16, they’ve lost their top five scorers and their coach.
Mike Young, the longtime Wofford big whistle and Radford native, has taken over for Buzz Williams, who jumped ship for Texas A&M after leading Tech to its best March showing ever.
Williams is in College Station, guards Justin Robinson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker are in the NBA and forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. transferred to Florida.
Young’s team will be lead by guard Wabissa Bede and forwards Landers Nolley and P.J. Horne. Will they be able to compete in the ACC in his first season? Here are five questions facing the Hokies as they prepare to open the season Tuesday night at Clemson.
1) What will Mike Young basketball look like? Personnel may drive much of this answer this season, but certain things are staples of Young’s style of play. He wants to limit his team’s turnovers, a point he emphasizes in practice by having a staff member pop balloons any time a player turns the ball over. Pop 10 balloons, and there’s a penalty.
“A big part of coaching is tailoring what you can do with the personnel you have, and that is going to change year-to-year,” Young said. “We’re not going to be able to do some things that maybe we’ve done in the past. We’ve got those things in place. The bottom line is taking care of the ball offensively and getting a good shot each time down here.”
Young’s team at Wofford last season took 929 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, tied for the 19th most in the nation. Last year’s Hokies team also wasn’t shy about firing away from 3-point range, attempting 831 shots from long range. Of course, 682 of those 3-pointers were taken by players who are no longer on the roster.
Defensively, Young is a man-to-man coach who knows he’ll have to play some zone – maybe a lot of it –because of roster limitations this season. The Hokies aren’t particularly deep and won’t be able to afford foul trouble.
“I’d like to play 100 percent man, but are we going to be able to do that? I’m not sure,” Young said. “Will we have to play some zone to protect some guys? Probably. We’re learning a little bit as we go.”
2) How big an impact can Landers Nolley have?: Fans spent last preseason eager to see the highly touted forward, then found out they’d be waiting another year, as a eligibility issue with the NCAA prompted Landers to redshirt. He put his name in the NCAA transfer portal after Buzz Williams’ departure, but ultimately opted to remain in Blacksburg and give playing for Young a shot.
Teammates who practiced against Nolley last season describe him as a versatile player, capable of playing shooting guard, small forward or even some power forward. He could be one of the shooters tasked with giving Tech a presence from the outside this year.
“I just do whatever my team needs for me to be the best me and to help us win,” Nolley said.
3) How ready are the freshmen?: Jalen Cone gave Young his first major recruiting commitment and helped open the door for other recruiting success. Now, Tech will find out if he can have a similar impact on the floor.
“My goal is really just to contribute to the team and help us win games,” Cone said.
Tech figures to have plenty of minutes for Cone, fellow guards Hunter Cattoor and Nahiem Alleyne and 6-foot-10 forward John Ojiako. Young might prefer to redshirt one or two of these prospects, but he probably won’t get the chance.
4) How much have returners Bede, Horne and Isaiah Wilkins improved? Tech returns just 419 points worth of scoring from last year’s team, which put up a total of 2,574. That’s less than 20 percent of the scoring. To be competitive, Tech needs to hope its returning players can parlay the minutes they played last season into a massive jump in production this year. Bede will be the team’s point guard and Horne its low-post presence. Wilkins was a high energy player off the bench, but will need to bring that level of spark for more than the 14.4 minutes per game he played in 2018-19.
5) Will the fans be patient?: Remember, Buzz Williams’ first season in Blacksburg saw the Hokies go a dismal 11-22, winning just two ACC games. In Year 2, Williams had Tech in the NIT, then a string of three straight NCAA appearances. Cassell Coliseum was selling out and rocking by the end. Young is starting over, almost from scratch. Will the fans need to be won over all over again?