Even in the strongest conference in college basketball, there is a huge amount of optimism surrounding the Hokies’ prospects for this new season.
With some solid veterans returning and an exciting freshman class, it’s easy to understand why. Players like Erick Green, Dorenzo Hudson and Dorian Finny-Smith are all talented enough to build some serious buzz for the season.
Many have predicted that the Hokies have the chance to contend for a top five finish in the league, or even sneak into the top three. Others are eyeing an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 2007.
While it’s easy to get worked up about the season, there are still some glaring issues that could really hold the team back this year.
The first, and most publicized, is the season ending injury of JT Thompson. Losing Thompson is a significant blow, as the team will miss his energy and post presence. But his loss will affect the team in a variety of other ways.
Without Thompson, the Hokies are severely lacking in size, especially at power forward. The team has experimented with using Jarrell Eddie in a hybrid guard-forward position, as well as rotating in Finney-Smith in certain situations.
Off the bench, Cadarian Raines provides the most size, but each of these players presents their own issues.
Eddie is ideally suited to a role as a more traditional swingman, while Raines is unpolished offensively after missing his freshman year due to injury.
Finney-Smith has impressed so far, but he’s rail thin and has yet to face serious competition. The team is going to really struggle against teams that have big, physical players in the post, and depth is a major concern.
The Hokies may be able to get by with what they have at the moment, but Thompson’s absence makes them precariously thin. The team faltered down the stretch last year for the same reason, and many of the players Tech is relying on now have checkered injury histories.
Green has already suffered an Achilles' injury, and while he’s been able to play through it, the team can’t afford for anyone else to go down this early in the season.
The schedule doesn’t do the team any favors either. Things get tough early on with nonconference matchups against Kansas State and Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla.
And the ACC schedule is especially brutal, as the team will play Duke and Florida State twice each, with a home game against top-ranked UNC.
The new players, like Finney-Smith, Raines and C.J. Barksdale, don’t have a lot of time to get comfortable will have to deal with a brutal run down the stretch.
There will be a considerable amount of pressure on the veterans to carry the team in that tough portion of the year, and they will have to continue to improve on last year's shortcomings.
Both members of the backcourt, Green and Hudson, have been lacking in their long- distance shooting. Both have three point percentages hovering in the .200s, and the team will need them to step up, since it cannot rely on Malcolm Delaney's shooting anymore.
All of this isn’t to say the Hokies can’t be successful this year, as there is certainly the opportunity for them to do so. However, it will take some good luck on the injury front and a big upset of an ACC power to help them realize the expectations many have placed on them.
The Hokies have some real talent and ability, but the question remains: Is this the year for it? Or is next year the one fans should actually be excited about?