It’s been three whole decades since a Virginia Tech basketball team has started a season 7-0, but that’s exactly what new head coach James Johnson has spurred the Hokies to do this season.
With the unceremonious removal of former coach Seth Greenberg in the offseason, a little change in the program was inevitable. But no one was expecting that Johnson would be able to so radically alter the direction of the team so quickly.
The stylistic differences between the old Hokies and the new are readily apparent. Greenberg was a proponent of tough defense and a methodical half court offense, while Johnson has implemented a run and gun system, which is mainly predicated on the players having fun by shooting any time they please.
If Greenberg’s offenses had something of a speed limit, then Johnson’s is just one constant green light, as he’s encouraged players to shoot early and often.
No one has responded to this change more vigorously than Erick Green. Greenberg often tried to employ Green as more of a traditional point guard that facilitates the rest of the offense, but Johnson has given Green free reign to pull the trigger whenever he sees fit.
While this approach might not work for some players, the senior has exploded, averaging 24.9 points per game for the season off of 95 field goal attempts this season — nearly 20 more than the next closest player.
Green’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by the rest of the country either. He’s earned ACC co-player of the week honors two weeks in a row and is getting early All-America buzz for his stellar early performance.
But Green isn’t the only player thriving in the new offense. Last season, Jarell Eddie’s role on offense could be generously described as standing around and waiting to shoot.
This year, Eddie’s been encouraged to play considerably more aggressively, as he’s frequently made big plays by taking the ball to the basket.
He’s also been tasked with bringing the ball up the court frequently, even when Green is on the floor, allowing him to blossom offensively. He’s attempted 77 shots on the year, with 36 coming from behind the arc, and his 50.6 percent shooting percentage seems to show that this new system is ideally suited for him.
As good as these two have been, it’s hard to ignore Robert Brown’s development as well. Although Brown was more suited to Greenberg’s offense than Eddie and Green may have been, he’s really taken a step forward as a shooter this year, and when that’s paired with Johnson’s high tempo attack, the results have been exceptional.
He’s averaging 13.3 points per game on the season, but in the last two games against Iowa and Oklahoma State, he’s scored 18 points, finishing only behind Green in both cases.
Brown is hitting 39.3 percent of his attempts from behind the arc as well, giving the team three viable outside shooting options, which allows the team to space the floor quite effectively.
However, outside of any one player’s individual performance, the biggest difference about this year’s team is the attitude surrounding the program.
While Greenberg was known to have a bit of a rebellious, antagonistic streak, Johnson is considerably more personable. He gets along with everyone, whether they’re players, reporters or stadium workers.
This new attitude is noticeable even when the players are on the court. They clearly enjoy this new system, and their joy is evident as they gallop up and down the floor.
The way they describe him is also very telling. After Greenberg’s authoritarian coaching style, Johnson’s youth and open personality are clearly the kind of change everyone around the program needed.
All these positives aren’t without a few negatives, however. The team can boast wins over one ranked team in Oklahoma State and another major conference team in Iowa, but outside of them, their toughest competition has been UNC Greensboro.
It’s also hard to tell how the team’s lack of depth will affect them this early in the season. It’s all well and good to sprint up and down the floor now, but when February rolls around, how will this team, which is only nine deep, hold up?
But these concerns are still far off for a team’s that on top of the world. Right now, it’s a new day in Blacksburg, and it’s a pleasure to watch.