Entering the 2013-14 season, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team is facing an uphill battle.
A revamping of the ACC landscape has moved the Hokies ever further toward the bottom of the conference for the likes of former Big East powerhouses turned in-conference opponents, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
Additionally, the Hokies must compensate for the loss of second round NBA draft-select, and the NCAA’s leading scorer, Erick Green.
By no means, though, is head coach James Johnson ready to mail in this season.
Replacing the productivity and leadership of Green would be difficult for any team, let alone one that averaged 70 point per game in 2012-13.
Germany native Malik Mueller, expected to be the heir-apparent, had big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, his size 13s will have to wait another year to touch the floor.
Due to undisclosed ineligibility issues, Mueller will have to sit out for the entirety of the 2013-14 season.
“Malik is an unbelievable young man,” Johnson said. “He’s going to definitely help the team in practice and from the sidelines, and I know he’s going to work extremely hard on his game this year and make himself better for next year.”
Johnson had no reservations about revealing the emotional impact of Mueller’s 2013-14 expectations not coming to fruition.
“With what we’re looking for in the backcourt, Malik was definitely a guy that would’ve challenged for that starting position,” he said. “I can’t say more about the situation, but it’s surprising and now the spot is wide open.”
Mueller will have four years of eligibility remaining when he returns for the 2014-15 season.
The Hokies return three starters from the 2012-13 team: Senior forwards Jarell Eddie, C.J. Barksdale and Cadarian Raines. Raines was the team’s leading rebounder averaging 6.4 per game.
Johnson alluded to the fact that there will be open competition for every position. That being said, no spot is more open than point guard.
“At that point guard spot, we’re looking at Marquis Rankin and the freshman Devin Wilson,” Johnson said. “Adam Smith is also a guy that’s competing for time at the two-guard spot and maybe some point guard in certain situations.”
UNC-Wilmington transfer Adam Smith has a big question mark hanging over him. After sitting out for a year, Johnson discussed his progression and role on the team.
“Adam is a guy that can put the basketball in the hole,” Johnson said. “He hasn’t done it in competition for us yet, but based on his work on scout team. I think he’ll be just fine.”
Johnson’s fast style of play on both ends of the floor is an idea that everyone competing for a spot must adhere to if they want to see minutes.
The loss of Erick Green leads not only to a change in personnel, but also to a change in offensive style. There is likely no one on the team that will lead the nation in scoring like Green did, or be able to create their own shot the way he was able to.
Coach Johnson emphasized that it will be a team effort.
“We don’t have a guy whose hands we can put the ball into and say ‘Go get a basket’ when we really need it,” Johnson said. “We don’t have a guy who can score 25 points per game, but I think we have four or five guys who can score 25 point on any given night.”
Senior forward Jarell Eddie agrees with the team-first mentality.
“We don’t really care who scores,” Eddie said. “We’re just trying to score as many points as we can.”
The loss of Green can also be felt from an emotional standpoint. Eddie plans to step up and be a vocal leader of the team.
“There are so many young guys that are going to be looking for guidance,” Eddie said. “As a senior, I look forward to the role of being the leader.”
A balanced attack will help the Hokies offensively. For opponents who used to only key on Erick Green, now they will have to key on a whole team.