Virginia Tech’s NCAA Tournament drought reached its ninth year in 2015-16, but there were signs that it may soon come to an end. Buzz Williams, entering his third season as head coach, worked his magic and led the Hokies to a nine-win improvement from the previous year and their first postseason appearance since 2011.
Making the NIT was noteworthy for a program that had finished in last place in the ACC four straight years, but Tech is building to something much bigger.
The Hokies return their top four scorers and top five rebounders from a team that matched a program high with 10 ACC wins. And they welcome back two players, sophomore guard Ahmed Hill and junior swingman Ty Outlaw, who missed last season for medical reasons.
With a fortified roster and a coach well-versed in building a winning program — Williams led his previous team, Marquette, to the Sweet 16 in his third season there — this could be the year the Hokies put that NCAA Tournament futility streak to rest.
All ACC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Buzz Williams
2015-16 RECORD (ACC): 20–15 (10–8)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NIT: Lost to BYU 80–77 in the second round
2016-17 PREDICTION: Fifth in the ACC
G Jalen Hudson (8.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Power forward Zach LeDay made quite an entrance last year in his first year with the Hokies after transferring from South Florida. The 6'7", 235-pound senior, who averaged a team-high 15.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks last season, was a welcome addition to a program that has been lacking star power in the paint in recent seasons.
LeDay is the senior member of an otherwise young frontcourt. Sophomore Chris Clarke showed flashes of potential in an injury-interrupted freshman campaign, and Kerry Blackshear is an accurate scorer in the paint who came on late last season. Freshman power forward Khadim Sy starred for prep powerhouse Oak Hill (Va.) Academy.
Clarke, a top-100 recruit coming out of high school, has prolific scoring potential and finished second on the Hokies with a 6.0 rebounding average last season. He averaged 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in the final 11 games after returning from injury. Fully recovered, he is expected to be one of Tech’s top scoring and rebounding options this season.
The Hokies aren’t lacking for depth inside. Senior Johnny Hamilton, the only center listed on the roster, shot 52.0 percent in limited minutes. Outlaw, who put up big scoring and rebounding stats in junior college, has been cleared to play after missing last season with an undisclosed medical condition.
The Hokies are loaded with playmaking point guards, including prolific scorer Seth Allen, accurate distributor Justin Robinson and Devin Wilson, who moonlights on the Virginia Tech football team.
Tech may be most successful with Robinson starting at the point and Allen taking on a bigger scoring role. The Hokies won seven of their final nine games with Robinson at point guard and Allen coming off the bench. Allen, who finished second on the team in scoring, averaged 17.6 points during that final stretch and poured in 31 points in Tech’s ACC Tournament loss to Miami.
Wilson, known more for his defense and distributing skill, joined the football team as a wide receiver in the spring but plans to resume his role as a reserve with the basketball team once football season is over.
Tech has plenty of backcourt scorers as well. In addition to Allen, the Hokies boast Justin Bibbs, who shot 46.9 percent from the field and also led the team in 3-point shooting (45.0 percent), and Hill, who missed last season with a knee injury after starting 30 games and averaging 8.7 points as a freshman.
The Hokies will miss Jalen Hudson, who transferred to Florida, but they added freshman Tyrie Jackson, who averaged 18 points, seven rebounds, five assists and five steals as a high school senior in Tifton, Ga.
With so much returning talent, the Hokies signed a modest recruiting class that includes 6'1" guard Tyrie Jackson and 6'9" forward Khadim Sy. Tech also signed 6'7" forward Seth LeDay, the younger brother of Hokies senior Zach LeDay. Seth, a junior college transfer, plans to enroll in December and is expected to be eligible for the 2017-18 and ’18-19 seasons.
It’s been a long time since Tech had this much talent returning from a successful team. It has a good mix of veteran leadership (LeDay and Allen) and young potential (Clarke could be a star) on the roster to make it one of the top up-and-coming teams in the ACC.
Tech has seen its win total improve by two and nine, respectively, in Williams’ two seasons in Blacksburg. Making the next step to the NCAA Tournament isn’t a given, but at the rate the Hokies have been moving under their current coaching regime, it seems like a realistic expectation this season.