- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: Justin Robinson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kerry Blackshear, Chris Clarke, Ahmed Hill, Ty Outlaw
Key Losses: Justin Bibbs, Devin Wilson
Key Newcomers: Landers Nolley, Jarren McAllister, Jon Kabongo
Outlook: After a Downy soft non-conference schedule and a rough loss to SLU to start the 2017-18 season, Buzz Williams’ Hokie squad proved to be one of the most dangerous teams in the ACC. While VT finished 7th in the conference standings, the Hokies boasted wins over UNC, Duke, Virginia (away), and Clemson, the four top teams in the league. Now with a roster that features seven returning rotation players, a top 100 recruit, and a dead-eye shooter coming off an injury, the Hokies look to vault from middling ACC squad to conference title contender.
The past two Hokie teams have exhibited similar styles of play and that should continue in 2018-19. Va Tech spaces the floor as good as any team in the country with its vast array of capable outside shooters. Last season, VT ranked 6th in the country in eFG% and 31st in 3P% thanks to six different players on the squad shooting above 39% from the Land of Plenty. Ball movement is emphasized in this offensive attack, and VT has just as many willing and skillful passers as it does shooters. The created space also allows VT’s talented playmaking guards to attack driving lanes and earn trips to the free throw line. And, like nearly all Buzz Williams teams of yore, the Hokies do not attack the offensive glass, choosing instead to get back on defense in an attempt to quiet any would-be transition opportunities.
An offense like this needs a maestro of a point guard, and VT has that in senior Justin Robinson. A 2nd Team All-ACC performer a year ago, Robinson projects to be one of the best players in the conference and possibly even the country heading into his final season. The 6’1” PG uses his lightning quickness to split pick-n-roll defenders and get into the teeth of the defense where he is an artful finisher and foul drawer:
When defenses collapse, Robinson picks apart scrambling perimeter players with deft passes to open shooters. To complete the package, if defenders sag off Robinson or go under ball screens, he’ll light the net on fire. Last year, Robinson ranked 4th in the ACC in assist rate and turned in an impressive shooting slash of .508/.398/.782 (2P/3P/FT).
Teaming up with Robinson in the starting backcourt will be sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker and redshirt senior Ahmed Hill. NAW is first and foremost an outside catch-and-shoot threat with good form, but he showed flashes in his first season at VT of his one-on-one scoring ability and penetration game. He’s definitely a player most will peg as a breakout guy in his second season in Blacksburg with his size and handle. Hill is even more so a spot-up shooter – 100% of his made threes last season were assisted, and a lot of them came from the juicy corners. VT as a team was excellent at finding the efficient corner three, connecting on 103/240 (43%) of their attempts last season.
Aside from rotational pieces PJ Horne and Wabissa Bebe, VT will get a shot in the arm in its guard / wing department with the return of redshirt senior Ty Outlaw and the introduction of freshman Landers Nolley. Outlaw missed all of 2017-18 with an ACL tear but should be full strength heading into this season. As a junior, the 6’6” wing made 48.7% of his overall three-point attempts (11th in the country) and 51.5% of his attempts in ACC play. Defensively, he’s versatile enough to guard multiple spots. Nolley is an ESPN Top 100 recruit who has picked up some hype as of late. He’s a very good outside shooter (seemingly a VT qualifier) and a pretty good athlete to boot. Nolley may not be a one-and-done player, but he should enjoy a really solid Division I career. Next year will be his chance to shine, but this year he should make a fine complementary piece to a high-powered offense.
Two more freshmen, Jarren McAllister and Jon Kabongo, join the VT backcourt in 2018-19. McAllister has a high motor and is an outstanding athlete. Kabongo is Myck Kabongo’s (Texas) younger brother, which you can tell immediately by looking at him. The 6’3” point guard is lanky, quick and possesses a good outside shot. Like Nolley, next year will be their coming out party.
Manning the middle is big man Kerry Blackshear, one of the very few true big men on this roster. Blackshear will often play the lone inside role to the 4-out / 1-in scheme, setting screens and posting up within an offense that emphasizes guard play. The 6’10” redshirt junior is a lumbering big man but has a surprisingly quick first step and can step out beyond the arc when needed. Inside, he’s super efficient at scoring on the block. Khadim Sy's odd on-again / off-again departure leaves the Hokies with little else inside.
Perhaps the most important player on Buzz’s roster is senior forward Chris Clarke. Clarke isn’t a flashy player nor will he lead the Hokies in scoring, but he does every little thing on both ends of the floor. His position fluidity is extremely valuable in this age of basketball – Clarke can play the 3, 4, or even 5 in a pinch and can guard multiple positions on defense. Last year, Clarke was the ACC’s 4th best defensive rebounder by rate and ranked 21st in assist rate, a testament to his “Jack of all trades” value.
VT’s offense was nationally elite last season but its defense was decidedly not. The Hokies do a great job at limiting transition opportunities and they focus on walling off the paint on defense. However, their “packed-in” tendency leads to open three-point attempts by the opposition. If this area improves, VT will be a complete team and legitimately inside the national top ten conversation.
This is VT’s year. With three starting seniors and a very experienced, deep roster, Buzz Williams has his best-looking team since the Jae Crowder-led 2012 Marquette squad. The offense will be there; committing to defense will be the biggest challenge.