Thursday, November 08, 2012

Supporting cast has to step up for Hokies

Erick Green is the only Virginia Tech returning starter to have averaged in double figures last season.

Senior guard Erick Green averaged 15.6 points per game last season for the Hokies, who have only two returning starters this year.

MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times

Senior guard Erick Green averaged 15.6 points per game last season for the Hokies, who have only two returning starters this year.

Virginia Tech Hokies basketball

Berman Courtside

Related: ACC men's basketball team previews

BLACKSBURG - When James Johnson played for Ferrum College, his teammates called him "ChemLawn" because he spent his summers mowing lawns.

Johnson, now the rookie coach of the Virginia Tech men's basketball team, might discover the grass is greener on the other side of the court this season.

The Hokies have just eight scholarship players, including only two returning starters. Two of those eight have never played college basketball before. Point guard Erick Green, the lone senior among the eight, is also the only one who averaged double figures in scoring last season.

If the Hokies don't get scoring punch from Green's supporting cast, they could suffer their second straight losing season.

"We've got some guys that will be able to help take the load off of Erick," Johnson said.

Tech, which tied for last place in the ACC last season, has been picked 10th in the league's preseason media poll.

"People don't expect anything," Green said. "We have some good pieces."

The best piece is Green, who averaged 15.6 points last season.

"They want me to score the ball, and I'm going to do all of that," said Green, who made the All-ACC second team last season. "I've been working hard on my jump shot. But my main goal is to get these guys around me better."

Tech must replace three starters from last year's 16-17 team. Dorenzo Hudson (10.9 ppg), now playing in Hungary, and Victor Davila (7.5 ppg) were seniors. Dorian Finney-Smith, who averaged 6.3 points and a team-high 7 rebounds, has transferred to Florida.

The Hokies are also without signee Montrezl Harrell, who could have made an impact at power forward. After former coach Seth Greenberg was fired, Harrell was granted his release from his letter-of-intent and signed with Louisville. Harrell was part of the U.S. national team that won gold at the FIBA Americas under-18 championships in June. He had 19 points and 13 rebounds in Louisville's exhibition win over NAIA member Pikeville last week.

Jarell Eddie, who started at power forward last season, will start at small forward this year.

"I want to be able to attack the rim better, finish at the rim better," said Eddie, who averaged 9.1 points. "I am going to be able to bring scoring to the team. I'm going to have to do that for us to be successful."

The off-guard will be Robert Brown, who averaged 6.8 points last season. But he rang up 16 points against Duke in the ACC Tournament.

"We know what he can do, but can he do it every single night?" Green said.

Brown shot just 36.2 percent from the field last season.

"I'm trying to work on my midrange [shot]," Brown said. "I was getting that shot and wasn't able to knock it down."

The center will be Cadarian Raines, who averaged 5.9 points. He started late last season when Davila was injured and scored in double figures in four of the team's final eight games.

"They're going to double [team] him a lot," Green said. "But I think he's going to have a big year."

Raines' backup, Joey van Zegeren, is only a redshirt freshman. So Johnson wants to keep Raines out of foul trouble.

"It's very important that we keep him on the floor, and we're doing some things scheme-wise on defense to help keep him out of foul trouble," Johnson said. "We'll mix in some zone, we may trap the post, send some help."

The power forward will be C.J. Barksdale, who averaged 2.7 points last season.

"I could've been more active," Barksdale said. "Sometimes you didn't even know I'm out there. I got down on myself."

Freshman Marshall Wood will be the backup power forward. But as was the case when Eddie played power forward last year, Wood will also spend time on the perimeter. In last month's intrasquad scrimmage, Wood grabbed 11 rebounds and sank four 3-pointers.

"I pride myself on being a really good shooter," Wood said.

Marquis Rankin returns as Green's backup.

The Hokies ranked 11th in the ACC in field goal percentage last season (42 percent), but perhaps more fast breaks will result in easier baskets this year. Johnson has installed an up-tempo offense.

"We're trying to stay away from half-court [offense]," Green said. "We want to get out and run in transition and get the ball up in the air as much as we possibly can - attack the rim."

The Hokies do have set plays for when they turn to a half-court offense.

Tech could have trouble on the boards. The team ranked 10th in the conference in rebounding margin last season.

"We don't have a dominant rebounder," Johnson said. "We need all guys to rebound.

"To play the way we want to play, to run, you've got to get stops and rebound and get an outlet [pass]."

Eleven of Tech's 17 losses last season were by four points or less or in overtime.

"Coach Johnson has done a great job of incorporating competitive drills. That was one thing we were lacking last year when it came to the end of the game - we weren't as competitive as we needed to be," Brown said.

But with their lack of depth, the Hokies know what the most crucial aspect to their season will be.

"As long as we stay healthy, that's the key," Green said.

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