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2007 Virginia Tech Hokies

by Kyle Winchester | February 20th, 2007

General Info: The Virginia Tech Hokies are enjoying their third season in the Atlantic Coast Conference after moving over from the Big East prior to the 2004-2005 season. Normally a football school, the greater Blacksburg, Virginia area has been injected with a sudden passion for college hoops. The Hokies are right in the thick of the race for first in the ACC and have captured some monumental wins this season. Coach Seth Greenberg has developed a squad of experienced players and versatile athletes, turning them into a contender both regionally and nationally.

Team Makeup: The Hokies are led by their senior backcourt of Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell. The two lefties have been starters most of their tenure at Virginia Tech and have developed a chemistry both on and off the court that is the key to this squad. Gordon, a 6-3 floor general who matches up well with nearly any guard in the league, generally serves as the point guard for the Hokies. The team leader in assists and steals, Gordon is capable of stuffing the stat sheet in virtually any category on any given night. Backcourt mate Zabian Dowdell, the “Hokie from Pohokee (FL),” leads the team in scoring (18.2 PPG) and minutes played. Dowdell’s ability to break an opponent down off the dribble and get his shot at any point in a possession is vitally important to this team. Freshman backup Nigel Munson has given Tech a boost numerous times this season with his ability to push the ball and knock down open shots.

Junior wing players Deron Washington and A.D. Vassallo bring versatility to the Virginia Tech effort. Washington is one of the highest leapers in America, as he showcased last night in a drubbing of Boston College. However, the 2006-2006 season has seen him develop from an athlete into a well-rounded basketball player. Second on the team in scoring and leading the team in rebounding, the 6-7 forward is a nightmare matchup for Tech opponents. Furthermore, his ability to excite the crowd with highlight-reel jams has helped fuel the passion for Tech basketball.

Vassallo is generally the first player off the Hokies’ bench and provides instant offense. A deadly three-point shooter, he has also started attacking the basket more this season. Vassallo, who averages double-figures, forces other teams to extend their defense. Senior reserve Marcus Sailes gives Tech great defense and steady ball-handling at multiple positions.

Finally, Senior Coleman Collins is the lone regular post player for Virginia Tech. After an emotional, challenging junior season in which he lost his father to cancer, Collins has attempted to rally and rediscover the game that made him one of the best big men in the ACC. Though he is not quite back to form, Collins does provide a solid presence in the post. Freshman Lewis Witcher and sophomore Cheick Diakite have taken turns in the starting lineup and done an admirable job on defense and on the glass.

Style of Play: If you haven’t noticed, the key word when discussing Virginia Tech is versatility. The players themselves are versatile, their positions interchangeable. However, the Hokies’ style of play is also flexible. Tech has won games this season scoring in the 90s and the 60s over ACC opponents. With three capable ball-handlers and a plethora of post players, VT is able to counter any style of play. In general, Tech is most effective using its athleticism in the half-court set through isolation plays for its guards or on the break after creating turnovers with its pressure half-court defense. Dowdell and Gordon are so vital to this team because both guards excel at handling the basketball and controlling the tempo of the game.

Weakness: Virginia Tech gets little offense out of its post players. Most of the time, this is not a problem because the Hokies attack the basket so well at the guard and wing positions. This often leads to high percentage shots off a drive-and-dish or simply finishing the drive off with a floater or layup. However, when forced to shoot exclusively from the outside, Virginia Tech tends to struggle. As a team, the Hokies shoot 38% from three-point land, but against strong defensive teams tend to rely too much on such shots. From an intangibles standpoint, Virginia Tech’s intensity tends to waver. The Hokies have played a few flat games this year (losses at Marshall and to Western Michigan on a neutral floor) and endured a few uninspiring stretches of games (first ten minutes at Boston College, last five minutes against North Carolina at home).

Resumé:
RPI: Has stayed firm in the 20s of late.

Key Losses: at Marshall, neutral versus Western Michigan, neutral versus George Washington, NC State (2)

Key Victories: at Duke, versus North Carolina, at North Carolina, at Georgia Tech, versus UVA, versus Boston College

Outlook: Recently, Dowdell has really stepped up and challenged his teammates to play hard, leading the way himself with a gutsy, nearly-unguardable effort in the huge victory at North Carolina. This team will have the advantage in March of Dowdell being a difficult matchup, too big for most point guards to cover, too quick for most two-guards to defend, and left-handed to boot. Ultimately, there will come a point where he will have to at least setup teammates for easy buckets, or even carry this team himself.

Virginia Tech has the talent to make an NCAA Tournament run. But with no players on the team who have played in a one-and-done setting with so much pressure, it is not difficult to imagine the Hokies being the victim of a first-round upset. In all honesty, I’m not sure anyone has a definitive read on this team right now. Seeding and first/second round site location could also prove a factor for Tech in the NCAA Tournament. With a site down the road in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the Hokies should have a slight advantage should they be lucky enough to land there. As of now, the Hokies project anywhere from a 4-6 seed in the Big Dance. A strong finish and a run in the ACC Tournament could push that seeding as high as a three; a poor finish and early ACC Tournament exit could push them down to a seven. That sentence alone sums up Virginia Tech: there’s no telling how this team will ultimately perform in March.

–Kyle Winchester

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