Long before Virginia Tech began the regular season with seven-straight wins, first-year Coach James Johnson knew injuries would expose his team’s biggest flaw. But that hasn’t made dealing with it any easier.
The Hokies are stumbling into a holiday slate that includes two road trips to the West Coast with two losses in their last three games, including an ugly defeat at home to Georgia Southern last Saturday that dropped Virginia Tech to No. 197 in the Ratings Percentage Index. Even worse: Virginia Tech’s short-handed roster is currently under siege by a wave of ailments that could force Johnson to adjust the up-tempo playing style in which the team excelled early on this year.
On top of last Sunday’s announcement that freshman Marshall Wood would be out indefinitely after fracturing his foot, at least three Hokies players have been limited by illness over the past two weeks. Point guard Erick Green played through the flu at West Virginia earlier this month, sophomore Robert Brown played through an illness against Georgia Southern, and walk-on Will Johnston — a three-point specialist off the bench this year — hasn’t been able to practice recently due to a stomach virus.
“We’re not where we need to be, not even close to where we need to be,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I’m worried about it.”
Green, Brown and Johnston should all be available when Virginia Tech faces Bradley and either Colorado State or Portland as part of the Las Vegas Tire Classic this weekend, although their effectiveness remains to be seen.
But Wood likely won’t see the floor again until at least ACC season. Johnson said this week the forward would have his injured foot re-evaluated after Virginia Tech travels out west a second time on Dec. 29 to play BYU in Salt Lake City.
To replace Wood, who provided valuable minutes off the bench in relief of starting power forward C.J. Barksdale, Johnson indicated he would play big men Cadarian Raines and Joey van Zegeren together more and move small forward Jarell Eddie, the team’s leading rebounder, down low at times. Walk on Christian Beyer could also see some meaningful playing time given Virginia Tech’s limited numbers inside.
“It’s gonna hurt us. It’s gonna impact the team a lot,” said Johnson, who added he might play more zone defense going forward to avoid foul trouble. “Now we got to try and find someone that can step up in his place.”
One thing that won’t change, however, is Johnson’s desire to play at a break neck pace on offense. Though his roster is even more limited than before, Johnson always figured injuries would eventually come into play this season when he decided an up-tempo attack would define his program.
In fact, he’s hopeful it will help the Hokies avoid any more health-related setbacks.
“It plays into our hands to try and get some easy baskets as opposed to having to grind it out,” Johnson said. “We want to try to get up the floor, try to score easily and not have to take that pounding and that grinding in the half court.”