Erick Green sat in Virginia Tech’s locker room last Friday afternoon, basking in the program’s first 5-0 start since 1984-85 and heaping praise on the first-year coach who got the Hokies to this point. But when the 6-foot-3 point guard began talking about the dynamic duo he and forward Jarell Eddie have formed thus far, Green’s mind quickly drifted away from the 87-86 victory Virginia Tech had just scored over Appalachian State.
“Now,” he said, pausing for dramatic effect. “It’s gonna get real.”
Indeed, after an early-season schedule full of low- and mid-major competition, the Hokies will find out if their unblemished record is a mirage this week with home games against Iowa and No. 15 Oklahoma State on the docket.
First up is Tuesday’s 7:15 tipoff against the Hawkeyes as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Hokies are 2-5 all time in this event, but both wins have come over Iowa.
The Hawkeyes come to Blacksburg sporting a 5-1 record, with the loss coming in a 75-63 defeat to Wichita State in Cancun last week. They’re led by guard Roy Devyn Marble, a combo guard who’s averaging 13.8 points and 3.2 rebounds per game thus far.
But Virginia Tech Coach James Johnson believes Iowa’s strength lies in the paint, where forward Aaron White (12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds) and 7-1 freshman Adam Woodbury have proven formidable early on. Woodbury, a top 50 recruit according to Rivals, chose Iowa over scholarship offers from North Carolina and Ohio State, among others.
“We’ve played some guys that are as talented as some of the guys that are on Iowa’s team, but this presents a different challenge,” Johnson said. “They’re more physical and bigger than the teams we’ve played.”
Virginia Tech has been relying on Green and Eddie more than ever recently. The two have combined for 50 or more points the past two games. Green, who was named the ACC’s co-player of the week on Monday, is averaging an ACC-high 24.4 points per game. He’s the first Virginia Tech player since Bimbo Coles in 1989 to score 20 or more points in the first five games of the season.
But with the step up in competition, the Hokies will need more contributors. Given Iowa’s size, it will put a spotlight on forward Cadarian Raines. The junior has played well at times this year as Virginia Tech’s focal point inside, notching consecutive double-doubles against Rhode Island and VMI.
He’s also been prone to disappearing, such as Virginia Tech’s recent win over Appalachian State in which he scored just three points and grabbed only two rebounds. Part of the issues have come from playing against undersized big men that present matchup problems.
But with the Hokies lacking a premier rebounder this year, Johnson wants all of his players to be more active on the glass, none more so than Raines. Virginia Tech has been out-rebounded in two of its five games this season.
“I got to have him be more consistent, but I also got to remember, as a basketball player, he’s relatively young,” Johnson said of Raines. “This is all new to him.”
Tuesday will be also be a new experience for Johnson, who will be facing his first major conference opponent as a head coach. But it’s clear, win or lose, he and his team will learn a lot more about themselves this week.