There’s no pretense from Virginia Tech men’s basketball Coach Buzz Williams about the Hokies’ identity last season. They were largely offensive minded behind redshirt seniors Seth Allen and Zach LeDay, both of whom excelled at scoring.
The Hokies reached 90 points in six games, including 113 once and 99 twice, on the way to finishing fifth in the ACC in points per game (79.3).
The high-octane attack contributed to Virginia Tech securing its first NCAA tournament berth in 10 years but also tended to come at the expense of defense. That’s at the top of the list of Williams’s desired improvements entering his fourth season in Blacksburg, which will begin Friday at home against Detroit Mercy.
“We’ll have to be a lot better defensively than we’ve ever been,” said Williams, who’s seeking to direct the Hokies to consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time since 1985 and ’86. “For sure last year, we didn’t mind if it turned into a scoring contest. I don’t know that we can score the ball as well as we did last year. We’ll see, but we’ll for sure miss Seth and Zach.”
LeDay, a 6-foot-7 forward, led the Hokies with 16.5 points per game and 33 total blocks. Allen, a 6-1 guard from Woodbridge who began his career at Maryland before transferring, averaged 13.3 coming off the bench and was named ACC sixth man of the year.
But Virginia Tech ranked 12th in the ACC in scoring defense (74.7), 10th in field goal percentage defense (44.5) and 14th in three-point field goal percentage defense (36.3). Guarding the three-point line was a notable deficiency over the final four games, with opponents shooting nearly 38 percent in that stretch.
The Hokies lost three of those games, including 84-74 to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament’s round of 64 to finish the season at 22-11 overall, 10-8 in the ACC. The Badgers made 13 of 31 (42 percent) from three-point range.
Considerable practice time also has been devoted to transition defense off missed shots. Opponents frequently collected defensive rebounds in those situations that led to fast-break opportunities.
“Last year we were a pretty bad interior defense,” senior guard Justin Bibbs said. “Yeah, we were pretty bad. A lot of teams did whatever they wanted to do with us. We’re trying to prevent that this year. On-the-ball defense, apply as much pressure as possible, not getting beat, and then on the defensive end try to get the rebound. That’s where a lot of guys just tore us up.”
Interior defense remains a work in progress in part because of injuries. Forward Chris Clarke, for instance, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Feb. 12 in an 80-78 double-overtime win against Virginia, and missed the final nine games of the season.
The junior is in the latter stages of his recovery, and Williams has not issued a definitive timetable for when he’ll be available.
Clarke is able to practice on a limited basis, according to Williams.
“He can’t go from start to finish medically,” Williams said. “Such a good player. Very important to our team, but for the first half of his college career, he’s yet to play from start to finish, and I think relative to his future, our hope is he can play the last half of his college career healthy, and so I’m probably more overprotective than the doctors have been.”
After Clarke’s injury, forward Ty Outlaw provided a spark as his replacement, finishing third on the Hokies in blocks (11) and three-pointers (57). But Outlaw suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in July while playing pickup basketball and is out until next season.
That leaves a lack of depth in the frontcourt, although Virginia Tech is getting back redshirt sophomore Kerry Blackshear Jr. The 6-10 forward did not play last season because of a leg injury, and Williams has called the formidable inside presence perhaps the most skilled player on the roster.
In all, eight players on the roster did not play for Virginia Tech last season.
“It’s definitely going to be a different team because of how high-powered we were offensively,” said guard Devin Wilson, a redshirt senior who sat out last season while playing wide receiver for the football team. LeDay and Allen “put up a lot of points, and they were very efficient as well when they did it, so we’ve got to find guys who are going to be able to replace those points.
“Also we weren’t very good defensively, so that’s been a focus regardless of whether Zach or Seth were on the team because we really weren’t that good on defense last year.”
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