Watching Virginia Tech open its season against Coppin State last night, I had to repeatedly remind myself that you cannot judge a basketball team by its very first game. You don’t know the level of competition you’re facing, you’re playing at home, and it’s nothing like a mid-season ACC game.
But man, the Hokies looked good.
Look is the key word here. I’ve seen Hokie basketball teams since the 60s and while they’ve had years with good players, they’ve never had a particularly deep group. When you do see a really good big man, or a hot shooter, you immediately add “if he doesn’t get hurt or in foul trouble” to your opinion of just how good things could be.
I wasn’t adding that qualifier to my thoughts last night. I expected starters Hunter Cattoor and Sean Pedulla to score well given their longevity with the team. But then came Brandon Rechsteiner, who if you went into a lab and combined the basketball playing elements of Cattoor and Pedulla, you’d have Rechsteiner. He handled the ball well and shot the lights out, hitting 3 of 4 from the floor and 2 of 3 from beyond the arc.
Rechsteiner is only a freshman, as is Jaydon Young, who was no slouch in his 14 minutes either. He also hit 2 of 3 from the arc and those two freshmen combined for 20 points in very limited minutes. This was behind two seasoned veterans in Cattoor and Pedulla, who combined for 28 more. Coach Mike Young’s game has always been to move the ball around, find the open man, and kill physically superior teams with the three-point shot.
Mike’s got 4 guards who can do just that.
Then you look at the front line, and the Hokies have size AND depth. For years, Lynn Kidd has looked like, well, a kid, who needed time to grow and get stronger. Not last night. The 235 pounds he now has packed around his 6-10 frame makes him appear lean and mean, and he looked like a beast in the middle. The work on the court and in the weight room in the offseason showed not only in his play but in his confidence, as he quickly scored 14 points.
The new additions looked good too. Tyler Nickel showed a physical side while also scoring 12 points including two more threes. Mylyjael Poteat continued where he left off last season with not only a physical presence under the basket, but the ability to score if you get him the ball in the post. Mekhi Long didn’t score a lot, but just seemed to fit in as if he’d been in Blacksburg several seasons.
Not everyone had a great game. New big man Robbie Beran didn’t really distinguish himself and 7-footer Patrick Wessler dressed but did not play. But when you play 11 people, they all score and you score 100 points, that’s kind of to be expected. Young seemed to be far more interested in seeing how younger players would do in live game minutes than getting the most out of every jersey on the roster.
Looks mean little in the long run, and this was basically a beauty contest/basketball meet and greet for those in Cassell Coliseum. But there have been more than a few times in my lifetime where the Hokies started the season with opponents they should have easily beaten and instead struggled. Monday night was a nice change.
More will be learned Friday in Charlotte when the team plays a much tougher opponent in South Carolina. But last night showed two things I think are really positive: Young has always been good from one season to the next in identifying his personnel needs and then going out and getting exactly what he needs, and last night showed he’s done it again for the 2023-2024 season.
The other involves the effects of losing guard Rodney Rice. He’s an exceptional talent that you can never have enough of. But last night showed a depth at his position to make you think despite him being gone, Young still has plenty of horses to complete the cattle drive to March Madness.
I don’t usually enjoy lopsided 100-55 games. But last night was enjoyable.
This season is going to be fun to watch…