I’ve never been very good at easing into tough topics. Ask my editor, the wise and thoughtful Dave, and he will tell you the same thing. Too often, my ledes hit the reader over the head with a giant mallet rather than leading them to the topic I’d like to discuss.
So, the above paragraph is my latest attempt to lead my audience to an uncomfortable truth that I’m writing about today — Virginia Tech men's basketball is probably not going to make the NCAA Tournament this season.
At 10-8 with just two ACC wins, the Hokies are all but dead in the water. Barring a sudden turnaround from multiple players, we have learned exactly who the Hokies are this season — a below-average Power 5 team.
I honestly can’t believe I’m writing this with 13 games left on the schedule, but I’ve seen enough. Virginia Tech does not look like they're going to accomplish their goal of reaching March Madness.
Even in failure, there is opportunity. So, during these final 13 games, here’s what I’m hoping to see from the Hokies.
Young Finally Expands The Rotation
I’m well aware that Virginia Tech’s best players are the ones receiving the majority of the minutes. And I understand the argument that Mike Young owes his seniors their best shot at winning games.
But Young’s career at Virginia Tech relies on the development of his younger players. Those players can’t gain the necessary experience to improve while sitting on the bench.
The Hokies’ rotation currently centers around eight players — Hunter Cattoor, Nahiem Alleyne, Keve Aluma, Storm Murphy, Justyn Mutts, Darius Maddox, David N’Guessan and Sean Pedulla — with John Ojiako occasionally moonlighting as the Hokies’ ninth man. This rotation needs to grow.
Ojiako needs to garner legitimate minutes off the bench in every game moving forward. Neither Aluma nor Mutts are able to return next season, leaving Ojiako as the heir apparent. Heck, Lynn Kidd should get some run before the season ends.
In terms of body makeup, Jalen Haynes is the closest thing to Justyn Mutts on the roster. Haynes wasn’t a highly-touted prospect, so expectations should be low, but it’s worth getting him a shot moving forward.
At this point, Young should be giving some of his younger players a chance to make mistakes when the season is already lost. Give them a chance to learn now, so they’re closer to be ready next year.
Pass The Torch At Point Guard
I’ve been openly critical of Storm Murphy’s ability to create on offense, both for himself and his teammates. Murphy isn’t going to suddenly learn that ability at this point, and he’s moving on after the season anyway.
Sean Pedulla, however, is a true freshman and possibly the point guard of the future. He’s been decent in limited minutes — Pedulla is shooting 45 percent from the floor, 61 percent from behind the arc and sports a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Pedulla is averaging just 9.6 minutes per game though, and that simply isn’t enough.
Even if Tech were still in contention to make the NCAA Tournament, Pedulla has earned a bigger share in the rotation. At this point, I’d like to see Pedulla start with Murphy spelling him off the bench.
Expand N’Guessan’s Role
We are a year-and-a-half into David N’Guessan’s career and I’m still not quite sure what his ceiling is.
He hasn’t looked to be much of a shooter — he’s taken only eight three-point attempts all season — but he is shooting 50 percent from the floor overall. He’s only bagged 10 assists, but has turned it over 13 times.
At 6-foot-9 and 205 pounds, N’Guessan has the tall and lanky build to be a mismatch on the wing. He hasn’t had much of a chance to do that this season, given that Hunter Cattoor and Nahiem Alleyne are both garnering huge minutes.
All three of these players are eligible to return next year, but N’Guessan needs a chance to show what he can do in games. Alleyne has been incredibly inefficient this season of late, and there’s no reason why N’Guessan shouldn’t get a chance to audition for a 3/4 hybrid role next season. I’d like to see N’Guessan be given an opportunity to attack off the bounce and use his size to his advantage against smaller defenders.