It’s never too early to start to look ahead to next season. Over the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 who could make noise on the national stage. Today: The Virginia Tech Hokies.
Eleven wins, 22 losses. Home losses to Appalachian State and Radford. Two victories in its final 18 regular-season games -- which is a not-at-all-nicer way of rephrasing a 2-16 ACC record -- thanks to a defense that allowed 1.15 points per trip to ACC opponents, by far the league's worst. The offense wasn't much better.
Those are the broad strokes of the 2014-15 Virginia Tech Hokies' basketball season, and they are hardly flattering. Well, except for one: Buzz Williams was the men's basketball coach in Blacksburg, Virginia. He will be so for the foreseeable future. That is the most important story of Virginia Tech's 2014-15 season. It's the only narrative that matters. The rest of it? Meh.
Before Williams left Marquette last spring, he was one of the sport's hottest coaching names -- a mix of madcap energy, gravelly incantations, Twitter koans, and advanced statistical acumen. Having clawed his way up from the Division II Texas basketball sticks, where he began his coaching career in 1994, Williams inherited the Marquette job in 2008 after just one season as an assistant under departing coach Tom Crean. That takes some doing, but Marquette was rewarded for its faith. Williams went to the NCAA tournament in his first five seasons, made the Sweet 16 three times (2011, 2012, 2013) and an Elite Eight in 2013 and unleashed junior college prospects such as Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder on an unsuspecting world.
In 2012, Virginia Tech fired coach Seth Greenberg and replaced him with unproven former assistant James Johnson. That experiment failed -- Tech won 21 games combined in Johnson's two seasons -- and left many wondering why Greenberg (who is now an ESPN analyst) was fired in the first place. That the Hokies, despite a barren roster, were able to lure Williams away from Marquette -- thanks to some combination of salary, football-backed program resources, and amenability -- was more than a victory. It was a resurrection.
Don't let the first rebuilding season fool you: With Williams around, the question isn't whether Virginia Tech will get good; the only question is when.
What the immediate future holds:
So how does 2015-16 sound? A bit early, maybe -- but not totally unrealistic, either.
Williams' second Tech squad will look different from his first. Two juniors -- starting guard Adam Smith and high-usage reserve forward Joey van Zegeren -- are transferring out of the program. Smith, an excellent spot-up and pick-and-roll player, is a genuine loss and will be a nice graduate addition to someone's roster this fall.
Still, when you just won 11 games, turning over a chunk of your roster isn't a bad thing. The coming season will mark the ACC return of former Maryland guard Seth Allen, who left College Park last summer amid a flurry of transfers -- only to watch from afar the Terrapins staged an elite Big Ten run. That Maryland was better without Allen had less to do with Allen than the fact that his replacement was Melo Trimble; as a sophomore, Allen made 38 percent of his 3s and was the only Terp to break the 110 offensive rating mark. It will be intriguing to see what a year of skills training and practice runs have done for his game.
Meanwhile, Williams has three four-star recruits on the way, led by ESPN Recruiting Nation's No. 10-ranked small forward, Chris Clarke. The Virginia Beach, Virginia, native is well-regarded for his length and motor on the wing, the kind of scout who typically translates to "potential terror on the defensive wing." He is joined by fellow incoming freshmen Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Justin Robinson, as well as junior college center Johnny Hamilton, who chose the Hokies over Wichita State, Southern Methodist, Cincinnati and Oklahoma State.
And there is promise among the returners, too. Jalen Hudson had an off-and-on freshman season, but his 32-point explosion in Tech's first-round ACC tournament win highlighted his significant promise. Three of last season's starters (Malik Mueller, Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs) were freshmen. Another (Justin Bibbs) was a sophomore.
Williams' next roster feels like the right combination of new talent and recurring roles -- exactly where coaches want to be before the second installment of a multiyear rebuild. Maybe it will yield immediate results. Maybe not. But the Hokies will be better, and that's a phrase you should get used to hearing.