Offense has rarely been an issue since Mike Young took over as Virginia Tech’s coach. However, this season, the Hokies are determined to strengthen their defense as well.
Following a disappointing 19-15 season plagued by defensive weaknesses, Young has placed a greater emphasis on improving their defensive capabilities. They focused on this aspect during a nine-day trip to Europe and have continued to prioritize it during practice.
“We spent a significant amount of time on defense over the summer and in our initial practices,” Young explained. “While offense naturally receives more attention due to the fluidity of the ball, defense has become a central focus for us.”
Although Virginia Tech outperformed its opponents offensively last season, they struggled against tough competition in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), finishing with an 8-12 record. The Hokies also made an early exit from the conference tournament and the NIT.
They lost key contributors Grant Basile (16.4 points per game), Justyn Mutts (13.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg), and Darius Maddox, who made crucial shots for the team but transferred to George Mason.
Returning players include the second-highest scorer Sean Pedulla (15.0 ppg, 67 3-pointers) and Hunter Cattoor (10.8 ppg, 78 3-pointers), who gained valuable experience last season. Additionally, they have added several reinforcements from the transfer portal.
Young has high expectations for sophomore MJ Collins, who will share the defensive load with Cattoor by guarding the opposition’s best player. Collins eagerly accepts this challenge.
“Knowing that my coach wants me to take on this task in just my second year really ignites a fire within me,” Collins expressed.
Graduate transfers Mekhi Long (Old Dominion) and Robbie Beran (Northwestern) have made strong impressions on Young and should contribute to bolstering the team’s front line.
Both Cattoor and Pedulla excel at shooting from long range. However, for them to succeed, the team needs an interior threat as a scorer and passer and other players who can make perimeter shots to draw attention away from them.
Young consistently praised Mutts as Virginia Tech’s most valuable player, even when his statistics didn’t reflect it. Eventually, the numbers validated this assertion as Mutts led the team in rebounding, assists (152), and steals (48). Long (10.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and Beran (7.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 39 3-pointers) are expected to help fill the void he left.
“Throughout your career, you always lose good players,” Young commented. “New individuals will emerge, and our playing style will change. Mutts had an exceptional ability to anticipate plays, demonstrating his intelligence and strategic mindset. He will be missed.”
The Hokies gained a head start on blending their returning players with newcomers during their trip to Switzerland and Italy. This allowed young players like Collins, guards Rodney Rice and Tyler Nickel, and center Lynn Kidd to understand how they will likely fit into the team’s new system.
Playing at the Cassell can be incredibly challenging, given the proximity of the fans to the court and the deafening noise level when things are going well. While Virginia Tech’s historical proficiency in shooting and scoring 3-pointers will be crucial, slowing down the opposition will be equally important.
The Hokies’ season begins on November 6th with a game against Coppin State. They have several noteworthy matchups in their early schedule, including games against South Carolina, Wofford (Young’s former team), and either Iowa State or VCU in an Orlando tournament. Their ACC campaign commences on December 3rd with a home game against Louisville. They will face No. 13 Miami twice, No. 2 Duke at Cassell Coliseum on January 29th, and No. 19 North Carolina in Chapel Hill on February 17th. Additionally, they have their usual home-and-home series against rival Virginia.
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Laura Davis covers the world of basketball with precision. Her articles explore NBA and college basketball, offering game analysis, player profiles, and highlights. Laura’s passion for hoops is evident in her comprehensive basketball coverage.