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VIRGINIA TECH: Hokies forced to play small; defense could suffer in ACC

Virginia Tech will enter the ACC after a surprisingly solid final season in the Big East. The Hokies went 15-14 last year and advanced to the conference tournament quarterfinals. This year’s team will feature a number of talented guards and athletic forwards but will have a glaring lack of size.

“We are going to be so thin up front, we’re going to have to be more wide open,” second-year head coach Seth Greenberg said. “We have to create a more up-tempo game in order to take the big people out of the game.”

Virginia Tech will also have to replace their leading scorer, Bryant Matthews, who graduated as the 11th leading scorer in the nation last year with 22.1 points per game. The Hokies’ active style will be aided by their increased depth and numerous ballhandlers.

The additional depth comes from four incoming freshmen and players who return after redshirting. Of those players, senior Carlos Dixon will have the most immediate impact. Dixon, who sat out last year with a broken left foot, scored 13.8 points per game during his junior year and will help compensate for the loss of Matthews.

Freshman point guard Marquie Cooke, one of Virgnia Tech’s all-time highest rated recruits, will also have a strong presence and could start immediately. He will help bolster a backcourt that will be tested by the talented guards of the ACC.

“I can’t remember a league that had this many good backcourts, both defensively and offensively,” Greenberg said.

The Hokies may also have trouble adjusting to the intensity of the ACC schedule, in part because of their youth. Dixon is the only senior, and swingman Markus Sailes is the only junior who was a consistent starter last year.

Virginia Tech will be powered by a strong sophomore class that includes guards Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell and big man Coleman Collins. Gordon averaged 9.8 points per game and led the Big East in steals last year, despite missing time because of a torn meniscus. Dowdell also had a strong freshman season, averaging 10.8 points and 3.2 assists per game, and Collins came on strong at the end of last year, scoring 21 and 20 in consecutive games against Big East rivals.

Virginia Tech will have trouble with ACC post players, despite Greenberg’s attempts to counteract the Hokies’ lack of size with three-guard lineups and pressure defense. The only player taller than 6-foot-8 is freshman Robert Krabbendam, who may have trouble until he adds weight to his 6-foot-11, 210 pound frame. The Hokies may have to play versatile athletes such as Dixon and freshman Deron Washington inside, where they will be undersized against the ACC’s premier big men.

Virginia Tech’s non-conference schedule should supply the team with opportunities to build up experience and victories before the brutal ACC season but does feature a potent challenge in a preseason game against No. 14 Mississippi State.

The Hokies will be welcomed to the ACC in their first conference game against No. 3 North Carolina Dec. 19. Virginia Tech has one of the relatively easier ACC schedules, playing No. 2 Wake Forest, No. 4 Georgia Tech and North Carolina just once. Still, look for the Hokies to struggle in their first year in the nation’s best conference.

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