Behind Enemy Lines: Talking Virginia Tech with Mike McDaniel
AJ Black: It looked like losing Buzz Williams was going to be a crushing loss for the Hokies, but they have bounced back nicely under Mike Young. What has he brought to the program both on the court and off?
Mike McDaniel: Buzz Williams deserves so much credit for the turnaround of the basketball program at Virginia Tech. He stepped into a situation prior to the 2014 season when the basketball program was likely in the worst spot in school history. Tech had not made a tournament since 2006 under Seth Greenberg, and the Hokies were in the middle of a tumultuous two-year tenure under James Johnson, in which they went 20-44 overall and 4-32 in ACC play.
Williams had the Hokies back into the NCAA Tournament in his third year in Blacksburg, and in the Sweet 16 by his fifth and final year with the program a year ago. Williams was always a flight risk to his native state of Texas, dating back to his Marquette days, so him leaving Blacksburg to head home was hardly a surprise. Despite this, there was a faction of Virginia Tech fans and alums alike that have soured on Williams, stating that "he wasn't a true Hokie" like Frank Beamer.
Mike Young's hire was received well by fans who knew basketball. He won 299 games at Wofford, including multiple NCAA Tournament appearances over his 17 seasons with the school. The only true question by those in the know was whether or not he could recruit at a high-level, which Tech has done in his short time at the school so far. Young hired a great young staff with a focus on recruiting, and it has paid early dividends as he continues to win on the court. As long as he can do those things, he's likely a Virginia Tech lifer, as he sees this program as his dream job. It's hard to fathom that as Virginia Tech is not necessarily a basketball destination-type job, but Young grew up 45 minutes from Tech's campus in Blacksburg, so he truly is home. He grew up going to Virginia Tech games with his dad at Cassell Coliseum, and now his dad, who is in his 80s, gets to sit front-and-center to watch his son coach at his dream school. Pretty cool.
It's been a home run hire thus far, and he has endeared himself to the Virginia Tech community. Everyone, fans and media alike, love Coach Young.
Black: Most preseason polls had the Hokies near the bottom of the ACC, but they have started out strong with a huge win over Michigan State and nice wins over Syracuse and NC State. What about the team has led to such a good year for the Hokies?
McDaniel: You're right, Virginia Tech was picked last in the ACC across many of the preseason media polls, but after losing Williams and five of the team's top six scorers from last season's Sweet 16 team, it is hard to blame them for being bearish on Tech in year one under Young.
The Hokies have far exceeded expectations due to their ability to shoot the three (37.4% as a team), their lack of turnovers as a team (9.5 per game tied for 1st nationally), and their penchant for tough, hard-nosed on-ball defense. The Hokies are not big up front at all, and they have had issues rebounding at times, but man they'll work like heck to make life difficult despite the size disadvantage they face most nights.
This is a team that has taken on the personality of the head coach with how hard they work, and it has taken them a long way this season. The Hokies are out-hustling teams in the "50-50" games they've played against NC State, Syracuse, and North Carolina. It has gone a long way to a strong start in conference play.
Black: This will be the first time many BC fans will get to see Landers Nolley II, who has been fantastic. What is it about his game that makes him so dangerous?
McDaniel: Nolley has been really, really good as a redshirt-freshman. He is one of the most highly-regarded recruits in school history and is definitely a one-and-done candidate as an NBA prospect. He unfortunately had to sit out last season due to NCAA eligibility issues, and it leaves one to wonder if the Hokies could have been a Final Four team with him playing on the roster a year ago.
He's a professional scorer, and that's what is so appealing to his game both now in college, as well as later on when he plays professionally in the NBA. He can score at all three levels of the floor, and has shown the ability to manufacture his own offense when the play breaks down. His ability in isolation is something the Hokies haven't had with a player in a long time, and it has been a welcomed addition to this particular team, as many wondered where Tech would find consistent offense at the outset of the season.
Black: The X factor for the Hokies is _________________
McDaniel: The X-factor has to be Jalen Cone. Cone has been phenomenal recently, emerging as the secondary scorer to Landers Nolley that Tech so desperately needed. Cone has scored in double-figures in five straight games, and has scored 14 points or more in four of those. He's connecting on on over 55% of his three point attempts, which is where he has found the most success. He's an assassin.
Black: Boston College will win if _____________
McDaniel: they rebound and defend the three-point line.
The recipe to beating Virginia Tech is not hard in theory, but difficult in practice. Mike Young's group can be cold all game shooting, but can run it up in a hurry if they start to get into a rhythm from downtown. In addition, holding the rebounding advantage is crucial, as Tech has done a nice job of hustling for rebounds this year for second-chance opportunities despite the side mismatch they face on most nights.
Black: Virginia Tech will win if _________________
McDaniel: they play their game.
The Hokies are hot right now, winners of eight of their last 10. If they continue to play Mike Young's brand of basketball, they should win this game on Saturday.