Virginia Tech Basketball: The Hokies Are Struggling, And They Need Landers Nolley to Play Better

Michael McDaniel

Virginia Tech men's basketball was one of the nation's biggest surprises heading into the second week of January. 

After being picked to finish last in the ACC by several media polls at the start of the season, the Hokies darted out to an unexpected 13-4 start, with a 4-2 mark in ACC play. Winning four out of the first six games in league play put Mike Young in ACC Coach of the Year territory, as his young team had exceeded all expectations early in the campaign.

One of the major reasons for the team's fast start was the play of redshirt-freshman Landers Nolley II. Nolley, who was one of the most heralded recruits in school history, made his presence felt from the jump this season, scoring 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting in his debut, a 67-60 season-opening victory over Clemson.

Some prominent performances thereafter included a 22 point performance on 5-of-12 shooting in an upset victory over #3 Michigan State, and a 29 point effort on 8-of-19 shooting in Tech's second-best win on the resume, a 72-58 home victory over NC State.

Virginia Tech is at its best when its best player is performing at a high-level. On a team where offense is at a premium, Tech needs Nolley to play well night-in and night-out in order for the Hokies to exceed their ceiling.

Perhaps that's why Nolley has been pressing lately.

Tech hasn't played well over the last two weeks, dropping three out of the last four games, and the decline in offensive efficiency from their star player garners a brunt of the blame.

Over the last four games, Nolley is averaging a modest 16.0 points per contest, but is only shooting 35.4% from the floor overall, and 23.3% from three. 

In addition, he's averaging 3.0 turnovers per game, which is up from his season average, and has only attempted 13 free throws over the last four games, 11 of which came against North Carolina in the Hokies' lone win. Nolley is shooting nearly 80% from the free throw line this season, so his tendency of settling from jump shots and lack of attacking the rim of late is a troubling trend. 

Nolley is at his best when he gets going downhill and establishes himself around the basket, and his lack of free throw attempts recently is an indication that he is settling more for jump shots than he did in the early part of the season. 

As the Hokies prepare to take on #5 Florida State on Saturday afternoon, Tech will need Nolley to get back to his efficient ways on the offensive end of the floor if they want to have a chance to pull off the upset in Blacksburg. 

Florida State is one of the most talented teams in the country, and they have good size in the frontcourt that will likely cause the Hokies issues given the lack of depth that they possess down low.

Offense will be at a premium once again for Virginia Tech on Saturday, and in order to put their best foot forward, Nolley needs to get back to being the star that he has the potential to be. 

His ceiling is the highest of anybody on the roster, and a great performance in a national television upset could put the Hokies back in serious NCAA Tournament discussion.

Let's see if he can get back to his superstar ways.