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October 10, 2011

Five storylines to watch for 2011-12 hoops season

By: Jimmy Robertson

Certainly, the majority of Tech fans are hip deep into football season, but perhaps the real intrigue this fall centers on the men’s basketball program, where, for the first time in four years, the Hokies will open a season without Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen or Terrell Bell on the court.

Tech returns two starters from a year ago, but two others who have started in the past and missed last season with injuries also return. Sprinkle in five freshmen from arguably Seth Greenberg’s best recruiting class, and you have a unique dynamic for this year’s squad.

With that said, here are five storylines to watch as the hoops season gets ready to tip off:

Erick Green’s emergence – Following the season-ending loss to Wichita State in the NIT, Erick Green made a rather strong statement, and his coach, Seth Greenberg, agreed with him.

This is my team, and I want to get these guys right,” Green said following the loss. “I have high expectations. We’re going to work hard, and our goal is the [NCAA] tournament. There’s not going to be joke time. We’re going to get after it.”

Certainly, Tech’s 2011-12 hopes depend a lot on how Green plays and how he leads. On the court, he took advantage of Dorenzo Hudson’s injury (foot) last season. He started every game and averaged 13.1 points, 3.1 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game once Hudson sat out, while shooting nearly 42 percent from the floor. He also averaged nearly two steals per game.

For the season, he averaged 11.6 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. He gives Greenberg a proven, experienced point guard – a nice luxury in today’s guard-driven game.

Hudson’s return – Hudson burst onto the scene as a junior when he was the ACC’s most improved player. He averaged 15.2 points and 3.5 rebounds per game on his way to earning All-ACC honors.

But a year ago, a foot injury forced him to sit for much of the season and apply for a medical hardship waiver (which he received). He returns for another season.

Now, the question is: can he return to form? He appears to be in the best shape of his career and shows no ill effects during the Hokies’ workouts. He may actually get better scoring opportunities with Green at the point, and with the two of them in the backcourt, the Hokies will be really good defensively on the perimeter.

Dorian Finney-Smith’s debut – Finney-Smith put up impressive numbers at I.C. Norcom High in Portsmouth, Va., and he is easily Greenberg’s top recruit on paper since the coach arrived in Blacksburg nine years ago.

Can he live up to the hype? He possesses the ability to play three or four different positions and may step into the starting role at small forward. At 6-foot-8, he can handle the ball, and he shoots it pretty well. He attacks the glass on the offensive end. He’s the type who can make those around him much better.

But his best trait?

“He’s a better person than a player,” Greenberg said. “He’s a terrific player who also happens to be a terrific person. He just wants to do the right thing and work hard and get better.”

Production in the post – This may be Greenberg’s biggest concern. Allen departed, and JT Thompson missed all of last season with a torn ACL. He received a medical hardship waiver, so he returns for this season. But can he return to full speed?

Victor Davila returns and has started 77 games in his career, but he’s been a bit inconsistent. Cadarian Raines missed nearly all of last season with foot problems and has been hurt for most of his two years at Tech. C.J. Barksdale and Joey van Zegeren possess a lot of skill, but also a lot of youth and inexperience – both are freshmen.

Can the Hokies get enough production out of the post to take the pressure on their perimeter?

Claiming a big-time non-conference win – The Hokies have played some tough, non-conference games the past few years, a list that includes Xavier, Wisconsin, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Purdue. This year’s slate features Kansas State and Oklahoma State and potential match-ups against George Mason and Syracuse depending on how the NIT Season Tip-off shakes out.

A big non-conference win would give a young group comprised of eight freshmen and sophomores much-needed confidence heading into ACC play.

Hoops season is just around the corner. If these five storylines play out in Tech’s favor, then the Hokies could be in for a big year.