It's Time to Set the Bar Higher for Buzzketball

As Buzzketball Season 5 gets ready to begin, should we all start to expect more?

[Mark Umansky]

As a lifelong Hokie, there are a few non-gametime moments that I will remember for the rest of my life. I'll remember where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, and why it was important enough to stick in my brain.

There aren't a ton of them. They are, in order:

Frank Beamer not taking the UNC job in the winter of 2000. (At the breakfast table, reading the paper over my dad's shoulder. It meant that the momentum from '99 could keep rolling on. Looking back it also was Bud Foster's only true chance to get the head coaching job.)

Marcus Vick getting kicked off the team in January 2006. (I was at school on a Saturday for a band competition β€” please insert your jokes below β€” and it was broken to me by the parent of another kid. It blew up Virginia Tech's last great chance to make a run at the national title.)

Tyrod Taylor committing to the Hokies in June 2006. (Being from the same area, my dad, brother, and I watched his press conference live on local news. I'm pretty sure they broke in over a regular newscast to show the announcement, which was the first in roughly three billion cool things Tyrod did over his career.)

Frank Beamer's retirement press conference in November 2015. (With my now-wife, sitting in my car in the parking lot of a Gold's Gym in Richmond, trying not to cry before a workout.)

The Justin Fuente news leaking against UVA later that November. (Sitting in my living room, making some calls to see if Shane Beamer really did make the cut for Fuente's staff. Still the weirdest part of a very surreal day.)

Notice a theme?

Growing up, I lived and died with Hokie football. My Saturdays were reserved for rec soccer and Tech game days. If the two happened to coincide, my dad would listen on a small hand-held radio, and I'd jog over during breaks in the action to check the score. It was always the most important team in my life.

Virginia Tech basketball, on the other hand, was nothing more than an extra thing to watch if I was bored during the winter. There was little to no emotional investment for me, and it had never in my lifetime given me a memory off the court.

And then they hired Buzz Williams.

My now-wife and I were driving past Farmville on route 460, heading from Blacksburg to Richmond. She was driving. I was frantically searching for signal in God's nowhere Virginia, because the Williams news had just broken and I needed to make sure it wasn't a joke.

This isn't going to be another heartfelt retrospective on what Buzz has done for the program. Henry already covered that very eloquently this week.

But it's important to remember how big that news was. What it meant for a school that had been most famous for having a coach that cried conspiracy after falling short every Selection Sunday. Hokie fans might have been ready for a winning hoops team again, but they really just wanted someone they could rally around.

That was Buzz. The new face of Virginia Tech basketball.

Whether he meant to or not, the head coach made fans fall in love with him right away. (Side note, for someone who frequently says he doesn't understand social cues, Buzz is a master at winning people over.) It was going to be a process. It was going to be a tough climb to get back to .500, let alone relevance. But people were ready for it.

And when the Hokies won just 11 games in year one, all was fine. Buzz was bringing in talent, hitting the transfer market, and doing everything he could just to rebuild the roster.

But then things went as well as any Tech fan could have hoped. The Hokies won over 20 games in each of the next three seasons, nabbing 10 ACC wins in each campaign. They earned two NCAA Tournament berths, hosted an NIT game, and finished seventh in the conference three times in a row.

It's impressively consistent performance from a squad that won eight ACC games total between 2012-13 and 2014-15. The Hokies are winning, and it's not a fluke.

But something interesting has happened over the last four years. Through impressive recruiting and constant roster shuffling, the Hokies have improved dramatically season over season. They don't just keep getting better, they keep getting more talented.

Yet even as Williams transforms the program into a legitimate basketball operation, fan expectations have largely remained the same. The conversation around every big win is basically "wow, I can't believe that happened! This is great!", while the talk after a loss is often "I'm still proud of this team! I can't believe the things they've accomplished this year!"

And it's hard to blame Tech fans for being so happy-go-lucky. They've followed a program that's only been ranked in the preseason top 25 once in the past two decades, and sometimes it's best to just bask in the glow of victory. But at some point, the expectations have to match the talent of the team.

According to 247, of the 20 highest rated signees in team history, seven are currently on the roster. We are about to watch the most talented basketball team in Virginia Tech history take the floor. They have an all-ACC caliber point guard in Justin Robinson, one of the league's most skilled big men in Kerry Blackshear, and the kind of talent on the wing that would make any five seed blush.

Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw are both seniors. Nickeil Alexander-Walker is a returning starter, P.J. Horne became a reliable contributor in February, and Wabissa Bede canβ€”if nothing elseβ€”play the Devin Wilson role of defensive third guard. That doesn't even get to four-star freshman Landers Nolley, who at least one person has said looks like Kevin Durant.*

(*Statement from our TKP Hot Takes division: while we support our friend Pierson's quest to find the hottest basketball take out there, we as a website cannot endorse his claim. We will take no further questions about the matter going forward, thank you.)

That's a solid eight man rotation, before considering any potential contributions from Isaiah Wilkins or Jonathan Kabongo. Yes, the Chris Clarke news hurt, but that's still an impressive collection of players.

And with that talent should come great expectation. This team isn't young. It doesn't lack depth. It doesn't have coaching issues. They suffer from none of the prior ailments we've seen in the recent past.

That's why it's okay to set the bar higher this season. To abandon the football school mentality of simply taking any semblance of success on the hardwood as a bonus. To start treating the basketball team with the same reverence as the one that plays in Lane Stadium.

It's okay to want more than a seven seed in the ACC Tournament. It's okay to dream bigger than hoping the Hokies make it into the field of 68. It's okay to look at the head coach and wonder why he hasn't won a tournament game since 2013 (at Marquette).

I'm not asking for the fanbase to get irrational. On the contrary, I'm asking them to get rational. To have appropriately high standards for a team with a great head coach and potential back-end NBA talent. To look at what Williams did with that Golden Eagles team in 2013 (one that was similar in size, age, and talent to this year's squad) and wonder why Tech can't go to the Sweet 16 this spring.

From the day Buzz was hired, we've all walked on eggshells waiting for the other shoe to drop. When would he leave and end this extended honeymoon?

That day may come soon. It may not. It may not happen for a really long time (which I think we all doubt, but there's always a chance.) But here's the deal: it doesn't matter.

And worrying about that, or just being happy with a moderately successful 2018-19 does a disservice to the team that's directly in front of you.

Buzzketball is very good. And it's time we start treating them like it.


Buzz is never leaving!

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
@BuryHokie #ThanksFrank

I am cautiously optimistic, I have been burned too many times by Hokie Basketball.

Did we ever get a definitive answer on Clarke? Or is it all still internet rumors?

It was a catch!

You wanna come to a super soft birthday party?

Still rumors

I have heard he is gone from somebody whose husband works in the Athletic department. But I have also heard there is a tiny slim chance he could make it back from a Taxi driver. Guess which one I put more faith in.

Guess which one I put more faith in

Using /s is for cowards.

Excellent article, thanks!

We can't do anything to stop mobile QBs and we ruined all the momentum from our championship appearance!!!! I doing it right?

So what you're saying is.... 2nd weekend of the NCAA Tournament or Bust!

King Alum of the House Hokie, the First of His Name, Khal of the Turkey Legs, The rightful Heir to the Big Board, the Unbanned, Breaker of Trolls and Father of Gritty

Totally not seeing it with this years team.

Losing Clarke is devastating, but that's not the only loss. From last year, we lost Wilson, Bibbs, Jackson, Sy and Clarke. That's three starters and two contributors. That was a 21 win team, 10 wins in the ACC. Adding Nolley isn't much (I don't think Wilkins or Kabongo are contributors anytime soon).

21 wins - Wilson - Bibbs - Jackson - Sy - Clarke + Nolley + Improvement from everyone else = 17 wins? 18?

We lost 30 minutes per game of Chris Clarke. That means 30 more minutes of Outlaw and Horne. Yikes.

To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
@BuryHokie #ThanksFrank

Since when has Sy ever been a "known contributor" on this team?

Losing Clarke isn't great, especially from a rebounding perspective. But its been discussed quite a bit on TKP about how the offense would often struggle to find cohesiveness when he was on the floor. I think we will adjust offensively for sure.

Is it basketball season yet?

I'm not a huge Khadim Sy fan, but he did start 28 games as a true freshman and averaged 11 mins/game. That's contributing.

That was also two years ago.

It will definitely be interesting to see how they deal with the loss of some of our best defenders. I actually think the combo of Outlaw, Horne, and Nolley is a big step up from Clarke. Clarke played too erractic most of the game which helped from an energy standpoint but hurt greatly turnover-wise.

Jackson and especially Sy weren't really contributors last year and Wilson was an absolute offensive liability. This year we will have the most potent offense in Tech history, the wins will come down to us being able to defend well enough.

Wilson was an absolute offensive liability.

Unless the shot clock was at one and he was 3 feet beyond the 3 point line in which case he transformed into Steph Curry.

The Orange and Maroon you see, that's fighting on to victory.

I actually think the combo of Outlaw, Horne, and Nolley is a big step up from Clarke.


Adding Nolley isn't much...

Haven't you heard? Nolley looks like Kevin Durant.

If you're not sure if my comment warrants a "/s", it probably does.

OMG.....that article....

21 wins - WIlson - Bibbs - Jackson - Sy - Clarke + Nolley + Improvement from everyone else = 17 wins? 18?

You didn't watch the team much last year did you? Sy played zero minutes all season so how are we losing wins from last year because of him leaving? And Jackson only played 5 minutes per game in ACC play so he should be easily replaced by Wilkins/Kabongo, which will probably be an upgrade tbh. And how do you not count Outlaw as an addition?! He was out last year. Also, I bet you are underestimating the improvements from everyone. Robinson has gotten better every year, Nickeil should take a step up, etc. When it's all said and done, I think we have a good team, similar to last year. Hopefully a little better but we'll see.

Every team loses people every year. And new players step up, players get better. We lost Allen and Leday and had a great year without them. Villanova lost 4 guys to the draft 3 in the first round and are still a tip 10 team. We lost a 3 and D guy and a playmaker who couldn't shoot. We replace them with a 3 and D guy and a few lesser playmakers who can shoot. I agree with Lowkey we'll be similar or better depending on if J-Rob plays like an All-ACC first teamer or he plays like an honorable mention.

Outside it's night time, but inside it's LeDay

You are right, I presented that as a literal comparison when I meant it conceptually. How do we literally account for last years 21 wins? Maybe something like this? (Think if it as WAR from baseball)

Rob: 4.0
Bibbs: 3.5
Clarke: 3.0
KJB: 3.0
NAW: 2.5
Wilson: 2.0
Hill: 1.5
Horne: 1.0
Bede: 0.3
Jackson: 0.2
(21 wins)

So what's this year look like? Here are my projections:

2018-19 (21 wins)
Rob: 4.5
KJB: 3.5
NAW: 3.5
Hill: 2.0
Outlaw: 1.5
Horne: 1.5
Nolley: 1.0
Bede: 0.7
Wilkins: 0.3
Kabongo: 0.0
(18.5 wins)

That's with reasonable increases for established players, bigger increase from NAW. I'm sure some will overrate Outlaw's shooting and disregard that he is the worst defensive player Buzz has had. And maybe Nolley provides more than what Horne did last year, but maybe one more win? He's clearly not expected to be what NAW was last year (2.5), and he's not even eligible yet. And please don't devalue what Wilson did last year, he turned the season around.

These numbers are atrocious and arbitrary. This is a TEAM. We don't win (only) because of individual talent, we win because of the collective way that Buzz Williams has them play. Breaking team wins down by arbitrary individual numbers is absurd. I could easily come up with arbitrary numbers that have us winning more this year, but I don't buy into that ridiculous method of measuring how good our team is. If it was all about individual talent, Duke would win the title and the ACC every year. They don't.

Yeah, he's trying to take concepts that apply pretty well to baseball (an inherently individual-oriented sport, don't @ me) and apply them to basketball, which, just, no.

Yeah and I'm not saying we're definitively better than last year, but I think he's writing us off too soon. We'll just have to wait and see. I don't know how we can say right now that 'x' player will account for 'y' amount of wins right now. For example, no one knew Wilkins was going to contribute so much immediately.

This is a huge stretch. Calling Sy and Jackson contributors isn't a lie, but they really did not play much at all. Correct me if I'm wrong but Sy wasn't on the floor once last year?

Clarke hurts but Bibbs and Wilson are replaceable. I have faith that Outlaw will fill Bibb's role well, and Bede will definitely be an upgrade over Wilson. You have to understand that Buzz teams hardly go over 8 deep in the rotation (if that), and our 8 men this year are likely better than our 8 men last year.

Put in Donlon

I think this year's team is better than last years to be honest. Losing Clarke is big because he makes things happen offensively (albiet with a lot of head-scratching turnovers) and was our best rebounder. But this team is going to put up an absolute butt ton of points. Robinson, NAW, Outlaw, Ahmed Hill, Blackshear are all proven scorers. Nolley comes in with a rep as a big time shooter, and he won't need to do anything other than spot up and attack poor close outs. Bede was a highly regarded recruit who will give us minutes. Horne doesn't do much for me but he plays hard so at least there's that?

The biggest question for me is are we going to defend and do it all year? Because if we do, we will be dangerous and can make a run. My biggest complaint with Buzz is that every season has gone on the exact same track. We drop a trillion points in nonconference and blow out everyone but play no defense, get to ACC play, get thumped the first three or four games playing no defense, start playing passable defense then go on a run. Sure it eventually gets figured out, but I feel that by letting guys get into these bad habits in non-conference we set ourselves up for failure. It hurts us on the seed line come the end of the year and I've always thought it hurts accountability. Guys always think they can step it up come posteseason time and when you haven't done it for a full year you just don't know how to. I don't think its an accident we have won a grand total of 4(I think) postseason games under Buzz.

Sy a contributor. Lol.

Let's Go...

I understand your skepticism but I disagree as well. I just got back from the game. We were sloppy and didn't defend well for stretches but this team can will be the best we have had under Buzz.

Bede will fill Wilson's role on defense and give us better offense.
NAW is stronger and more assertive. He was great on the boards.
It's only 1 game but Wilkins was a stud. It's going to take him a few weeks to improve his conditioning.
If Nolley can shoot and defend we will really be able to stretch the floor with multiple lineups.

Horne had an awful game. He had at least 3 moving screen fouls.
Kabongo didn't get many minutes.
We missed lots of free throws. I'm resigned to the fact VT will never be able to make free throws.

There is much to improve on before ACC play but this team has a high ceiling.

Im excited. I think Robinson is going to be great and NAW is gonna take a leap to elite player. I am however very saddened by Clarke. He was just a great "do it all" guy and we need his rebounding sooooooo badly. Like i dont think we can understate that enough.

All-ACC/All-American PG Justin Robinson


They suffer from none of the prior ailments we've seen in the recent past.

Gonna nitpick here. This team still suffers from one thing past teams have; lack of front court length

But other than that, I'm totally with you. The expectations should be this team can compete. Anything short of finishing among the top teams of the ACC (think top 5) and winning games in the post season tournys would be a disappointment. We have everything we need to hit those goals.

I'm OK with being a "second-tier" ACC team this year. Not a chance in hell we keep up with a Duke team that may go 1-2-3 in the draft this year. But I think I'm extremely happy with us being somewhere in the 2-5 range in the conference.

I like the fact that despite who's we're playing, we always seem to be fearless and never overcome by the moment. Even when we play Duke this year, we won't be scared.

They had former UNC player Eric Montross on the radio here in Raleigh at lunch and I got to listen to some of what he was saying. He definitely threw a little cold water on the Duke team (as a Heel would) but did bring up some good points. Mainly, that Duke-UK game was freshmen vs freshmen, and Duke's freshmen were better prepared than UK's because of Coach K. But he suspects there are going to be a LOT of growing pains for them over the course of the season, especially in a deep, ACC where experience has the ability to trump pure skill any given night.

Duke probably might still be the best team come March, but there's a long time between now and then. Any one of the top 4 in the ACC (Duke, UNC, UVa, Cuse) can win it, and the second tier (VT, NCSU) isn't that far behind.

King Alum of the House Hokie, the First of His Name, Khal of the Turkey Legs, The rightful Heir to the Big Board, the Unbanned, Breaker of Trolls and Father of Gritty

Respectfully disagree with Montross. I think this version of Duke has a chance to be one the greatest college basketball teams of all time. Zion maybe the second coming of Charles Barkley and he's not even the best player on this team.

It doesn't have coaching issues.

Issues? Maybe not. Question marks? Definitely. Only time will tell if the coaching roster churn this offseason has any effect on the team's performance, negative or positive.

Honestly, I wish my hopes/expectations toward football were a little more like my hopes/expectations for basketball. Not vice versa. I have been pretty irratable on saturday evenings lately over something over which I have no control. It would be nice to just enjoy the wins and shrug off the losses.