BLACKSBURG — There are high expectations for the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team this season — both internally and externally.
The Hokies are coming off their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance. It was the first time Virginia Tech made back-to-back NCAA appearances since the 1980s.
But the Hokies lost in the round of 64 last March, just as they did the year before.
They do not want to go one-and-done again this year.
“We’re looking forward to … a better year, and make it further,” senior point guard Justin Robinson said Thursday at Tech’s preseason media day. “We’ve learned a lot, being exited in the first round again last year. … Taking a big spill like that, I think it still has a big wear and tear on our hearts.”
If the Hokies make the NCAAs again this season, it will be the first time the program has earned three consecutive NCAA bids.
Five of the top six scorers from last year’s 21-12 squad return.
Robinson made the All-ACC second-team last season, when he averaged 14 points and 5.6 assists. Kerry Blackshear (12.5 ppg), Nickeil Alexander-Walker (10.7 ppg), Ahmed Hill (10.6 ppg) and Chris Clarke (8.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) are also back.
“We’re very talented across the board,” said Robinson, whose team begins preseason practice Friday. “We have a lot of experience.”
Tech boasts four seniors, including Clarke and graduate students Hill and Ty Outlaw. Blackshear is a fourth-year junior.
“To have a roster this old, to have been a part of building what they’ve built, … is really good,” said fifth-year coach Buzz Williams, whose team will open the season Nov. 9 against Gardner-Webb.
Virginia Tech is ranked No. 12 nationally by the Athlon Sports preview magazine; No. 13 by Street & Smith’s; and No. 14 by Lindy’s Sports.
This is the most preseason buzz Tech has gotten since the fall of 2010, when the Hokies were ranked in the preseason Top 25 by those same magazines, as well as by the Associated Press media poll and the USA Today coaches poll. Those two polls have not yet come out this fall.
Tech has not finished fourth or better in the ACC standings since the 2010-11 season, when Seth Greenberg’s Hokies tied for fourth in what was then a 12-team conference. That team did not make the NCAAs.
Virginia Tech has gone 10-8 in ACC play in each of the past three seasons. Tech finished seventh in the 15-team league last year.
“Ever since I’ve been here we’ve won 10 games in conference, and we’re kind of [trying] … to get over the hump,” Robinson said.
The Hokies have been picked to finish fourth in the ACC this season by all three of the magazines.
“We could be really good,” Hill said.
Tech has not won a game in the NCAAs since Greenberg’s team did so in 2007.
Virginia Tech bowed out in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game the past two years, having reaped a No. 9 seed in 2017 and a No. 8 seed last March.
“Our next goal is to win in the tournament, … make a run,” Alexander-Walker said.
To take that next step, said Alexander-Walker, Tech’s rebounding must improve. The undersized Hokies ranked next-to-last in the ACC in rebounding margin last season.
“We’ve just got to do … the little things that will help us get a rebound because … we’re shorter,” Alexander-Walker said.
Alexander-Walker started every game as a freshman last season, when he was the team’s fourth-leading scorer. He expects to improve his game as a sophomore.
“There was definitely, I wouldn’t say pressure, but … being highly touted, … it’s a lot,” he said. “I know what I need to do to get better — not worrying about what others say.”
“He had a lot of voices in his head that he couldn’t really get out,” Robinson said. “Now that he’s calmed down and not worried about the outside view, … he’s in a lot better state than what he was.”
The Hokies must replace starting guards Devin Wilson and Justin Bibbs. The two were the team’s best defensive players.
“I don’t know who on our current team will be able to do what Bibbs and Devin did,” Williams said.
“We’ve actually had a team film session on Devin and Bibbs and how much they helped us on the defensive aspect,” Robinson said. “I’m sure somebody will step up.”
Bibbs averaged 13.3 points and sank a team-high 66 3-pointers last season. He has made the Boston Celtics’ training camp roster as an undrafted free agent.
But the Hokies, who led the ACC in 3-point field-goal percentage (38.5 percent) last year, expect to be a good shooting team again this season.
“Having Ty back helps a lot,” Robinson said.
After missing the 2015-16 season with a heart ailment, Outlaw became a key part of the team’s run to the 2017 NCAA Tournament. He sank 57 3-pointers that season.
Outlaw missed last season with a torn ACL.
“The first year I was coming back, I felt rusty. But this year I feel great,” Outlaw said.
This is Outlaw’s sixth year of college.
“I’ve had senioritis for the last three years, so I’m ready to leave,” he said.
So what brought him back?
“I just want to see the story out,” Outlaw said. “I’ve worked so hard to play, with setbacks. I just want to see it through.”
Williams is looking forward to putting the 6-foot-6 Outlaw and the 6-6 Clarke in the same lineup this season.
“Those two guys both give us some level of size,” Williams said.
Tech had an eventful offseason. Khadim Sy and Tyrie Jackson transferred to junior colleges, while signee Jarren McAllister was granted his release and wound up at Massanutten Military Academy.
Virginia Tech director of scouting and game management Jeff Reynolds left to become an assistant coach at Texas A&M.
“Jeff … [got] a distinct increase in pay and a promotion,” Williams said.
Associate head coach Steve Roccaforte left to become an assistant at East Carolina.
“Roc’s my best friend,” Williams said. “He thought it was a better opportunity.”