BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia Tech's players know not much is expected from the men's basketball team this season.
The Hokies no longer have Erick Green, who led the nation in scoring last year at 25.0 points per game. With Green graduated, the media picked the Hokies to finish last in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Jarell Eddie and his teammates can't wait to prove the voters wrong.
The Hokies say they picked up on Green's tireless work ethic in the offseason, and will be a deeper team with more options.
"We're going to surprise people. That's what I'm going to say," Eddie said.
Green wasn't the only player to leave after last season. Shooting guard Robert Brown decided to transfer, and while he was the Hokies' No. 3 scorer at 8.3 points, he did it on 33 percent shooting.
Heading into his second season, Johnson welcomed five recruits this offseason. He has already suffered one loss and the season hasn't even started — projected point guard Malik Mueller from Germany has been declared ineligible to play.
Still, after a season when he sometimes had just six scholarship players, Johnson is excited and philosophical about losing the nation's scoring leader.
"We didn't know we had a guy that was going to score 25 a game at this time last year," he said.
The newcomers include transfer Adam Smith, a shooting guard who was heralded as a scorer who plays his best against the best competition when he got to the Hokies, and who sat out all of last season.
"He looks really good right now," Johnson said of the guard who came over from N.C.-Wilmington, where he averaged 13.7 points as a freshman. "He's a guy that can put the basketball in the hole."
So can Eddie. But he had more games marked by bad shooting and careless turnovers than scoring last season.
"I feel like I'm a lot better this year," Eddie said. "I've also developed that work habit, that work ethic, of getting in the gym all the time, just getting extra shots up, being a gym rat."
Here are five things to watch from Virginia Tech this season:
DEFENSE, ANYONE?: The Hokies won seven straight to start last season when their running style took teams, including No. 18 Oklahoma State, by surprise. But as game tape circulated, they faded fast, losing 19 of their last 25. During games, they were guilty of playing shoddy defense and watching the nation's leading scorer Erick Green on offense.
WHEN IT RAINES: Cadarian Raines dominated in the low-post at times last season, and minimized Oklahoma State's big men nearly single-handedly. Other times, he'd miss an early field goal and then all but disappear. Johnson will try to get Raines engaged early every game; he needs to stay involved throughout.
MR. SMITH GOES TO BLACKSBURG: The scouting report on Adam Smith when he left N.C.-Wilmington for the Hokies was that he's a scorer, and his best games for the Seahawks came against the best competition. He averaged 13.7 points and scored 32 against Wake Forest and 23 against Maryland. He'll get nightly chances to face such competition this season, and his ability to measure up will be critical to the Hokies' success.
C.J. OVERHAUL: C.J. Barksdale was embarrassed when Johnson benched him at Maryland last season, opting to go with six scholarship players and walk-ons. It worked, and Barksdale returned a more committed player. He can be a force, and will need to be for those surprises to come to fruition.
BIG BEN: Johnson is so impressed with freshman shooting guard Ben Emelogu that the coach named him a captain — before naming any others. Emelogu is apparently deserving of the honor, but the recognition could also be a message for veterans on the team that they need to show Johnson something before he's willing to trust they'll be more consistent than last season.
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