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Virginia Tech improvement is slow, but steady

Richard Lewis/Icon Sportswire

It was easy enough to dismiss Virginia Tech after the Hokies opened their season with a home loss to Alabama State. For an ACC program, that was a bad, bad loss. The Hornets are now 2-4 after getting blown out by powerhouses such as Mercer, Chattanooga and Evansville.

But while Virginia Tech’s record likely won’t show it this season — not in a conference that currently has six programs ranked in the Top 25 — there’s slow, steady progress being made by Buzz Williams in his second season in Blacksburg. The Hokies (4-3) followed up the Alabama State loss by winning three of their next four games, the only loss coming to No. 4 Iowa State. The victories included a 72-70 win over a UAB team that’s coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance and had previously beaten Alabama State.

Tuesday night the Hokies fell in overtime to a solid Northwestern squad as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. In the record books it goes down as just another loss, but it showed the the Virginia Tech squad that features nine newcomers is starting to gel and play with the same kind of competitive fire Williams’ teams at Marquette were known for.

The Hokies don’t have a lot of talent this season, particularly compared to ACC teams such as North Carolina, Duke, Virginia and Syracuse. But Williams is a building a solid nucleus for the future.

Zach LeDay, a junior transfer from South Florida leads Virginia Tech in both scoring and rebounding, putting up 16.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game with four double-doubles already. Junior guard Seth Allen, a Maryland transfer, is averaging nearly 15 points a game and has had more than 20 his last two contests.

Freshman Chris Clarke, from Virginia Beach, is averaging 11.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while sophomore Justin Bibbs is also putting up 11 points per game.

There’s not necessarily an All-ACC player in the bunch there, but as Williams works the recruiting trail they, along with freshmen Kenny Blackshear Jr. and Justin Robinson, are certainly pieces to build around for next year and the seasons after.

The Hokies have already signed 6-10 power forward Khadim Sy, a three-star recruit in the Class of 2016 out of Oak Hill Academy, a player who can bring some much-needed size to the front court next season.

More importantly, it continues a trend of Williams finding solid players in state and helps the Hokies get reconnected with the various outstanding prep school programs in Virginia. The Hokies have already offered scholarships to two four-star prospects from Oak Hill in the class of 2017 and have shown interest in a 6-8, 350-pound center from Hargrave Military Academy, Iran Bennett.

It’s almost certainly going to be a rough season in terms of wins and losses. Virginia Tech has tough games coming up at Radford, against St. Joseph’s in Brooklyn and at home against West Virginia before it gets into the conference slate. A final record below .500 is certainly a possibility.

But the Hokies are quietly improving and just might sneak up on people. Maybe not now, but sometime in the foreseeable future.

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