ACC TIPOFF: Hokies, ‘Hoos eager for fresh start with new-look rosters

Both teams met the media at Wednesday’s league-wide ACC Tipoff in Charlotte.
Published: Oct. 25, 2023 at 11:02 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WDBJ) - Less than 24 hours before the Hokies took the spotlight at ACC Tipoff in Charlotte, Mike Young announced sophomore Rodney Rice was leaving the program.

While Tech’s head coach did not elaborate on Rice’s decision to leave at Wednesday’s media event, he expressed no concern about the team’s depth moving forward.

After an injury-riddled year, Young knows what it will take to get his team back in the running for another ACC Championship.

“More efficient offensively,” he said. “We’ve got to stiffen up and play with a physicality that we didn’t play with a year ago. It wasn’t intentional. We’ve got to get better there. We’ve got to take care of the November, December part of our schedule. We did that a year ago. Not lose sight that that’s 20 head-knockers in league play in January, February and March. We’ve got many, many opportunities.”

Point guard Sean Pedulla played extended minutes last year, his first as a starter.

After a magical freshman year, he says last season was a dose of reality.

“Honestly, freshman year I was like dang, that’s it? We just won the ACC Championship,” said Pedulla. “I learned more last year after losing it, and that’s often the case. When you lose something, you learn more from it. Last year, I kind of learned how hard it was to get back there. After last year’s experience and figuring out how long the season is and how many ups and downs you go through, you kind of figure out how tough it is to achieve.”

While Young made use of the portal, with transfers like Robbie Beran, Tyler Nickel and Mekhi Long, maybe his best asset is a healthy, returning Hunter Cattoor.

The fifth-year senior battled injuries last year, with the Hokies struggling in his absence, but the 3-point marksman is back and hoping to provide even more for the Hokies.

“I think the biggest thing is working on, when the 3-point shot is taken away, what’s that next step?” said Cattoor. “Obviously, having the reputation of being a good shooter, teams are going to want to take that part of my game away, and instead of not being an asset on the offensive end, learning different ways to get involved. Learning how to use shot fakes, learning how to get open in different ways, putting the ball on the ground, playmaking for myself and others. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve improved on this offseason and that could really help our team.”

For every March Cinderella, there’s a team on the other end that’s forced to grapple with an abrupt finish to its season.

Virginia was one of those, after suffering a first-round loss to Furman in Orlando that taught sophomore forward Ryan Dunn a tough, but valuable, lesson.

“I think one thing I took away from it is you can never take lapses off in the game,” he said. “There was a stretch where we thought we had the game in our hands, and next thing you know, stuff happens and you lose that game. Playing every game to the end is our biggest thing.”

Head coach Tony Bennett has a new-look roster, after losing multiple senior leaders, including Kihei Clark, Jayden Gardner and Armaan Franklin.

Portal pickups like Jordan Minor, Andrew Rohde and Dante Harris add to one of the top incoming classes in the ACC.

“I think we’ve done a good job putting this team together and I like this team because the core of our team, if it goes right, will stay together for the next two or three years, and that’s important,” said Bennett at ACC Tipoff. “Who knows? I know it’s a different time, but you still have that. We’ve been successful because of continuity, and I think continuity and veterans will always win out, even in this new era. So, that’s the challenge, but I think there’s some excitement. That team last year was old and good. Unfortunately with Ben [Vander Plas] getting hurt at the end, that was hard for us. Now, we got a team that I hope is new and good.”

Bennett will rely heavily on returning senior guard Reece Beekman - the ACC’s reigning defensive player of the year.

He’s started every game for UVA the last two years and had big moments as a freshman, which he says is part of the reason he feels ready for the role he’s in now.

“I would say just the confidence part of it and the experiences where, coming in, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Beekman. “Coach Bennett gave me a great opportunity to play early, which I know doesn’t happen here often. So I took that and used it to my advantage to be where I’m at right now. Just more confidence on both sides of the ball, and just being able to trust myself on the court.”

Both teams open the season on Monday, November 6.