When Keve Aluma put his name in the NCAA transfer portal after playing a key role in Wofford’s run to the 2018-19 NCAA Tournament, it was only a matter of minutes before programs began contacting the 6-9 power forward.
Even with plenty of options, Aluma chose to stick with what he knew, and followed former Wofford coach Mike Young to Virginia Tech. While several other high-major teams were looking for a glue guy in the paint when they reached out to the Berlin, Md., product, it looks like the Hokies may have gotten a star.
Aluma went toe-to-toe with Villanova’s potential All-American Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and led Virginia Tech to victory over the third-ranked Wildcats. Aluma finished with 23 points and eight rebounds and made several key plays down the stretch in regulation and overtime to secure the Hokies victory.
While many teams are moving toward small lineups and playing five men on the perimeter, Virginia Tech seems to be embracing its size and ability to score in the post. Justyn Mutts, a Delaware transfer, added 12 points and six rebounds as another new presence in the paint for the Hokies.
“We have bigger guys than last year,” Aluma, who sat out, but practiced with Tech a season ago, said. “Last year we had a lot more shooting, but this year we have size. We just want to be aggressive and do damage in the paint.”
Nothing Green And Gold Can Stay
A long awaited meeting of Norfolk’s two Division I programs will happen Wednesday when Old Dominion visits Norfolk State for the first time since Lyndon Johnson was president. But judging from ODU coach Jeff Jones’ comments, it may take another pandemic if the Spartans want to see another visit from the Monarchs anytime soon.
“In terms of any long-term signal or anything like that, people shouldn’t read into it any more than it is,” Jones told media members earlier this month. “It’s a good two-game series, and we know that it’ll be a difficult game at Norfolk State this year.”
The teams agreed to play this season to limit travel while the college sports world adjusts to COVID-19. The Spartans, who are 2-0 to start the season, agreed to host the Monarchs for the first time since the 1968-69 season.
ODU, which opened the season Saturday with a victory against William & Mary, will get a return game in 2022-23. But it appears ODU has no interest in keeping up a rivalry with arguably the best program in the MEAC.
Top Of The Commonwealth
Now that the games have begun, it’s time to begin a running Top 5 power ranking of Virginia’s best teams.
1. VIRGINIA TECH (2-0)
It’s tough to argue against Gonzaga as the top team in the nation right now, but if we’re basing rankings strictly on accomplishments with a super small sample size, the Hokies, who played South Florida on Sunday in a game that ended after press time, are right there after pulling out the win over Villanova in Bubbleville. Tech got off to a hot start last season as well, but maybe Mike Young has added enough of his own players to make it last this time around.
2. RICHMOND (2-0)
The Spiders are also on the short list of teams contending for best victory so far this season. It’s always huge to pick up a win at Rupp Arena, but beating Kentucky should be a huge one as Richmond looks to build a strong NCAA Tournament resume ahead of Atlantic 10 play.
3. LIBERTY (2-2)
The Flames lost so much talent from a year ago that it was supposed to be rebuilding time in Lynchburg, but it appears that like his former boss Tony Bennett, Ritchie McKay has a system and program that sustains itself. Liberty opened with a close loss to Purdue and dropped another close one to TCU on Sunday, but in between easily handled Mississippi State and South Carolina.
4. VIRGINIA (1-1)
Speaking of Bennett, his Cavaliers will likely play their way back to the top spot soon enough, but you had to knock them down a peg after suffering an upset loss to San Francisco. Virginia is also replacing players who were key parts to the 2019 national championship and installed a new offense. It’s probably only a matter of time before the Cavs look like the cream of the ACC crop again.
5. VCU (2-1)
The Rams couldn’t hang with a West Virginia squad that may challenge Baylor and Kansas at the top of the Big 12, but looked solid in victories against Utah State and Memphis. A new-look roster may have made space for Bones Hyland to operate more freely. VCU could be back to contending in the Atlantic 10.
HONORABLE MENTION, NORFOLK STATE: After seeing the Spartans up close, it’s easy to understand how Robert Jones has had so much success in the MEAC since taking over the program eight seasons ago. A veteran group whose talent is exceeded by its mental toughness, it won’t be a surprise if the Spartans find their way into the NCAA Tournament field.