Monday Mail: Nolley and Clarke Out for the Season, the 2019 Schedule and More

Welcome back to another edition of Monday Mail. Even though Virginia Tech’s 2018 season is over, there’s plenty to talk about in Blacksburg.

Let’s not waste any time. To the questions…

The separate situations of Landers Nolley and Chris Clarke continue to be on the minds of Hokie fans, and rightfully so. Virginia Tech men’s basketball is ranked tenth in the AP Top 25 and holds a record of 13-1, including 2-0 in the ACC. As good as Tech is right now, imagine how good they might be if they had the team’s most consistent and tenacious rebounder (Clarke) and the team’s most talented freshman (Nolley).

Well, Tech fans found out on Saturday that both Clarke and Nolley will not play this season. Head coach Buzz Williams announced the news after Tech’s come-from-behind win over Boston College.

Clarke’s situation isn’t surprising. He’s been indefinitely suspended from the team since October and if his suspension is going to last the whole season, Clarke clearly did something severely wrong in the eyes of his head coach.

The decision to sit Nolley makes sense, given that the NCAA has yet to declare him eligible to play. The 6-foot-7 forward was the highest-rated recruit in Virginia Tech’s 2018 recruiting class and was expected to play a critical role in Tech’s rotation this season.

But Nolley’s been held back by the NCAA due to a suspicious ACT score before Nolley’s enrollment at Virginia Tech. Nolley’s ACT score was noticeably higher than his grade point average, and the NCAA has kept him ineligible since then.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prevents Nolley’s situation from being open and public knowledge, so there’s been a fog over the case since people started asking questions.

From my read on the situation, either two things are going on. First, the NCAA is wrongfully holding up Nolley’s eligibility and for the sake of closure and continuity, Williams is holding him out for the rest of the season. Or, Nolley’s second ACT test came back and has only raised more red flags. I honestly don’t know which one it is.

Whatever is going on, at least Virginia Tech can now move on and work with the team that’s already in place. They’ve got a good thing going with Nickeil Alexander-Walker running the show, and if it ain’t broke, there’s nothing to fix.

Virginia Tech men’s basketball is on a roll right now, but next year could be a return to historical normalcy.

The team’s best player, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, is playing well enough to make a case for the NBA Draft this summer. The sophomore is shooting 58 percent from the field, 47 percent from behind the arc and is averaging 18.8 points per game. He’s the main reason Virginia Tech is ranked inside the top 10.

If Alexander-Walker leaves for the NBA this offseason, it’ll create a large void on this team that can’t be filled by anyone presently on the roster. Couple that with Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw exhausting their eligibility, and Tech’s roster has a ton of holes heading into next season.

My best guess at Tech’s starting lineup in 2019-2020 looks something like this…

  • Point Guard: Wabissa Bede
  • Shooting Guard: Anthony Harris (2019 signee)
  • Small Forward: Isaiah Wilkins
  • Power Forward: Landers Nolley
  • Center: Kerry Blackshear Jr.

Class of 2019 signees Emanuel Miller and Yavuz Gultekin could factor into the situation as well, especially if Landers Nolley still isn’t eligible by next season. I have a feeling the situation will be sorted out over the offseason, but it’s possible it isn’t.

We’ll see how things shake out, but on paper, Tech will take a step back next season. Nolley being declared eligible would go a long way in softening the blow of Alexander-Walker, Robinson and Hill leaving Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech’s 2019 schedule presents a pretty easy home slate, but Tech’s string of road games will provide plenty of challenges. Tech has to travel to Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia and Boston College next season. Of those road games, only one of them (Georgia Tech) seems relatively easy.

Tech’s wild card next season should be North Carolina. Mack Brown has assembled a quality staff of assistants and if he can keep his team healthy, the Tar Heels could win eight or more games next season. Brown could fall flat on his face next season, but I have a feeling they’ll be competitive week in and week out.

In terms of games that Tech can win, the only truly daunting game on the slate is vs. Notre Dame on Nov. 2. The Fighting Irish are uber-talented and despite his angry and in-your-face style, Brian Kelly has gotten his players to buy in. But we have to remember, Virginia Tech finished last season 6-7 and we need to see proof of improvement before we start talking about a 10-win season.

I think Virginia Tech will be better next season, but 10 wins is unrealistic. The Hokies should fight for eight or so wins and focus on building the team for 2020. On paper, Tech will be experienced and talented at almost every position in 2020, and that could be the season where Tech returns to it’s normal highly competitive state.

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