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Back on November 19, TSL Mail #152 featured an article that analyzed the out of conference schedule of the Virginia Tech Menís Basketball team. There was some excitement surrounding the program, with ACC membership and one of the top recruiting classes in school history playing as freshmen this season. Not to mention the way the 2003-04 season ended, with a winning record and a victory in the Big East Tournament. With 4 out of 5 starters returning (granted, the one starter not returning was a tremendous loss), things were looking bright. Athlon Sports went so far as to predict the Hokies would make the NIT.
Thus far, it hasnít turned out that way for the Hokies. Weaknesses have been exposed and bad losses have mounted against teams from inferior conferences, including VMI. To date, Tech has only beaten one team with a winning record. That came in a narrow 63-59 victory over UT-Chattanooga, a game that could have gone either way. If Seth Greenberg had entered this season with hair on his head, he likely wouldnít have much left at this point.
A couple of things have become evident throughout the first 11 games of the season, mainly that the Hokies (6-5 after losing to Mississippi State Thursday night) lack a true inside threat. Sophomore center Coleman Collins showed flashes of brilliance during his freshman campaign, and he had his best game yet with 16 points against Miss. State, but his second season hasnít gone quite as well because of a foot injury that required surgery. Collins played in pain during the early parts of the season and still isnít 100%. Freshman Robert Krabbendam hasnít yet adapted to the physical style of play of the American game, while Allen Calloway has the body of a small forward and canít mix it up with big guys. (My kingdom for a Carlton Carter, not to mention a Dale Solomon.)
The other weakness is the lack of a consistent threat from outside. Carlos Dixon and Zabian Dowdell are good shooters, but very streaky. If those guys have an off night, even just one of them, then Tech is likely going to lose no matter the opponent.
A key quote from TSL Mail #152 sums up what the Hokies needed to do in their out of conference slateÖ
If everything goes like it should for Tech, meaning there are no upsets either way, the Hokies will finish their out of conference schedule 10-1. However, potential upsets include St. Johnís, Western Michigan and Chattanooga. Lose to any of these teams, and Techís hopes for an NIT bid take a major hit.
Suffice to say that not only have Techís chances for an NIT bid and a winning season taken a major hit, they have been knocked unconscious. They have been tripped up by the likes of VMI, punched in the face by Western Michigan, and run over by the Mack trucks that are Sean May and Lawrence Roberts. Florida State, who has struggled this season, likely will not miss an opportunity to kick the Hokies while they are down.
Letís take a look at the Hokiesí out of conference season up to this pointÖ
Tech needed to win 10, or at the very least 9, games out of conference to have a chance at a winning record and an NIT bid. And that would have been the easy part. The Hokies then would have had to find a way to win 5 ACC games, something that appeared at the time to be difficult. With what we have seen from the team thus far, it seems downright impossible now.
Virginia Tech started out the season pretty well, with 3 easy wins over inferior opponents. The going got tougher against UT-Chattanooga, a solid team that has been good for a while now. Tech pulled it out, and the 4-0 start was the programís best since 1993. Next up was VMI, who the Hokies had crushed 80-56 last year. If Tech had beaten the Keydets, it would be Techís first 5-0 start since 1984. 1984. Thatís twenty years. Two decades since the Hokies have started a season 5-0. And to accomplish that feat and show that the program was headed in the right direction, all they had was beat lowly VMI from the Big South Conference. However, the Hokies left their game in Blacksburg and fell victim to major upset, 72-68.
I donít need to tell the whole story to youÖif you are a fan of the program you already know. Being outrebounded in all but two games, combined with the fact that the team has no post scoring threat, and we are talking a long, long season.
Unfortunately Tech doesnít keep playing Loyolas and James Madisons. Were that the case, a winning season would be probable. They must enter play in the toughest conference in college basketball, the ACC. The ACC is tough in down years, and this year the league is arguably deeper and more talented that it has ever been. If the UNC game was any indication, itís not going to be a pretty sight. So what games do the Hokies have a chance to win? Can they win any of them? Letís take a look and see how Tech stacks up against the ACC teams that they stand the best chances of defeating.
Note: All records do not include games played Thursday night, 12/30/04.
Clemson has had some good wins this year, beating South Carolina 63-62 and Ohio State 80-73. They lost to Boston College by 9 and to UAB by 12, both NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago. However their most recent loss was a 75-60 loss to Georgetown, a team that the Hokies beat twice last year. Clemson will not hold a tremendous size advantage over the Hokies either, and the Tigers are having a bit of a youth movement themselves under 2nd year head coach Oliver Purnell.
Here is a key stat to keep in mind. Clemson has 165 assists and 199 turnovers thus far this season, a very poor ratio. The Hokies have a 152 to 136 ratio, a much better average. Clemson comes into Cassell Coliseum on Saturday, January 15 for a noon game. If Tech loses at FSU on January 8, which is likely, the Hokies will be looking at Clemson as their first chance to get a win over an ACC team. They wonít go into the game intimidated. Tech could potentially have a good shot at this one.
Florida State (7-5, 0-1)
If any other ACC team has had a season like the Hokies, it is the Seminoles. They have lost to out of conference teams such as Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Kent State and Florida International. Of course they also played #19 Maryland very close, losing 90-88. They also have a poor assist to turnover ratio, coming in at 176-201. They are a poor free throw shooting team, hitting only .633 of their shots. However, they do have a couple of wide bodies down low that will give Tech a lot of trouble, although no one on the team averages more than 5.3 rebounds per game. Plus, the Hokies donít play FSU in Blacksburg. The teams meet only once, on January 8 in Tallahassee. ACC road wins are hard to come by, so itís tough to pick the Hokies in this one, although if the game were in Blacksburg it might be a different story.
Maryland (8-2, 1-0)
On paper, the Hokies donít have much of a chance to beat the Terps. Maryland is lighting up the scoreboard this season, average 88.4 points per game. Tech doesnít stand a chance in the Comcast Center on February 8. Maryland visits Blacksburg on March 5, and the Hokies will have to bring their A game to have a chance. They must shoot the ball extremely well, and they must prevent John Gilchrist from penetrating into the lane. Plus they have to get very lucky. Perhaps Maryland will look past the Hokies, who are their last opponent of the regular season, and gaze forward to defending their ACC Tournament Championship. Unlikely, but one can hope.
The other Big East team that joined the ACC this season, Miami has enjoyed a solid season thus far with one bad loss and one great win. Miami dropped a home game to South Carolina State 60-50, but rallied to beat # 18 Florida on December 4. The Canes have perhaps the best 3-point shooter in the ACC in Robert Hite, and he will be tough for Tech to stop. However, Miami isnít very deep. Three players play more than 30 minutes per game, and only two bench players average more than 8 minutes per game. The Hokies visit Miami on February 2, and the Canes come to Blacksburg on February 19. The Hokies have the ability to win this one at home, but a road win is unlikely.
N.C. State (10-1)
If the Hokies can manage to find a way to limit Julius Hodge, and that is a big if, they have a chance to beat N.C. State in Blacksburg on January 19. Hodge leads the Wolfpack in scoring (19.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.9 rpg). Yes, despite weighing in at only 190 he leads the team in rebounding. Only one other player averages double figures in scoring (Cameron Bennerman, 10.9 ppg), and the second leading rebounder is guard Tony Bethel (4.4 rpg), a transfer from Georgetown that has faced Tech before. Itís a longshot, but if the Hokies shut down Hodge they have a chance.
Admittedly, the matchups donít favor the Hokies in this one. Elton Brown should dominate the inside against the Hokies. For the season, Brown is averaging 16.7 points per game and 9.8 rebounds per game. The Cavs are also getting great play from freshman point guard Sean Singletary, as well as senior forward Devin Smith, who has been an underrated player throughout his career in Charlottesville. But this is a rivalry, and the Hokies are always more hyped about the game than UVA. The game in Charlottesville isnít likely to be a very good result for Tech, but the game in Blacksburg on January 27 could have some upset potential. This is college basketball after all.
Notice that Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech are not on the list. Thatís because Tech has very little, if any, chance of upsetting those teams. If the Hokies beat one of those teams this year, it would be quite an accomplishment.
In conclusion, it has been and will continue to be a very long year. The Hokies have good depth along the perimeter, and sophomore guard Zabian Dowdell looks as if he is gaining more and more confidence as each game passes. How many, if any, ACC games the Hokies manage to win will likely come down to the health and development of Coleman Collins. Despite his sophomore status, Collins is still only 18 years of age and very inexperienced as a player. He missed part of his freshman season with a broken foot, has struggled with back problems, and hasnít played a game without pain this season. If he can get back to 100% and prove that he is the capable inside player than many thought he would be following last season, then things could turn out a bit better than originally thought. Not a lot better, but a little.
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