A Gym Rat's Notebook #2: Subtraction and Addition
by Elijah Kyle, 1/13/04

As the Virginia Tech basketball team heads into the conference part of its schedule Wednesday night (at WVU, 7 pm, no TV), finding a new team personality and adjusting to the loss of freshman guard Jamon Gordon will be foremost on the agenda. Aside from losing a key component of the team and the Big East leader in steals in Gordon, this also necessitates a lineup change and position change, and how the team adjusts will largely dictate the second half success.

Gordon's immediate replacement for the Pittsburgh game was Allen Calloway essentially, and that may or may not be the long term answer. Philip McCandies will also get an opportunity, and word from recent practices has been that McCandies is playing well. Another player to keep an eye on for increased minutes is freshman walk-on forward Chris Tucker, who also has recently picked up his play and is pushing hard for increased court activity. Tucker needs to improve his rebounding, but he is a solid front court shooter.

The biggest wild card of all though in the changes will be the move of All-Big East candidate Bryant Matthews from the four (power forward) position back to the three (small forward), where he played last year. This change doesn't come without risks though for both Matthews and the team. As the best rebounder on a team lacking overall strength there, Matthews now will find the majority of his minutes away from the basket, thus curtailing a significant strength. Matthews will now find himself handling the ball more, and that has never been his strong suit. His game this year has been predicated on his low post scoring and post up ability, where he relentlessly attacks the basket and uses his outstanding first step to make trip after trip to the free throw line. Moving away from the basket would presumably limit both the overall rebounding and low post game of Matthews, so finding a way to get the same touches and keep Matthews close to the basket will be a challenge for the team.

One possible scenario that you might see head coach Seth Greenberg use down the road is a backcourt of freshman Zabian Dowdell and Bryan Randall together. As Randall gets more time to show the coaches the personality of his game, getting him together on the court with Dowdell is one possible solution. This would enable Virginia Tech to play one of its best perimeter shooters (Dowdell) at a position where he can hunt his shot a little more readily. This lineup would also enable Greenberg to maintain the three guard lineup that he favored through the early part of the season, when Gordon was healthy along with Dowdell and Markus Sailes.

The loss of Gordon did come at a time when the coaching staff was allowed ample practice time (due to having just one game in 17 days) to work players into new roles, while also giving Randall an excellent opportunity to learn the offense and defense. This extended break will help the team adjust and will help Randall get the practice time that he needs if he is to be any kind of second half help. Juco transfer Justin Holt, who arrived to start practice at the same time as Randall, will also benefit from the extended additional practice time. While Holt won't be eligible until next season, this early start will allow him to integrate himself into the team, and the early word coming out of practice is that Holt, while still unpolished and needing to get in better shape, is a talent who just needs some structure and on court discipline.

While Holt will have to wait until next season to provide any on-court impact, the goal now for the team is to steal a road win and try to capture a couple of home court wins in the month of January. Getting Matthews to quickly make the adjustment back to a perimeter position, while finding another player to step up and consistently help he and Dowdell with the scoring, is the challenge for the team as it heads into conference play. The goal for this team remains the same as it was at the season's outset: to make sure that it finds a chair to sit in when conference play is complete, and the Big East Tournament musical chairs dawns.

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