could probably accurately portray head coach Seth Greenberg as someone who is
most comfortable micromanaging his teams and players. That was the case last
season, when the Hokies confounded most everyone with their winning record, and
has been his modus operandi in previous stops at Long Beach and South Florida.
In his second season directing the Hokies, things just might be a bit different
for Greenberg, and consequently his team and players.
Last season saw a young and inexperienced team that was
intent on running Greenberg’s offense, especially where it concerned getting
the ball to standout senior Bryant Matthews, and getting it there often. The
Hokies were patient and deliberate in that approach in half court settings, and
Greenberg had to be pleased with how Matthews became such a focal point in the
offense. He represented the only true and proven offensive player early in the
season. The freshman backcourt of Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon, with some
help from previously little-used sophomore Markus Sailes, was especially
effective in making sure Matthews got plenty of touches and that they were done
at the most effective places on the floor for Matthews.
Early evidence is that this season might look quite a bit
different from last season’s team, at least from a structure standpoint. That
is something that Greenberg will be taking a huge leap of faith on, seeing his
players positively handle the added freedom that Greenberg seems poised to
thrust upon them.
With Matthews the only player not returning from last year’s
starting five, and with three-year starter Carlos Dixon returning from a
redshirt year for his senior season, it was probably assumed in most quarters
that this 2004-05 Tech team would simply plug Dixon into the lineup to replace
Matthews, watch the young sophomore trio of Dowdell, Gordon and Coleman Collins
flourish with the added strength, maturity and confidence that starting as
freshmen in the Big East Conference would bring, and simply keep on keeping on.
After all, Dixon and Matthews were cohorts for three years, Dixon can bring the
experience and senior guidance to the team that Matthews brought last year, and
they are both 6-7.
But, while Matthews might represent Headbanger’s Ball
with his approach to the game, Dixon is more along the lines of Sade as a “Smooth
Operator”. Their individual playing styles are different and with the new move
into the ACC, where pressure defense, trapping the basketball and running at
full throttle seems almost a given (did you see that Wake-George Washington
track meet Monday night?), Seth Greenberg has evidently made the decision to
entrust his players with considerably more latitude on the court in their half
court offense this year.
Matthews represented the Hokies’ lone inside scoring
threat last season and replacing that will be a very difficult task. Without
someone to draw double teams inside, get opponent players in foul trouble, or
even demand defensive attention, it will be much harder for the Tech perimeter
players to get good open looks at the basket. One thing that is abundantly clear
is that this Tech team will want to push the tempo and pace as much as possible.
We witnessed that last week during the Exhibition game victory over EA Sports.
Greenberg obviously feels that this edition must get out and run to take
advantage of their quickness and athleticism, while helping to cover up some of
the flaws that will be evident in the half court setting, that of not having a
legitimate post scoring threat to open up and spread the court.
The Hokies will also need to prove that they can shoot the
ball from the perimeter this year, another area of concern. But in order to run
as much as Greenberg would like to, you have to rebound the basketball well and
force turnovers, something that happened with mixed results last week in the
exhibition game. The Hokies were outrebounded by EA Sports by 5, but they did
force 28 turnovers, many of them early with their stifling pressure that created
some easy early baskets, while seemingly rattling the visitors. Later on, after
EA adjusted to the Tech pressure, the fast break opportunities diminished
considerably, as EA was able to run their half court offense effectively and get
the ball inside for easy baskets, or kick the ball out to shooters who seemed to
be wide open the entire second half. The Hokies were unable to sustain the early
energy level that they displayed defensively in the first half, another area
where Matthews’ presence was greatly missed. Matthews brought an unrelenting
energy level that infused the game throughout entirely, and a level that his
individual opponent knew had to be met. Matthews set the bar in every game from
an energy standpoint, both for his team and for his opponents.
That might be something that Hokie fans will have to get
used to seeing this year. When Tech can create the tempo they want, which is
utilizing trapping pressure that opens up transition opportunities, the team
will look good and play well, as they did early in the first half last week. The
defense was crisp, the players played with great energy and they got out and
converted a number of early fast break opportunities. On the other hand, when EA
was able to systematically enforce their will and tempo, which they did during
the second portion of the first half and the entire second half, it became very
clear that Tech has much work left to do from a defensive standpoint.
This team wasn’t as physical as it will need to be,
another area that Matthews had an effect upon the team. Get used to seeing teams
with a double post threat and bulk get ample opportunities inside. 6-7 freshman
forward Deron Washington, at 190 pounds, will be giving up 40-50 pounds inside
as he tries to guard taller and stronger post players. Tech will need to put
much more pressure on the ball to keep teams from so easily going over the top
and getting the ball inside. That pressure will also have to take teams out of
their offense and get them into a scattered approach, so that the Hokies can
create turnovers. If they are not able to do that, and they don’t become more
physical and rebound the ball better than we saw last week, the team defense
will struggle, and consequently it will be very hard for Tech to exert their
will and their tempo on opponents.
And, if it then becomes a battle of teams effectiveness in
running their half court offense, this is the area where Greenberg is taking his
greatest risk. Moving to the ACC means that you will constantly be playing
against teams that love to play at a fast pace, pressure you defensively, and
try and take you out of your offense. With no established low post scoring
threat that will demand defensive attention, or draw double teams that open up
the floor for perimeter threats, Greenberg has obviously made the calculated
decision that he will utilize one of the strengths of this team, that being the
ability of a number of players being able to take you off the dribble. Gordon,
Dowdell, Dixon, Marquie Cooke and Wynton Witherspoon all can do that.
Overplaying the passing lanes, harassing, hounding, trapping and pressing you
relentlessly, as many ACC teams do, will create opportunities for you
offensively, as long as you have players that can beat people off the dribble
and spread people out a little and use those penetration skills.
Greenberg is obviously going to give much more latitude
this year to his players to go outside of the offense and use their ability to
beat people off the dribble to create scoring opportunities. And, the more
players you have on the court at the same time that can do that, the more
chances you have to find mismatches to take advantage of. That seems to be the
clear direction that this team will take this year and it does represent a
gamble, especially when you consider that this team might look drastically
different in a half court setting than it did just a year ago, while only losing
one player. How easily will each player adjust to that added freedom? Will the
disruptions and flow of the offense suffer greatly from this entrustment? We saw
evidence last week in the exhibition game that it won’t be an easy or a rapid
change of style. At times it appeared that players were going one-on-one,
especially in the second half when EA Sports was getting control of the flow of
the game. Will turnovers be adversely affected by allowing so much freedom for
There will be some early growing pains as this team tries
to establish a new and revamped playing style offensively. It won’t come
without some struggles, and hopefully those struggles won’t be in the form of
a loss to a team, or teams, that is unexpected. How quickly, and more
importantly how effectively, the Hokies are able to establish a new offensive
style will be a very early season barometer on how well this team will do.
Greenberg has chosen to try and take advantage offensively of one of the team
strengths, but it’s something that will call for a dutiful guidance and the
rein of his players will be far from entirely free.