Gym Rat's Notebook: Sending Out an S.O.S.
by Elijah Kyle, 12/13/04

Iím not sure at all whether Seth Greenberg is an avid follower of The Police, or even the tantric man himself, Sting. But do excuse Greenberg if he has become familiar with those words from "Message in A Bottle" and is thinking himself of attaching a note in a bottle and sending out an S.O.S., especially if it delivers him some yuletide cheer in the form of a legitimate inside post presence for the Hokies.

After the downwind from Lexington blew in the pungent aroma from last Saturdayís contest against VMI, followed by the trip north to Greenbergís former haunt-New York City- where the Hokies gave up 18 offensive rebounds in going down to their second consecutive defeat to St. Johnís, its become very clear that this team needs something and rather quickly. Santa Claus needs to bring some much needed gifts to Blacksburg and provide a jump start to a season that looks quite a bit different than it did only a week ago.

Six games into the 2004-05 season and Virginia Tech had not out-rebounded a single opponent (though that finally changed in Saturday night's win over JMU, when the Hokies held a 39-31 advantage). The Johnnys whipped Tech by 17 on the glass Wednesday night, and after the JMU game, the Hokies were being outrebounded on the season by 6.0 rebounds per game. Tech is averaging 33.9 rebounds per game, while giving up 39.9 a game. Ouch.

And more importantly, there doesnít appear to be any hope on the horizon. Sure, you can say that even fans and followers of the program might have underestimated how much Bryant Matthews meant to the team on the glass, inside and in providing that tough-minded presence that seems to be lacking inside. But, it goes deeper than that. This team has yet to see any front court player step up and give hope that they can be the answer in getting rebounds in traffic, or late game rebounds when each possession is seemingly more critical. Thus far, it simply hasnít been a pretty sight on the glass for the Hokies.

Greenberg and his staff have certainly amped up their presence on the recruiting trail, looking for a rebound-minded inside force. Tampa, Florida. South Bend, Indiana. Sacramento, California. There is no locale that the program is unwilling to look, trying to unearth someone who can rip it off the glass in the manner that John Daly might grip it and rip it. If this potential player has some flaw or even holes in his game, well thatís no big deal. Just rebound, baby. Perhaps the post scoring skills are a work in progress. That can be worked around, especially if this guy brings some attitude to the table. Not personality, but attitude. Personality has its place but this program needs someone with an attitude, preferably coming equipped with a mean streak and a surly disposition who gets angry easily. Yeah, that will work just fine.

The Hokies jumped out to 4-0 start that saw them whip opponents soundly by harassing them into countless turnovers-which enabled Tech to get into that which it does best, namely transition basketball- thus sending their athletic players flying down court for highlight dunks and alley-oop assists. However, there was always an underlying fear that no one had stepped forward to provide low post scoring, and this relegated the Hokies to relying on their defense to turn opponents over and ignite the transition game, while relying on perimeter jump shots when forced to score in their half court offense.

That worked fine for the first three games when the team exceeded 50% from the floor in every game. But, you just knew that they would not be able to continue shooting at that clip, and with no one to get points inside, that left the team fully dependant on jump shots. Teams played more zone against the Hokies in the three games prior to the JMU contest, and the Hokies responded by shooting less than 40% in each game.36.1% against UT-Chattanooga, 39.7% in Lexington during the loss to VMI, followed by a 37.1% mark Wednesday when they faced St. Johnís. The Hokies finally got their percentage over 40% again against JMU, shooting 42.9%.

Without any inside scoring presence and without the vast turnover difference that was evident in the first four games that allows for the easy shots in transition that boost your teamís shooting percentage, the Hokies had several long scoring droughts, in their two losses in particular. That is a most ominous sign because as the season develops, more and more teams will see film that will show them how to prepare for Virginia Tech. More importantly, it must be accepted that this team still lacks perimeter shooting. There isnít enough of it now and when coupled with a glaring lack of post scoring, itís evident that this team will be far too reliant on its pressure defense to create scoring opportunities.

If you have games where your defense isnít able to consistently provide those transition opportunities, you have to get those opportunities by clearing the glass, and that brings us back to the most significant early season Achilles Heel of the team. This team has simply not rebounded the basketball thus far at an acceptable level. The Hokiesí leading rebounder for the season to this point is freshman forward Deron Washington, who is averaging 5.9 per game. Nope, thatís no misprint. A 5.9 average leads the team. Do-everything guard Jamon Gordon and Carlos Dixon are in second and third on the team at 4.7 and 4.6 per game. In the frontcourt, Coleman Collins averages 3.9, Allen Calloway grabs 2.4, and 6-11 freshman Robert Krabbendam checks in with 2.3 boards per game. Add those three up and you come up with 8.2 rebounds per game from the three legitimate post players in your program, which still doesnít collectively equal that which Bryant Matthews pulled down last year.

The challenge ahead for Greenberg for the balance of the season, and it will be a very large one, will be to try and significantly change the negative stats in this area. Tech needs to rebound collectively as a team. They need to get all five players attacking the defensive glass. They need their guards and wing players to rebound better than most opponentsí guards and wings. They need to put bodies on people. Consistently, they need to do that. Mostly, they need to play with a tough, physical presence inside and on the glass, something that hasnít been as evident early on with this team as you would like to see. Greenberg has stated on several occasions that he hasnít totally settled on a rotation or distinct style for this team. That shouldnít be surprising given the changes in the roster from last season. Matthews left, Justin Holt came aboard only to leave in late spring, and Greenberg added two late spring signees in Krabbendam and freshman Wynton Witherspoon, when the NCAAís 5/8 rule was abolished. Sprinkle in the return of Carlos Dixon from a redshirt year, combined with the fall additions last year of Deron Washington and heralded point guard Marquie Cooke, and you have chemistry class, finding roles and the best playing style to be ardent pursuits for Greenberg.

Speaking of Holt, he was looked upon by the coaching staff as a player who could bring some much needed toughness to the team. He played with an abandon and competitiveness that would help replace some of the qualities that the team was losing in Matthews. Holt was expected to be the teamís starting power forward and would surely have helped greatly on the glass, with his physical playing style and nasty demeanor. His late loss didnít allow the staff time to find a suitable replacement.

Tech must find someone who wants to play in a similar manner to former starting center Jake Grove, from the football team. To opponents, Grove was seen as a player who took some late shots after the whistle, even being called a dirty player by some, before being drafted by the Oakland Raiders. To Virginia Tech fans and his fellow players, Grove was seen as an intensely competitive player who always played to the final whistle, regardless of the opponent or score. He was a tough player always looking to engage an opponent. Sure, Grove wasnít well liked by opposing players or teams. Big deal. To his teammates and coaching staff, he was a respected, gritty, hard-nosed competitor.

This basketball program needs someone that will adopt an I-donít-give-a-damn attitude inside and on the glass. Itís not about personality and being liked. In fact, it would be just fine and even eagerly accepted if Tech finds some player that decides to play with a chip on his shoulder. If it turns out that this player becomes disliked on opposing courts because of his physical nature and ornery attitude and disposition, that is all the better for the team. But, it says here that someone has to step up and become a force on the glass, or even better, an enforcer on the team. And donít be bringing any personality. Thatís not a job requirement. Instead, bring a rugged, physical, nasty disposition. Keep that chip on your shoulder. Strive to be a player that opposing fans donít like or will boo whenever you touch the ball. Get angry in the locker room before the game. Bring that angriness to the floor. Hell, get one of your teammates to be your cohort in crime on the court.

This team simply does not have the luxury of being able to afford being soundly whipped on the glass inside, every game. Every player must rebound and every player must understand the importance of the season riding on their fortunes on the glass. Becoming more physical inside is a no-brainer. Hopefully, more than one player will step up to that challenge. Hopefully one or more players will decide to bring some pain on both glasses. That will surely brighten up the remainder of the season. If not, it might not bode well when North Carolina and the other ACC teams start their procession into the Cassell. It might not be a good sign when Tech goes on to Tobacco Road if this teamís collective rebounding personality doesnít change, and quickly.

If that change doesnít rapidly transpire, well does anyone know the area code for South Bend, Indiana?

And please, donít worry about bringing any personality with you.

Other Gym Rat Notebooks:

You Gotta Have Faith - 11/19/04
10 Keys to VT's First ACC Season (Part 2) - 11/12/04
10 Keys to VT's First ACC Season (Part 1) - 11/5/04
Hanging With the Big Boys - 10/15/04
Sobering Thoughts and a Dash of Culture - 8/9/04
Paging Ryan Odom, Paging Coach Ryan Odom - 6/18/04
Ch-Ch-Ch Changes - 6/18/04
ACC Recruiting Rankings - 5/25/04
Adding Another Piece - 5/19/04
Recruiting Hits Final Stretch - 5/11/04
The 5-8 Rule -- It's Finally Gone - 5/5/04
Help Could Be Looming on the Horizon - 4/23/04
A Look Ahead: The Backcourt - 4/16/04
A Look Ahead: The Frontcourt - 4/8/04
There's No Place Like Home, Toto - 4/1/04
About the Over/Under? - 3/26/04
Did You Say Four, or Forty? - 3/17/04
Big Game, Big Year, and Big Hopes - 3/10/04
Home, Sweet, Home - 3/1/04
On or Off Broadway? - 2/24/04
Trolling for Additions - 2/18/04
Georgetown a Must Win? - 2/11/04
Defense in Numbers - 1/28/04
Chemistry Class and Hitting It Early - 1/21/04
Subtraction and Addition - 1/13/04
Hey, Brother, Can You Spare a Big Man? - 1/6/04

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