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ESPN's Jay Bilas talks Virginia Tech basketball

By Mark Giannotto

As part of my Virginia Tech men's basketball season preview that ran in last weekend's paper, I spoke with ESPN analyst Jay Bilas about his thoughts on the upcoming season. Some of what he said was included in the story, but most of it did not make the cut.

But with the Hokies season opener against Campbell just hours away, I figured now would be a good time to share some of our conversation. Especially since Bilas's critique of Virginia Tech's non-conference schedule was such a lightning rod amongst those who follow the program last March. So without further adieu ... Jay Bilas

On this year's team:

“They’ve got a really good team coming back. They won 25 games last year. Although they didn’t really play a very difficult schedule, they proved to be very capable. Having older players is a unique thing in today’s game, especially guys that are as accomplished as Delaney, Allen and Hudson. They’ve had some injuries, that’s a little bit of a problem, but if they can stay healthy there’s no reason they shouldn’t be considered among the very best teams in the ACC and among the better teams in the country.”

Could you explain your criticism from last March?

“They could’ve made it last year. The problem was when you’re at the end of the line and competing against other like teams, there wasn’t really anything to set Virginia Tech apart from the others. I would have no problem with somebody looking at that team and saying, ‘Look, Virginia Tech is better than this team, that team, any other team that got into the field.’ That’s fine. Reasonable minds can differ on that stuff and I would have no problem with that.

"I didn’t see it that way and I expect [Coach] Seth [Greenberg] to bristle at any criticism of the schedule. He should do that. I expect a guy to protect his team and fight for his team. But after you say, ‘Ok, you’re non conference schedule is ranked in the 300s and there are 347 teams in Division I,' how do you argue for that? By saying, 'Well we expected Penn State to be better, Georgia to be better.' That’s laughable. My only point, and I know that’s what Seth was upset at, what I said was I got tired of arguing it at the end of our show. I just said, 'Look, the teams at the end of the line here really aren’t that good anyway. I didn’t intend to say none of these teams can play. It’s that none of those teams were legitimate national championship contenders. We weren’t leaving out the national champion."

What about this year's NCAA tournament prospects

"This year there will not be that problem. As long as they stay healthy, they will not miss the tournament. They will be in with room to spare and they will have a good seed in the NCAA Tournament and they’ll have a legitimate shot to compete for the national championship.”

Are the legacy of this year's seniors tied to making the NCAA Tournament

“If you play on a top-40 team in college basketball and you perform at the level Delaney, Allen and Hudson have and the other players, you’ve done a good job. I don’t think anybody’s arguing the kids have been slackers. They’re terrific players; they’ve done an outstanding job. But the way we measure things in college basketball has to do with the NCAA Tournament. The teams that are playing in the tournament didn’t just get lucky. You have to earn your way in.

"They’ve been close and they’ve been in the conversation. They’ve done a really good job over there. That is a hard league to win in and they’ve won. Part of the problem has been of late, these conferences are so big that you can win 10 games and that doesn’t compare to winning 10 games 20 years ago. Because 20 years ago, it was an eight-team league. Now it’s a 12-team league, so you can get a fair number of wins against teams that really aren’t as good one should expect given the name ACC. It happens and that’s the way it is."

What about the job Greenberg has done? Do you see Virginia Tech as a program on the rise?

“Absolutely. Seth has done a great job everywhere he’s been. He’s a really good basketball coach. I think one of the things, to your previous point about legacy of players, it’s not like before Seth got there that was a perennial NCAA Tournament team. They’re competing with programs that have been to multiple Final Fours and have won multiple national championships and all that stuff. It’s a team that did not bring, even though it’s got a good tradition, it did not bring a tradition that is out of the gate competitive with Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, Georgia Tech, all these other places that have been in that league a long time.

"It’s really hard to come into a new league and establish yourself and Virginia Tech is now established. The next step is to sort of solidify their position. They’ve done a very good job. I think part of the problem in perception is their relative portion. They’ve worked hard, they’ve done a good job, Seth has done a good job. And then you start talking about like last year, ‘Who got into the tournament?’ Well you can’t start giving out brownie points for doing a good job. There’s not gold stars that go along with that stuff. You have to look at that and say ‘Everybody knows the rules going in.' It’s who you played, who you beat, all the principles of that and reasonable minds can differ on it. But you had ten people in that room, they said no. And you didn’t really have a whole bunch of people jumping up and saying ‘Oh my God, how could they have done that.’"

Will all the national television appearances this year elevate the program to another level?

"You look at every program that has built itself up into a perennial contender in their conference, and TV has been a big component of it. Recruits respond to what they see, not what they hear. It’s a tremendous opportunity for Virginia Tech’s program to sell itself. You’re on television, you’re more on the forefront with everybody. That’s why all the programs you talk about that have really built themselves up – Gonzaga would go to the end of the earth to play somebody to get on TV and you have to.

I’ve been to Cassell Coliseum, I used to do games there when they were in the Atlantic-10 and had Ace Custis. That’s a tough place to play. When Duke goes in there and you have all the trappings of that kind of ACC game – it’ll be the only time they play this year – everybody will get to see that place can be a zoo. It does put a little extra pressure on fans at other games, though. You can’t just make it a zoo for Duke and Carolina, it’s gotta be a zoo for everybody. When people see how tough it is for Duke and Carolina and then another team comes in there and they go, 'This isn’t that bad,' they’re elevated by that. The toughest places to play are tough all the time. Now they’re tough primarily because of the team. No crowd has ever won or lost a game by itself. I’ve never heard a coach come in and say ‘The crowd wasn’t very good tonight, that was a big factor in our losing.’ They don’t say that. But a good team certainly helps the atmosphere.”

By Mark Giannotto  | November 12, 2010; 11:55 AM ET
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Next: Beamer talks about JMU and a possible playoff, and some more notes


I remember the Ace Custis days, and D-WAT dunking on a 7-footer (I think it was against GWU). That season ('95-'96), there was so much anticipation that students actually stampeded getting into Midnight Madness, resulting in injuries. I remember that Cassell had an amazing atmosphere in PRE-SEASON games. Maybe that's because I was a rabid fan sitting with other rabid fans, but I don't think Hokie Nation is going to have a problem providing support for this team.

Posted by: nkeitt | November 12, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

It should be a great year for Hokie basketball.

It'll be nice to see this team come into it's own, and for the talented guys on the team to get some payoff for all their hard work.

Posted by: postfan1 | November 12, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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