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Virginia Tech basketball faces first big nonconference test

By Mark Giannotto

Though its season officially began last Friday with a win over Campbell, the redemption tour for Coach Seth Greenberg and the No. 22 Virginia Tech men's basketball team officially begins Tuesday afternoon when the Hokies get their first chance to score a marquee nonconference win against No. 3 Kansas State.

This matchup comes under less-than-ideal circumstances for both teams. Virginia Tech arrives in Manhattan, Kan., with just one player taller than 6 foot 7, the result of injuries to forwards Allan Chaney (heart), Cadarian Raines (foot) and J.T. Thompson (knee).

"We scheduled our schedule figuring we had the deepest front court I’ve ever had," Greenberg said. "They absolutely crush the glass. I mean they are flying to the glass, bodies everywhere.”

Added 6-7 senior Jeff Allen, who had 11 points, 14 rebounds and 5 assists against Campbell, “As you can see we’re small, so we’re gonna have to do what we can."

The WIldcats, though, will likely be without a key player as well. Kansas State Coach Frank Martin said this week that for a second straight game, he may not dress forward Curtis Kelly. Kelly missed the Wildcats' season-opening win over James Madison because Martin has been critical of his practice habits.

Kelly averaged 11.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season, but more importantly for the Hokies, he is the one Wildcats interior player with a proven track record in high-level college basketball.

"Just because he's been halfway decent for two days I'm not going to do back flips," Martin told the Kansas City Star this week. "He's got to do right for an extended period of time. The last couple days he's been more the way that he needs to be, unlike the way he's been for the three and four weeks leading into last game."

In Kelly's place would be forward Wally Judge (Bladensburg High), who averaged just three points per game a season ago, and 6-10 junior Freddy Asprilla, a transfer from Florida International. Kansas State will also use 7-footer Jordan Henriquez-Roberts off the bench.

Whether Kelly plays or not, the key player for the Hokies is 6-8 junior Victor Davila, the tallest player Greenberg will have at his disposal. The Puerto Rican forward had a rough opening night against Campbell, going scoreless and grabbing just five rebounds. Greenberg's hope is that matching up against Asprilla, a player he's familiar with from international competition, will help Davila's play.

“We’re gonna get more out of Victor, he’s better than that," Greenberg said following the win over Campbell.

On the perimeter, senior Malcolm Delaney gets his first real opportunity to show that he's a more complete player than a season ago. When he declared for the NBA draft after last season, Delaney said one of the big critiques he got was to improve his on-ball defense. That skill will be put to the test against the Big 12's preseason player of the year, Jacob Pullen.

Pullen loves to attack off ball screens, whether it's driving to the hoop and dishing to teammates or pulling up for his own jump shot, and Delaney's ability to maneuver through all that will factor largely into the outcome of this game.

This is the most challenging nonconference game the Hokies have faced since December 1989, when they lost 97-64 to Alonzo Mourning and No. 2 Georgetown. For the Hokies, though, this is all about March. Score an upset over the Wildcats in enemy territory, and Virginia Tech will be well on its way to getting the NCAA tournament bid that has proven so elusive the past three years.

For their part, Virginia Tech's experienced starting lineup seems a lot more confident than their coach, even with the size disadvantage.

"We playing with the same team we played with last year," Delaney said. "We didn’t have Cadarian most of last year, we didn’t have Allan. We’re not losing, besides JT, we haven’t really lost much. We got people who can step in ... we got weapons. Once we start playing, there’s gonna be a different perspective of this team.”

By Mark Giannotto  | November 16, 2010; 9:26 AM ET
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Maybe Greenberg should reconsider and schedule the usual creampuffs that he usually does. Taking on good teams and exposing the fact that he has only 1 good player and then losing will only lead to frustration - like it did when things didn't go his way at the end of the game and he got 2 technicals. What a coach !!!

Posted by: JEGman | November 18, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

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