After setback at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech has some lingering concerns
It was a nice ride these past few weeks as the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team continued to pile up wins, seemingly with no regard for just how short-handed its roster had become. But Tuesday night, the Hokies were given a stark reminder of just how small their margin for error is nowadays, losing by 15 to Georgia Tech.
The immediate effects are no doubt worrisome for Virginia Tech fans. Though the Yellow Jackets certainly didn’t look like a team struggling to stay above .500 on Tuesday night, in terms of the RPI, this loss will hurt. Georgia Tech entered last night ranked No. 154 in the RPI, meaning whatever benefits the Hokies got from defeating Maryland just a week ago are significantly diminished.
Now a lot of the negatives from last night – like the fact that the Hokies shot 24 percent during the second half and hit just two jump shots all night – are bound to be corrected and don’t reflect how Virginia Tech has played all season.
But with a suddenly gigantic matchup with Miami (RPI No. 49) looming Sunday in Blacksburg, there were some chinks in Virginia Tech’s armor that got exposed by Georgia Tech. Most notably, the Hokies lost their composure when things got chippy in the second half.
“We got caught up in all the BS rather than doing the things you need to do to win,” Coach Seth Greenberg said. “And that was addressed prior to the start of the game. That’s probably what’s most disappointing.”
And while Greenberg spent much of his postgame news conference lamenting how his team lost its focus down the stretch, that wasn’t the only problem. Let's take a look at three areas that are of paramount importance moving forward.
Malcolm Delaney: Last Thursday in a resounding win over Maryland, we saw all of what makes Delaney so great. How his bravado can elevate an entire team, how he refuses to shy away from pivotal moments and just his general comfort in high-pressure situations.
But Tuesday night in Atlanta, he was badly outplayed by Georgia Tech junior Iman Shumpert. Not only did Shumpert record the first triple double by an ACC player in almost two years, he nearly completed a quadruple double at the expense of Delaney. Shumpert finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists and 7 steals.
Delaney, meanwhile, could never really shake loose of Shumpert, who guarded him for much of the game. The Baltimore native completed the night with as many points (eight) as turnovers – easily his worst performance since going 2 for 18 and scoring nine points in a loss to Purdue earlier this season.
What should concern Hokies fans, though, is the way Delaney performed in crunch time. He committed silly turnovers, tried too hard to force the issue and even air-balled a shot. He was the biggest reason Georgia Tech closed the game on a 15-2 run, and it only underscored just how important Delaney’s success is for this team’s success. With such a limited roster, he simply cannot have off nights and expect to win.
“When you make three consecutive turnovers at a critical stage of the game, you’re gonna have a hard time winning,” Greenberg said afterward, not referencing Delaney by name.
Perhaps most important for Delaney’s future is that Tuesday night provided a glaring spotlight on just how far he has to go if he hopes to play point guard in the NBA next year.
The defense: For the first time all year, Virginia Tech’s 2-3 zone defense was largely ineffective. The Yellow Jackets, and specifically sophomore Brian Oliver, attacked the high post and rendered the Hokies hopeless at times. Once the ball got into the middle, the zone was exposed. Either Virginia Tech was forced to converge, leaving the baselines wide open, or they stayed back and gave up a wide open jump shot from the free throw line.
Oliver literally vacillated between the high post and baseline, and finished with 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting. He came into Tuesday night hitting just 35.7 percent of his shots this season.
“They hurt us in our defense. They got the ball in the middle a lot,” senior Terrell Bell said. ““That’s what killed us – in the middle. [Oliver] averages 11, and he had 28. If we could have kept him at 11, that could’ve helped us.”
Greenberg said afterward that he would have switched to man-to-man defense earlier than he did had the Hokies not been in foul trouble. But he was afraid of having Delaney or Jeff Allen – both of whom had four fouls during the latter stages of the second half – commit another infraction.
The Hokies had been very effective at limiting penetration and keeping the ball out of the middle up until Tuesday. But now that Virginia Tech has used this zone for close to a month, there has to be concern as to whether opposing coaches are beginning to catch up to it.
The bench: The most glaring difference between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech came from their respective benches. Thanks to Oliver’s big night, the Yellow Jackets outscored the Hokies' reserves, 35-2.
Now with just eight remaining scholarship players, nobody is expecting Virginia Tech to match up with anyone’s bench, but Tuesday night Greenberg really only used six players. Freshman Jarell Eddie played one possession in the second half, but was immediately pulled after a disastrous defensive sequence where he got beat and then gave up an offensive rebound.
In recent games, sophomore Manny Atkins had picked up the slack off the bench, showing a nice three-point stroke and little hesitation when presented with opportunities. Returning home to the Atlanta area, though, Atkins passed up four or five outside shots by my count.
But this was a game when Greenberg needed his bench. It was the Hokies' third game in six nights, but instead, four of Virginia Tech’s five starters played more than 36 minutes – Delaney did not come out of the game at all.
Going forward, the Hokies won’t need 35-point outbursts from their bench, but they do need to provide something. Eddie’s performance will be key. He’s shown in flashes that he has an impressive offensive skill set, but Greenberg still doesn’t trust him.
Make no mistake, this team is going to live and die by the play of Delaney, Allen and sophomore Erick Green. But on Tuesday night, that trio wasn’t enough to get past a team that is likely going to finish in the bottom half of the ACC standings. The Hokies badly needed a lift Tuesday night, and never got it.
“They hit shots and we didn’t,” Allen said. “We didn’t deserve it. It was just an off night for us.”
| January 26, 2011; 9:30 AM ET
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