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Posted at 4:11 PM ET, 01/11/2011

After six straight wins, Virginia Tech basketball is in a zone

By Mark Giannotto

Many thought the season would bottom out when the Virginia Tech basketball team found out two weeks ago that it would have just eight scholarship players at its disposal during ACC play this year. But all the injuries has forced this group to show the sort of resourcefulness that could very well turn this season into a memorable one.

The Hokies now have six consecutive victories after a home win over Florida State this past weekend, and the creativity that they'll need the rest of the way was on full display Saturday. For the first time in his 21 years at the collegiate level, Coach Seth Greenberg used a 2-3 zone for all but one possession.

Greenberg joked afterwards that he had "summoned his inner Jimmy Boeheim," but the Seminoles certainly weren't laughing about it considering how much they struggled offensively. Florida State committed 19 turnovers and shot just 35.5 percent.

This, it seems, will be part of the formula for success if Virginia Tech is to make a run during conference play over the next two months. The zone helped disguise the Hokies' lack of front-court depth, and more importantly, kept forward Jeff Allen out of foul trouble. Allen finished with a game-high 24 points and 11 rebounds -- his fifth double-double in the past six games -- and was rewarded with ACC player of the week honors for his effort.

"I’ve talked to [Syracuse Coach] Jim Boeheim a great deal over the course of the years thinking we might try to play a little bit more zone just in certain lineups," Greenberg said. "You study it and try to figure out how to play it that fits your personnel and also where people can’t get too comfortable. I think that’s the biggest thing for us; making sure people don’t get comfortable against whatever zone we play. 2-3 zone is not the only zone we’re gonna play. We’re gonna play a number of different defenses."

Greenberg wouldn't get specific about what defenses he'll use throughout the season, only saying that the team is still playing man-to-man defense in practice. He didn't give any hints about Thursday's matchup against North Carolina, either.

But since the Tar Heels have big men like Tyler Zeller and John Henson on their roster and just one player -- guard Leslie McDonald -- who is considered a deadly three-point shooter, chances are the zone will travel to Chapel Hill along with the Hokies.

“It’s all gonna depend on personnel. It’s all gonna depend on opponent. It’s also gonna depend on do I think they have players that can put us in foul trouble," Greenberg said.

And whether Greenberg cares to admit it or not, given the fact that Virginia Tech's rotation is essentially down to eight players -- and only one that is taller than 6-7 -- Cassell Coliseum will probably resemble the Carrier Dome more often than not these last 14 games of the regular season.

What worries Greenberg most about using the zone so much is staying active. Whether the Hokies are running a 2-3, a 1-3-1 or even a 1-2-2 zone, Greenberg wants his players active in passing lanes and disrupting the opponents' offensive flow. He's emphasized constant movement in practice.

The zone will also have an adverse effect on rebounding, but with the Hokies lack of height these days, "I don't think we'll probably be able to outrebound a team," this year forward Jeff Allen said.

Despite the short term success of ditching man-to-man defense in favor of zone, Greenberg still isn't entirely comfortable with the new philosophy. He said before Saturday's game he told assistant coach James Johnson that "if they make a couple jumpers, make sure I don't get out of it."

The question that remains is whether Virginia Tech's 2-3 zone simply caught the Seminoles by surprise or if it's actually a potent defense the rest of the way. For now, though, these Hokies believe they may have found a new weapon to offset their recent spate of injuries.

"It's not really a big adjustment," Allen said. "The zone, it just works better."

By Mark Giannotto  | January 11, 2011; 4:11 PM ET
 
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