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Posted at 11:24 AM ET, 01/ 7/2011

Re-tooled Hokies get first real test vs. Florida State

By Mark Giannotto

The personnel that the Virginia Tech basketball team will trot onto the court Saturday when it resumes ACC play will not resemble the top 25 squad that many thought it was in the preseason. But rather than dwell on the fact that just eight scholarship players remain, the Hokies are focusing on what changes need to be made in order to make this group successful.

“I feel like more a mad scientist than a motivational speaker," Coach Seth Greenberg said Thursday. "I’ve always created causes, and that’s something, but we’ve had to reinvent ourselves a little bit each time someone’s gone down. Yet I think as we reinvent ourselves, I think our chemistry has improved. Our chemistry is really good right now."

All the adversity seems to have brought this group closer together, and as a result they've strung together five straight wins since starting the year 4-4. But when Florida State visits Cassell Coliseum on Saturday, the Hokies will get their first real indication of whether this downsize group is capable of making a legitimate run at the postseason.

The biggest transformation has been on offense. Greenberg has moved guard Malcolm Delaney off the point and inserted sophomore Erick Green in the starting lineup in place of senior Dorenzo Hudson. As a result of this, Greenberg has adapted Virginia Tech's offense to feature more two-guard sets at the top of the key, where Green and Delaney are essentially interchangeable as playmakers.

The changes have worked, too. During the Hokies' three-game losing streak last month, they averaged 56 points per game. In their five wins since, that number has jumped to 81 points.

"Coach did a great job of making adjustments to our offense, because we were struggling early," Delaney said. "It’s kind of like I get more space and less attention. They can’t pay attention to me running around the court. Being at the top, they can focus on me. Now it’s kind of like they don’t know exactly where I’m gonna be.”

Scoring will be at a premium Saturday. Led by dynamic 6-9 junior forward Chris Singleton (15.1 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.7 steals per game), Florida State has given up more than 70 points just once this year. The Seminoles feature six players with at least 11 steals this year, and last month, upset then-No. 15 Baylor.

But Florida State can be offensively challenged at times. They scored 51 and 44 points in consecutive November losses to Florida and Ohio State, respectively. No Seminole shoots better than 40 percent from three-point range. And despite a lineup that features six players that are 6-8 or taller, they've attempted the second-most three-pointers in the ACC thus far.

It's this bad habit that ultimately proved to be the Seminoles undoing when they were upset by Auburn, a team whose most significant win up to that point came against Middle Tennessee State. In the first half, Florida State shot 24.2 percent from the floor and made just one of its 15 three-point shots.

"I didn't think they took advantage" of their size, Auburn Coach Tony Barbee told reporters. "If they would've thrown it to the block time after time tonight, we would have had issues."

The same could be said for Virginia Tech, which has little depth in the front court and really cannot afford to get into foul trouble because of all the injuries. Greenberg said Thursday that one of the reasons Auburn was so successful came from extending its defense up the floor, using a zone defense and doubling the post.

Depth issues likely mean the Hokies won't adopt any sort of full court press, but I'd expect a three-quarters-court version of Virginia Tech's 1-3-1 zone defense. The more jump shots the Seminoles settle for, the better off the Hokies will be -- even though Greenberg expects Florida State to "really try and pound it on us. That’s my gut feeling."

This, though, is a litmus test for Virginia Tech. If the Hokies can pull off a victory, it will be a good indication that they'll be able to at least compete for the postseason the rest of the way. More importantly, it will keep the positive energy flowing on a team that has suffered more setbacks than anyone would have ever imagined.

“Everybody just wants to win, and it hasn’t been like that in a while – where everyone is just playing happy," Delaney said. "We’re having fun on the court, and in the locker room, our main focus is winning."

More news and notes

*Despite a groin injury that Greenberg described as "a tweak away from it being a real issue," forward Jeff Allen will play Saturday. He said Thursday, he's about 70 percent healthy right now.

“At times it just lingers around," Allen said. "It can go away and come back. It’s kind of tricky. You never know. It could be good in the morning, but by the time I get up to go to the gym, get treatment and stretch a little bit, it can start to ache.”

*Where the injuries have affected the Hokies most thus far has been in practice. Virginia Tech has been unable to run up-and-down the court for the most part, spending much of its time in the half court. This has Greenberg concerned about the team's fastbreak offense and transition defense.

In recent weeks, Greenberg has consulted with other coaches that had to deal with a shortage of players in the past, including Tennessee's Bruce Pearl (who had a suspension-induced eight-man rotation last year) and former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell.

“Everyone just says you gotta limit practices," Greenberg said. Driesell "really believes that we have to remain rested."

*Greenberg said former walk-on tight end Prince Parker will likely suit up and be on the bench Saturday after practicing with the team the past few weeks. But the coach doesn't think Parker is close to getting playing time yet. "He’s too far from being ready to contribute just in terms of the understanding [of] what we’re doing."

*I'll have a feature on Green in Saturday's paper, so be on the look out for that. In light of all these injuries, there's an argument to be made that he's become the most important player on the roster.

By Mark Giannotto  | January 7, 2011; 11:24 AM ET
 
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