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Posted at 11:40 AM ET, 02/ 2/2011

Talented NC State could prove troublesome for Virginia Tech

By Mark Giannotto

For a second straight game, the Virginia Tech men's basketball team faces an opponent whose season is teetering on the edge of no return when it comes to an NCAA tournament berth. Except this time, North Carolina State may also be playing for its coach's job.

The Wolfpack were blown out by 20 this past weekend at North Carolina, which came on the heels of a 10-point loss at Clemson. The defeat in Chapel Hill, in particular, was an ugly one. North Carolina State gave up 19 offensive rebounds and shot just 35.4 percent in a game that wasn't ever that close. Sitting in ninth place in the ACC with an RPI of 98, it was an effort North Carolina State Coach Sidney Lowe struggled to explain this week.

"I think Saturday, that was just a game, I don’t know," Lowe said. "It was a weird game because guys seemed to be ready in the locker room, ready to go and excited with good energy and anticipation. And I think initially, and I’ve said this before, when we don’t hit a few shots early, our defense seems to suffer a little bit. Our energy goes down, and we can’t have that."

But the Wolfpack are a far better team at home, where they have an 8-2 record this year. Forward Tracy Smith (15 ppg), a preseason first team all-ACC selection, has also had a month to get his legs back after missing 10 games earlier in the season with a knee injury. Freshman point guard Ryan Harrow, the team's second-leading scorer, should also be back after missing the North Carolina game with the flu.

Perhaps the best encouragement, though, will reside on the sideline in Lowe, a Washington native. Coming into the year, many believed he needed to make the NCAA tournament in order to save his job. Nine losses later and it's looking like Lowe's only alternatives at this point may be to win out or make a miraculous run in the ACC tournament.

After making the tournament five consecutive years (2002-2006) with former coach Herb Sendek, the Wolfpack haven't qualified for March Madness during Lowe's previous five seasons at the helm.

Talented players don't seem to be the issue, either. Smith was a top 50 recruit out of Detroit, while Harrow and fellow freshmen C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown formed one of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country this past year. All four have scored 20 or more points in at least one game thus far, but the problem has been getting them all going at once.

"I can’t remember, really, the last time we had a game where everyone just played well," Lowe said. "Where we shot the ball well, where starters played well, where guys off the bench played well. We haven’t had that in awhile. Having Tracy back certainly helps, but we still need other people to put it in the well for us. ... We need to get a game where we have more than two guys playing well.”

In essence, the Hokies encounter the exact same scenario as last Tuesday's road game against Georgia Tech. If the Wolfpack's talent plays to their capabilities, it wouldn't necessarily be an upset if they were to beat Virginia Tech at home. But ultimately a loss will do serious damage to the Hokies tournament resume, especially now that Boston College has lost four of its past five games and in danger of falling out of the RPI top 50.

Forward Victor Davila, who has been playing his best basketball of late, will draw another tough assignment in Smith. But he's been rock solid on defense in recent weeks and should be up for the challenge. I expect Virginia Tech will start the game out in a man to man defense and go from there. The zone should also be heavily involved in the game plan.

On offense, senior Malcolm Delaney could be due for a big night. In the two games he's struggled this year -- a 2 for 18 showing against Purdue and an eight-turnover performance facing Georgia Tech -- Delaney had to deal with big, physical guards like E'Twaun Moore and Iman Shumpert. So it will be interesting to see whether the 6-2, 160-pound Harrow guards Delaney Wednesday, or if that assignment goes to Brown, a 6-5 shooting guard.

Regardless, no victory on the road comes easy -- something Virginia Tech should have learned last week in Atlanta. To Coach Seth Greenberg, though, formulating a plan to win in enemy territory is the easiest part of the equation.

"To win on the road, you’ve got to make free throws. You’ve got to defensive rebound. You’ve got to take care of the basketball. That’s imperative. And then down the stretch, you’ve got to execute. There’s no secret formula," he said. "And then good players. … It’s amazing how much better your team plays on the road when you’ve got really good guys.”

By Mark Giannotto  | February 2, 2011; 11:40 AM ET
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