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Posted at 12:52 PM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Virginia Tech's short-handed front court coming up big of late

By Mark Giannotto

Throughout this season Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg has tried his best to not complain about the hand he's been dealt in terms of injuries. But that hasn't stopped him from openly wondering how his team could perform with just one more big body on its bench.

Since 6-foot-9 sophomore Cadarian Raines was ruled out for the season because of a foot injury at the end of December, the Hokies have been operating with just two true front-court players -- senior Jeff Allen and junior Victor Davila. That lack of depth has been exposed badly at times, playing a major role in several Virginia Tech setbacks.

In an early-season loss to Kansas State, the Hokies gave up 34 points in the paint and were outrebounded by 11 as the Wildcats pulled away in the second half. In an overtime loss to Purdue in the beginning of December, neither Davila nor Allen could contain 6-10 forward JuJuan Johnson, who exploded for a game-high 29 points. During the very next game, a 57-54 loss to Virginia, the Cavaliers' Mike Scott finshed with 21 points and 13 rebounds. And when the Hokies let a 16-point first half lead slip away against North Carolina last month, Tar Heel forwards Tyler Zeller and John Henson combined for 33 points and 17 rebounds.

Recently, though, weakness on the interior has become a non-issue. The Hokies, and specifically Davila, held Maryland's Jordan Williams to a quiet 11-point, 11-rebound performance when Virginia Tech defeated the Terrapins, 74-57 two weeks ago. This past weekend in a victory over Miami, Davila controlled mammoth 6-10, 303-pound center Reggie Johnson, who was limited to just six points. Even in the Hokies' loss to Georgia Tech last week, the Yellow Jackets' starting front court accounted for just eight points.

I'll have more on the 6-8 Davila in Wednesday's paper ahead of Virginia Tech's road matchup at North Carolina State, but Coach Seth Greenberg spent much of the ACC teleconference Monday lauding his recent surge. Facing ACC competition the past three weeks, Davila has scored in double figures three times. In his previous two seasons combined, he had done that just once before in conference play.

“I think he’s really taken huge steps forward," Greenberg said of Davila, who is averaging more than 11 points over his last five games. "His sense of urgency on the defensive end really has been magnificent the last month. He’s giving us a legitimate guy on the low block who can score the basketball."

Allen, too, has picked up his play again. He's had matching 18-point, 11-rebound showings and been the Hokies best offensive threat the last two games. After a 24-point, 11-rebound performance against Florida State that earned him ACC player of the week honors last month, Allen had been held under 10 points in three of the ensuing four games.

More importantly, how Allen and Davila do on the offensive end has increasingly become an indication of how well Virginia Tech will play. When the duo has combined to score 18 or more points, Virginia Tech is 12-2 this year. When they don't reach that mark, the team is just 2-4 -- with the wins coming over juggernauts like Campbell and Mount St. Mary's.

By Mark Giannotto  | February 1, 2011; 12:52 PM ET
 
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