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Posted at 12:19 PM ET, 03/ 1/2011

How will Virginia Tech deal with senior night?

By Mark Giannotto

Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg still has a vivid memory of what Zabian Dowdell told him five minutes into his final game at Cassell Coliseum back in 2007. Greenberg had pulled him out of the game after he committed a plethora of turnovers early on against Clemson.

"He kept every little bit of emotion in during the ceremony and when I took him out to kind of settle him down, he said, ‘Coach I can’t breathe,' " Greenberg recalled Monday. "After four turnovers, I said, ‘No kidding.’ "

The Hokies ended up losing that game, 75-74, but ultimately it did not affect their NCAA tournament hopes. I alluded to this in my story for today's paper, but regardless of any postseason ramifications, it's the sort of response Dowdell gave that has Greenberg a bit concerned coming off of Saturday night's giant upset of then-No. 1 Duke.

Since coming to Virginia Tech, Greenberg is 4-3 on senior night, and what that's taught him is that there really is no formula for success. While Dowdell reacted negatively to the pressure of his final home game, Deron Washington, for instance, had 22 points and 13 rebounds in a resounding victory over Wake Forest during his senior night.

But how Virginia Tech's three contributing seniors -- Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen and Terrell Bell -- react this year could very well determine whether the Hokies have to sweat it out once again on Selection Sunday.

"I think every coach in the country worries about senior night," Greenberg said Monday. "Senior night is hard. It’s like parenting. When you’re a parent and you’re sending your kids off to college, senior night to me is now you’re sending your kids off to the real world. For the last four years, I pretty much knew when they were gonna wake up, when they were gonna eat, when they were gonna go to class, when’s study hall. It was a great deal of structure. You just hope when you’re sending this group off, that they’re ready for what the real world has to offer.

"It’s a tough night. I’m a pretty emotional guy. No matter who they are, whether it’s Zabian Dowdell or Malcolm Delaney or just a role player on your team, it’s an important night to me.”

The last time Virginia Tech met Boston College, the Hokies shot a season-low 34.5 percent from the field in a 58-56 loss that saw Erick Green miss a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. Allen had a monster performance, finishing with 25 points and 19 rebounds.

But Delaney and Bell had forgettable afternoons. Delaney finished with 19 points, but shot just 6 of 17 from the field and missed two crucial free throws in the waning moments. Bell, meanwhile, wasn't aggressive on the offensive end, attempting just two shots -- and none in the second half -- despite playing 37 minutes.

Greenberg said the key Tuesday will be upping the pace and getting better on ball defense. Though the Hokies held the Eagles to just 58 points last month, Greenberg was unhappy with how his team guarded the ball. They'll once again have their hands full with guard Reggie Jackson and forward Joe Trapani, who both present challenging matchups for Virginia Tech

"We were not as alert as we needed to be [defensively]," Greenberg said. "Offensively, we did not play with any type of speed."

And lest we forget, I figured it would only be appropriate to include a few thoughts on Delaney, Allen and Bell before the trip plays their final games at Cassell Coliseum Tuesday night. And no I haven't forgotten about crowd favorite, walk on Paul Debnam. It's just that he actually got to celebrate senior night last year as well. And for those attending, the ceremonies for the seniors begin around 8:45 tonight.

Malcolm Delaney

Greenberg, when discussing Delaney's recruitment:

"With Malcolm, one, he had football toughness. He was a former high school quarterback. He had good vision. He has a beautiful release, and there’s something about Baltimore guards. Baltimore has had a lot of really good guards, and it’s like a country unto itself, Baltimore. That’s the way those guys look at it. I just thought he had it. You can’t put your hand on it, but he just had it and we were right.”

I asked Delaney last month during a one-on-one interview, how he'd like to be remembered at Virginia Tech. Here's his answer:

“Just a guy that came from Baltimore, wasn’t highly recruited. Coach was very loyal to me from the start and has been a good coach. But just hard work on and off the court. Never failed a class here. Never got in trouble. Never got a technical. More than just scoring points, what I did as a leader here, even when I was a younger player my freshman and sophomore year. Just being able to control myself and enjoy the whole college experience. The biggest thing is getting my degree and that’s what I’ll be doing in May.”

Jeff Allen

Greenberg on Allen's recent play:

"He’s a leader, and if you have a chance to really hear and listen to him during our timeouts, he’s been unbelievable. He hasn’t taken a play off. His work ethic is terrific in practice. He’s playing at a level I’ve not seen, forget about Jeff Allen, from many players at this stage in their senior year.”

Delaney on Allen:

"It's close to the end of our careers here. He has a daughter and a family he has to feed. He knows we're gonna be in the real world next year. He took a professional mindset on the court and off the court."

Terrell Bell

Greenberg on Bell:

“He’s a huge part of what we do when we’re good. When we’re good, Terrell Bell is good. He’s selfless; you don’t have to run a play for him. I always tell him, ‘I need you flying around.’ When he’s flying around, we’re a better basketball team. ...

"He could have very easily transferred. Most kids at the end of their sophomore year, if they aren’t a big part of what you’re doing, ego says and they want to be enabled, but he bought in. He knew he had a role and an opportunity with Deron [Washington] graduating. He gave up his whole summer and stayed on campus and worked hard and he’s been rewarded with two terrific seasons.”

By Mark Giannotto  | March 1, 2011; 12:19 PM ET
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Next: Inconsistent fan support adds to Virginia Tech's senior night disappointment


Well, we know the answer to your question now. We all saw what happens when you read and believe the hype about how great you are. The seniors, on senior night, fell flat and crumbled. What happened? (Maybe it's the curse of the NIT fairy, ya think?) GO ChOKIES !!!

Posted by: JEGman | March 1, 2011 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Va Tech isn't in the NCAA tourney yet.

Duke was a great win, but like Greenberg feared, Va Tech let it affect their psyche for this game. Like with any team on the rise, there are going to be ups and downs.

They probably needed a loss, to bring them back to earth. Now they've had it, and can get back to playing. Not to worry, they're a solid team and will bounce back quickly.

Posted by: Benson | March 2, 2011 12:30 AM | Report abuse

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