Virginia Tech faces a must-win vs. Georgia Tech
Virginia Tech will have to manage Thursday night with a hobbled Jeff Allen and just seven scholarship players after Wednesday night's late announcement that freshman Jarell Eddie has been suspended for the remainder of the season. But they'll also have to deal with a Georgia Tech team that enters tonight's first round ACC matchup with perhaps more confidence than it's felt all season.
The Yellow Jackets closed the regular season with two-straight wins, prompting Coach Paul Hewitt to say, "we have about as much momentum as we could possibly ask for going into this game," during Monday's ACC teleconference.
So while the third meeting this season between the Hokies and Georgia Tech will pit a team that must get at least one more win to secure an NCAA tournament berth against the second-worst team in the ACC standings, simply placing the Hokies in the quarterfinals Friday would be overlooking the facts.
“I think they’re playing with a great sense of urgency," Coach Seth Greenberg said about the Yellow Jackets. "We need to play with the same sense of urgency."
On top of the fact that Virginia Tech closed the regular with two losses, you'll remember the Yellow Jackets defeated the Hokies, 72-57, back in January. In that game, Georgia Tech dominated the final seven minutes, closing the contest on a 15-2 run. Last month, though, Virginia Tech got a measure of revenge, finishing a 102-77 home win with most points it has ever scored in an ACC game.
Georgia Tech sophomore Brian Oliver missed the matchup in Blacksburg with a broken hand, but will make his return to the lineup Thursday night. In the Yellow Jackets victory, Oliver scored 28 points, mostly by taking advantage of the middle of Virginia Tech's 2-3 zone. That was a point of emphasis during the Hokies open practice Wednesday afternoon in Greensboro.
Georgia Tech will now have at least 10 players at its disposal, and Greenberg expects the Yellow Jackets to take advantage of their depth and follow Clemson's lead by extending their defense with a matchup zone.
"We got to hope they’re not as red hot as they were the second time," Hewitt said. "Even if Brian had played, it would not made much of a difference. They were sharp that game. They were fresh. They played really well. We obviously didn’t play great, but they played really well. We could have played really well and lost."
This game carries weight for Hewitt's job security as well. He's had just two winning seasons since taking Georgia Tech to the NCAA finals back in 2002, and this year Alexander Memorial Coliseum saw large swaths of empty seats. But when asked Wednesday about what may be at stake Thursday, Hewitt told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "I don't think there's any more pressure, no."
Perhaps his saving grace is junior Iman Shumpert, a second team all-ACC selection this year that Greenberg called "a guard who can dominate the game." Shumpert posted the only triple-double in the ACC this year when Georgia Tech beat the Hokies, and followed it up with a 27-point performance in Blacksburg.
Delaney surpassed Shumpert with a season-high 33 points in the Hokies win last month, but had just eight points and committed eight turnovers --four of which came down the stretch -- in Atlanta. Allen, meanwhile, has been particularly effective facing Georgia Tech's interior players, averaging 21.5 points and 12.5 rebounds in two games this season.
The big question facing Greenberg and his staff, though, is just how healthy Allen is heading into Thursday. He hasn't practiced much at all this week after suffering an ankle injury at Clemson last weekend, and with Eddie no longer available, the Hokies aren't able to limit his minutes with so few bodies. Not to mention, if Allen or fellow big man Victor Davila get in foul trouble, Greenberg has few, if any, options.
Speaking of Davila, he's been noticeably ineffective during this late-season swoon. After notching a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) in the Duke upset, he's averaged four points and three rebounds the past two games. Greenberg called him out this week for not getting back on defense several times against the Tigers and pointed out Wednesday that, “We can’t afford for two guys not to play well. In the big games we’ve won, we’ve had five guys in double figures."
Other than the past week, these Hokies have shown a remarkable amount of resolve facing some adverse situations. But the confluence of several factors have made Thursday night perhaps the most daunting challenge yet. A loss would likely cement another appearance in the National Invitation Tournament . A victory could put the Hokies over the top come Selection Sunday.
“We know what we’ve gotta do," Delaney said Wednesday. "We’ve just got to go back to playing the basketball that we play. Start getting more stops and getting out in transition. We forced too many plays that weren’t there the past two games.
"Right now, we’re in the tournament. We can’t do anything but play our way out of the tournament."
| March 10, 2011; 10:37 AM ET
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