Virginia Tech gets chance to overcome its demons vs. Clemson
Two days after his team laid a clunker at home to Boston College, Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg still couldn't explain why his team followed up one of the greatest wins in program history with a senior night letdown when he met with reporters Thursday.
But with the Hokies preparing for their regular season finale at Clemson on Saturday, a game that could make or break their NCAA tournament chances, Greenberg tried his best to analyze just what went wrong Tuesday night against the Eagles. And in the process, he challenged those that have questioned his squad's effort in recent days.
"I think their emotional gas tank – for whatever reason, because we had a terrific practice the day before – was on empty," Greenberg said. "For what reason, whether it was senior night, a lack of depth, the 9 o’clock game bounce-back; whether it was the number of minutes accumulated, I couldn’t tell you.
"But in the end, as I look back, how can you fault these kids? Seriously, how can anyone fault these kids? They’ve played now  games, a ridiculous amount of minutes, and all the people that are concerned and disappointed – which we all are disappointed with the way they played Tuesday – when the season began and we started dealing with the adversity, none of them had us for nine [ACC] wins. Let’s be honest, none of them had them for nine wins.”
He makes a good point. Many of the Hokies fans I spoke with -- as well as a good majority of the folks who frequent the popular Virginia Tech message boards -- basically threw in the towel when Dorenzo Hudson and Cadarian Raines were ruled out for the rest of the season in mid-December. I'll admit, I also figured the Hokies would fall short of securing an NCAA tournament berth with just eight scholarship players and nobody taller than 6-8 on the roster.
As of Friday, though, Virginia Tech is still in a good position to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, no matter how ugly that loss to Boston College looked. For instance, The Post's Eric Prisbell currently has Virginia Tech as a No. 12 seed. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has the Hokies as a No. 10 seed. Jerry Palm, meanwhile, has Virginia Tech as one of his last four teams in the tournament, headed to Dayton for one of four play-in games.
As Virginia Tech fans know well by now, those projections aren't set in stone. The Hokies need at least one more meaningful win to feel any kind of security, something this road trip to Clemson presents. So while much will be made about North Carolina and Duke battling it out for the ACC regular season title Saturday night, the stakes could be even higher when the Hokies and Tigers meet in the early afternoon.
Like Virginia Tech, Clemson is in desperate need of a win to boost its tournament resume. Unlike the Hokies, though, the Tigers margin for error is pretty much non-existent since most projections don't have them in the NCAA tournament field at this point. If that weren't enough, the winner Saturday will clinch a bye in the first round of next week's ACC tournament.
Should the Hokies win, they could earn the No. 3 seed if Florida State loses its regular season finale. If Virginia Tech loses, it could fall to the No. 6 seed if Boston College also wins on Saturday.
If this all sounds a bit familiar -- the Hokies going to Clemson fighting for their NCAA tournament lives to close the season -- well it is. Back when Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen and Terrell Bell were freshmen in 2008, a Virginia Tech squad squarely on the bubble with an 18-11 record closed its regular season at No. 24 Clemson.
The Hokies took a one-point lead with eight seconds remaining only to watch the day end in misery when A.D. Vassallo was called for a foul with two seconds remaining. Guard Demontez Stith -- now a senior for the Tigers -- then stepped to the line and sank two free throws to give Clemson the victory.
The rest is history -- Virginia Tech lost to North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC tournament when Tyler Hansbrough made a game-winning shot, Greenberg said it would be "certifiably insane" to leave the Hokies out of the NCAA tournament field and then the committee did just that.
But if there's one benefit to rehashing all these bad memories, it's the reminder that these Hokies know exactly the sort of situation they're walking into Saturday.
"I wasn’t playing much, so I don’t think it hurt me as much," Bell said Thursday when asked about losing at Clemson as a freshman. "But just seeing everyone after that game, how much we had on that game and how much the seniors wanted to win that game, now I understand. We need to get a win.”
| March 4, 2011; 12:40 PM ET
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