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Greenberg Follows Momentum With Rest

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

  February 16, 2004 BLACKSBURG —When it comes to late-season coaching, it pays to know when to scold and when to coddle. The techniques used to achieve those ends often are a mystery. There's no surefire way to inspire. For Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, the chosen method was to do nothing … and it worked just fine. Greenberg isn't exactly the coaching equivalent of Orville and Wilbur Wright. Some of his unconventional visions and approaches won't be scoffed at by his hot-headed, hoarse-voiced coaching brethren. But he does have some unique ideas, many of which might scare other coaches who have been around the game for as long as Greenberg or longer. Still, he has stuck to the plan, and the Hokies have taken flight in the right direction at times. In a recent 69-57 victory against No. 23 Providence, it appeared as though something finally started to click for Tech. The Hokies snapped a five-game losing streak with the win. They shot over 41 percent as a team for the first time in nearly three weeks, making good on 44 percent (20 of 46) of their attempts. They also connected on a season-best 73 percent (24 of 33) of their free throw attempts. Defensively, they held the Friars to 39 percent (23 of 59) shooting, including 29 percent (seven of 24) from behind the three-point arc. The game marked the Hokies'best defensive effort in more than a month, and it offered the kind of perimeter defense Greenberg loves to see but hadn't enjoyed much this season. Considering all of the encouraging signs in the Providence game, it was time to capitalize on it and focus on it in practice before the Hokies subsequent game against Georgetown, right? It was time for Greenberg to really grind it out and make an impression on his players by harping over and over on how to duplicate the Providence performance against the Hoyas, right? Wrong. He did the opposite. Virginia Tech took a week off from practice after the Providence win. A week. In the grand scheme of a college basketball season, a week is a mini-lifetime. Teams have been known to seal or destroy their postseason destinies in a week. But in Greenberg's mind, the time off was just what his young team needed. It had been a rough stretch for the Hokies. He'd been on them hard in recent weeks, berating his team for an embarrassing 36-point home loss to Connecticut and for showing little semblance of how to play perimeter defense during the five-game losing streak. Opponents shot 53 percent, including 43 percent from three-point range, against the Hokies during the skid. Greenberg indefinitely suspended forward Fabian Davis and guard Shawn Harris for conduct detrimental to the team in the midst of the losing streak. The word on campus was that the suspensions were for knuckle-headed behavior and surliness in practices. Harris was reinstated a week after the suspension, but Greenberg had made his point. It was going to be his way, or a few players could be looking to join the intramural program in order to play hoops on Virginia Tech's campus. Effort, Energy For “50-50” Balls So, a nice long break was due. Greenberg called it giving his a team a couple of “that-a-boys.”Other coaches might have called it “that-a-way-to-destroy-your-momentum.”Not so, said Greenberg. Just as long as his team didn't forget what it was like to beat one of the nation's best in the week off, his team had his blessing to stay up late, catch up on the reality TV shows or do whatever. “We've kind of gotten punched in the face at times,”said Greenberg, following the Providence game. “You hope to get off the mat and keep competing. I told the guys you need to act like you've done it before.” The truth is many of them hadn't done it before. There was the 95-74 victory against then-No. 18 Connecticut last season, but other than that, there haven't been many games from recent years to compare with the Providence victory. Of course, Tech made the week off worthwhile by returning with an 80-65 victory against Georgetown, marking the third time in four Big East seasons the Hokies had won two consecutive games against league foes. It was a step up for a guy who doesn't always conform to the status quo method of coaching. Greenberg has been that way all season. Many coaches encourage their teams to spend free moments in practice at the free throw line. The “make x-number of free throws before you leave practice”coaches are the norm, not the exception. Greenberg admits that free throw emphasis may be one of his shortcomings. Early in the season, he said he probably should have his guys spend a little more time hovering over the charity stripe. Tech's lack of dedication to free throws was evident by Valentine's Day, when the Hokies were 12th out of 14 Big East teams in the category at 62 percent. But when a team has multiple weaknesses to improve upon, free throws can take a back seat. Greenberg wants a team full of body-sacrificers, with skinned knees worn like badges of honor. His goal is to have his team win 100 percent of loose balls, those he refers to as “50-50 balls.” To that end, he'd much rather see Bryant Mathews, Zabian Dowdell, Jamon Gordon and Coleman Collins running 10 laps at full speed at the end of practice as opposed to knocking down 10 free throws. Greenberg's philosophy has paid off. Through Valentine's Day, the Hokies were first in the Big East in turnover margin (plus-4.75 per game) and second in steals (average of 10.45 per game). With games against St. John's, Boston College, West Virginia, Rutgers and Georgetown in the final two weeks of the regular season, Tech will be facing teams it can challenge. All of those opponents will have Big East records right around or well below .500. In his first season, Greenberg has positioned the Hokies to make a run at qualifying for the Big East Tournament, which would be the first such appearance in the program's history. Who says unconventional methods can't be beautiful?