February 6, 2007
BLACKSBURG Hiding frustration isn't one of Seth Greenberg's strong suits. He may some day rub a hole straight through his forehead during a game, if he isn't careful.
The Virginia Tech coach's hand-wringing, face contorting and forehead grinding doesn't figure to get any better for the rest of this season. Oh, Tech will win more games, but there's one simple reason why the Hokies will be lucky to get to the NCAA Tournament and probably won't go far if they do.
They don't have a reliable big man, and there's really not much hope of finding one this season.
As painful as it may be for some Tech fans to admit, because such high hopes were placed on him, it's clear now that forward Coleman Collins isn't the answer. In his first 22 games this season, he averaged eight points (fifth on the team) and five rebounds (second), reaching double figures just 10 times and never scoring more than 15 in a game.
None of Tech's players has been as wildly inconsistent as Collins, a 6-9 senior. Some of his games have just been inexplicable. He has gone scoreless in three games, and he has a habit of all but disappearing on the offensive and defensive ends for long stretches. It's the kind of thing that almost put Greenberg at a loss to describe what's up with a player who was expected to be a star.
"He's not playing well," Greenberg said after Tech's 80-59 loss at Boston College. Collins had six points and three rebounds in the game. "He's not rebounding the ball. He's not getting up in the air. He's not active."
At times this season (see January wins against North Carolina and at Duke and Georgia Tech), Virginia Tech has looked like the best team in the conference. The Hokies have protected the ball well, made extra passes to find open shooters and harassed opposing guards into making mistakes.
Notice a common theme with those traits? They are all jobs for guards and specifically seniors Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon to execute. There's no doubt that Gordon and especially Dowdell have been the catalysts for Tech's success this season.
In its losses this season, except the BC game (poor perimeter defense) and the Marshall game (bad shooting by everybody), Tech's complete lack of a post presence that can provide solid defense first and foremost, double figures scoring and eight rebounds on a consistent basis has been glaring.
One problem Greenberg faces is that he has a few players on his roster who offer one big skill (scoring), one average skill (rebounding) and not much else. Forwards Deron Washington and A.D. Vassallo have been effective scoring threats, but they also have significant holes in their games.
Washington has taken steps forward this season. He was tied for second in scoring on the team through 23 games, with 11.5 points per game. His biggest drawback (weight/strength) is one he can't do much about at this stage of his career, and even his offense has very little polish.
Perhaps this number best sums up Tech's rebounding troubles: 5.2. That's how many rebounds Washington averaged in the first 23 games, which was the paltry team best. He can't be considered a dependable rebounder or low post defender because he gets pushed around underneath the basket when he doesn't have the ball in his hands.
Vassallo is, well, he's really a 6-6 guard. You need a shoot-it-with-confidence-from-anywhere mentality? Vassallo is your man. He was 44-of-100 from three-point range through the first 23 games. He's also good for an occasional solid rebounding effort, but even more than Washington, he's undersized to play the low post. Another problem for Vassallo is that he's prone to falling asleep on the defensive end.
BENCH OPTIONS REMAIN LIMITED
It's hard to fathom why forward Lewis Witcher has gotten so much starting time this late in the season.
Hold your nose as you look at Witcher's numbers in Tech's recent five-game stretch of ACC games against Maryland, Miami, Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Boston College. It's a good sampling because three games were on the road and two were at home. Witcher, a 6-9 freshman, started every contest and averaged 1.8 points and 1.6 rebounds in almost 10 minutes per game.
Don't look deep on Tech's bench for any low post saviors. Sure, forward Cheick Diakite is good for a few rebounds, but he and the rest of Tech's post players on the bench are liabilities on the offensive end. In the same aforementioned five-game stretch of ACC games, Diakite, center Robert Krabbendam and forward Chris Tucker combined to average a total of 5.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in 21 minutes.
That's not enough production, especially considering that Tech is going to need all the help it can get down the stretch to get an NCAA bid. Speaking of which, that tournament bid seemed to be almost a lock at the end of the third week in January, but it's again in doubt.
Tech was 6-3 in the conference after the Feb. 3 loss to BC. With a home-and-home series against Virginia, road trips to UNC and N.C. State, and home games against BC, Miami and Clemson left on the schedule, it might be difficult for Tech to reach the magic number of nine conference wins. Only the Miami game seems like anything close to a guaranteed win at this point.
Since 1992, when the ACC expanded to a 16-game conference schedule, only two teams with a 9-7 or better mark have been left out of the NCAA Tournament. There are going to be some tense moments in Blacksburg in the next month.
Wouldn't a transcendent final month of the regular season be the perfect way for Collins to eliminate some of the bad feelings regarding his efforts earlier in the season? It's hard to imagine the light bulb coming on all of a sudden, but Tech may need Collins to have some moments of athletic enlightenment.