February 2, 2004 BLACKSBURG There isn't any wiggle room for coach Seth Greenberg and Virginia Tech's basketball team anymore. The Hokies had better start playing better defense at the guard positions, or they are destined to spend their four years in the Big East without ever making an appearance in the conference's postseason tournament. For the Hokies to make it to the tournament in New York City, they will have to overachieve in the final month of the regular season. That's a tall order for a team that still hasn't figured out how to defend the perimeter.
Even without talented freshman guard Jamon Gordon for most of January and senior guard Carlos Dixon all season, because of injuries, Tech has managed to stay at or near the top of the Big East in steals and turnover margin all season long. Holding onto the ball and stepping into passing lanes have kept the Hokies in most of their contests this season. What has killed the Hokies is their inability to contest shots.
After opponents connected on just 40.9 percent of their shots against the Hokies through December, Big East opponents brought a new challenge more talented guards and wings capable of moving without the ball and finding open shots. By the start of February, Big East foes were shooting 52.8 percent against Tech, the worst field goal percentage defense in the conference. Only one Big East opponent (Notre Dame shot 45.6 percent on Jan. 20) shot worse than 52 percent.
The bottom fell out against Connecticut. The Huskies made 60 percent of their shots in a 96-60 win against the Hokies in Blacksburg. Forget about Emeka Okafor, UConn's All-American center, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds. It was the Huskies' guards who did the vast majority of the damage. Ben Gordon and Rashad Anderson combined for 48 points on 16-of-22 shooting, including 10-of-15 from three-point range.
Quite honestly, we were overmatched, Greenberg said. I wasn't happy with the way we lost. Obviously, I was disappointed with the loss, but more disturbed by the way we lost.
The way Tech lost is the way it has lost most of its Big East games, by not getting hands in the faces of shooters. Until the Hokies do, they'll have a hard time getting wins down the stretch.
Beamer: Time To Make A Stand?
On Jan. 12, the Hokies' football team had its first full team meeting of the year, and coach Frank Beamer had a point to make. He wasn't going to tolerate more of the disciplinary problems that plagued last year's team.
Beamer called out players, commanding some to get immediate tutoring. He told all of his players that missed class and misbehavior would result in 6 a.m. running duties with Mike Gentry, Tech's strength and conditioning coach, with an ill-humored Beamer on hand to witness it. In Beamer's mind, it was time to get back to doing things the right way.
Then, in the three weeks following the meeting, Beamer was challenged to put his tough words and disciplinary philosophy into action. Given the circumstances, taking control of the situation needs to begin immediately.
Quarterback Marcus Vick, a rising redshirt sophomore, had his Blacksburg apartment searched the morning of Jan. 29, after two teenage girls told police he had sex with their 15-year-old friend two days earlier, according to a search warrant affidavit.
The affidavit also said two of the girls made statements that accused Vick of providing alcohol to all three girls, who were ages 14 and 15, and that one of Vick's two roommates took pictures of the girls as they stripped. An investigation was opened by the Blacksburg police to determine if Vick was to be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Then, in the wee hours of Jan. 31, Rod Council, a highly touted Virginia Tech football commitment from Charlotte, was arrested and charged with burglary near West Charlotte High. The 5-11, 185-pound defensive back is an honor student at West Charlotte. After hauling in 12 interceptions as a senior, he was rated by several recruiting services as one of the nation's top 25 prospects at his position.
That was two significant black eyes for Tech's wounded program in the span of 48 hours. Now, Beamer is left to act.
Council's situation may be out of Beamer's hands, depending on the outcome of legal proceedings. The university's Comprehensive Action Plan dictates that student-athletes and prospective student-athletes convicted of a felony are subject to having their athletic scholarships and playing privileges revoked.
Vick's case is much different. He's a well-known, established player preparing to compete for a starting job. Whether Vick is charged with a crime or not, Beamer is charged with the responsibility of making an example out of him for embarrassing the program. Vick remains innocent until proven guilty, but at best his case is one of horribly poor judgment.
In 2003, public perception of the Hokies' program was harmed on several occasions. Prior to the season, tailback Antoine Rutherford, defensive back D.J. Walton and defensive tackle Jimmy E. Williams all were dismissed from the team. Months later, ESPN television cameras caught Beamer striking split end Ernest Wilford on the helmet during Tech's loss at West Virginia. Four Tech players, including Vick, defensive end Cols Colas, offensive tackle Jon Dunn and linebacker Brandon Manning, served one-game suspensions for violations of team policies during the season.
Also, cornerback DeAngelo Hall was suspended for the first half of the Pittsburgh game, after his involvement in a fight in Tech's 31-7 win against Miami. Free safety Jimmy F. Williams got into a heated argument with defensive coordinator Bud Foster during the Hokies' loss to Boston College.
Of course, those were all just the public discipline troubles Tech endured last season. Who knows what may have occurred outside of the view of TV cameras and beat reporters? Every program has lots of interesting stories that never bubble to the surface for public consumption, and they're not always pretty.
With the Hokies getting set to begin what could be the most important season of Beamer's career, he needs to take a stand against such public embarrassments. The strongly worded warning to his team was a good start. But handing out multi-game suspensions to Vick and his two football-playing roommates one is a backup and the other will vie for a starting job in the spring would further reinforce Beamer's Jan. 12 meeting.
As for Vick, the damage may be done. He has two very public strikes against him and is flirting with having the bad influence label placed on him. That's not what you want heading into an intense spring practice duel with Bryan Randall. Now, Randall may be the starter by default.
Strong punishment would send a clear message to the team that Beamer wasn't kidding around on Jan. 12. Until such actions are taken, one has to wonder just how long a leash Beamer will give his players.