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Strong Foundation: Reliable Backcourt

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

January 24, 2007

BLACKSBURG – There was something strange Jan. 17 in the final box score from Virginia Tech's 82-73 loss to Florida State. Nobody could've seen it coming. The eye-catching statistical line was worth a double-take. It bucked a trend Tech has built as a trademark under coach Seth Greenberg.

Guards Jamon Gordon and Zabian Dowdell have helped to establish Tech as one of the nation's biggest bunches of ballhogs … and that's a compliment. Committing turnovers is a cardinal sin in Tech's half-court offense. For a team that isn't known for its rebounding prowess, holding on to the ball and not giving up easy scoring opportunities is a critical component for winning on a consistent basis.

That's why the turnover results from the FSU box score were so stunning: Tech 14, FSU 13.

Sure, it doesn't seem like a big deal. While it's true that one more measly turnover doesn't make any difference in a game that ended with a nine-point margin, it's the rarity of Tech's appearance on the bad end of the turnover margin that was so shocking. It was just the second time in the last 52 games that Tech finished with more turnovers than its opponent.

Perhaps that's why Tech forward Deron Washington had such a hard time accepting the loss to FSU. Coming off an upset win against No. 1 North Carolina, which helped Tech jump back into the Associated Press Top 25 (at No. 23) for the first time in almost 11 years, the Hokies showed that dealing with prosperity in the ACC can be challenging.

"It was a game we could've won," Washington said. "Everybody was like, ‘We should've won that game.' We knew we could've played harder than what we did."

Certainly, Washington's interpretation of playing harder had to include turnovers. Of course, it's not as if committing 14 turnovers is a crime punishable by death. It's just that turnovers are the one statistical category where Tech can rightfully hold itself to a higher standard.

Tech entered the week of Jan. 15 ranked first in the ACC and 11th in the nation in average turnovers per game (11.6). In its first 18 games of the season, Tech finished with single digits in turnovers five times, including seven turnovers in a Jan. 6 upset at No. 5 Duke.

By contrast, UNC turned the ball over fewer than 10 times just twice in its first 19 games. Duke did it once in its first 19 games. Clemson did it five times in its first 20 games, which provided at least partial explanation for the Tigers being able to equal their best start ever (17-0).

There's no mystery why Tech excels in the turnover margin. It's not the product of crafty coaching. Instead, look no further than Gordon and Dowdell. They simply don't give the ball away, and both veteran guards cause nightmares for opposing teams.

Both players finished in the ACC's top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio last season. (Dowdell was at 1.47 and Gordon at 2.02.) Through Tech's first 18 games this season, they were both in the ACC's top 10 in the category again. (Gordon was at 1.74 and Dowdell at 2.1.) In addition to exhibiting their economical play on the offensive end, Gordon and Dowdell are two of the ACC's most prodigious thieves. Gordon was second in the conference in steals per game (2.5) through 18 games, and Dowdell was third (2.44).

Efficiency is one of the bonuses Tech reaps from having senior starting guards. Gordon and Dowdell are perfect pace-setters for a team that lacks rebounding muscle.

"I think it's advantageous to have senior guards, and I also think it's advantageous to have good guards," Greenberg said. "A lot of people have senior guards, but they're obviously not playing at the level that Jamon and Zabian have played at in recent weeks. …

"They have experience. They have an understanding of what we want to do and how we want to do it and when we want to do it. They've got a lot vested in the program, and obviously they're extremely prideful. They've got some toughness because they've been through the good and the bad."

SAFETY CONCERNS ON HORIZON?

With starter Aaron Rouse and backup Cary Wade both out of eligibility, one of Tech's football recruiting focuses this year figured to be at the strong safety position.

If the plan was to pick up a few strong safeties, which are referred to as rovers in the Hokies' vernacular, coach Frank Beamer and his staff haven't been too successful to this point. Unless something changes in the last two weeks before national signing day, which seems unlikely considering that none of Tech's remaining big targets projects as a defensive back, the Hokies will be very thin at strong safety.

Tech already is faced with grooming an inexperienced rising sophomore or redshirt freshman for the starting job heading into spring practice. Dorian Porch, a 5-11, 198-pound rising sophomore, probably projects as the starter. He played sparingly in 13 games in 2006, recording just nine tackles. Two walk-ons are listed as backups to Porch.

There's always the possibility that Tech eventually will move one of its current commitments to strong safety, but only one of the pledges looks like a decent fit for the position. Alonzo Tweedy, a 6-1, 175-pounder from Richmond, could factor in at strong safety, which has both pass-coverage and run-stopping duties in Tech's scheme.

Davon Morgan, a 6-0, 185-pound Richmond native, looks as if he'll fit in best at free safety. Cris Hill, a 5-11, 165-pounder from Highland Springs, Kendrick Pressley, a 5-11, 170-pounder from Sumter, S.C., and D.J. Thomas, a 5-10, 175-pounder from Ashland, all appear best-suited to play cornerback.

Pressley has told recruiting websites that Tech's coaches have promised him a shot at quarterback. Thomas is going to have to spend a year in prep school before arriving in Blacksburg.