March 7, 2006
BLACKSBURG -- Way back in November -- it seems like years ago, but it was only four months -- the Virginia Tech basketball players in attendance at the league's media day in Greensboro took umbrage at the fact that the Hokies were picked to finish eighth in the preseason poll.
It was seen as a bit of an insult by a team that earned the fourth seed in the conference tournament a year ago. Almost everybody was back. Eighth? Tech thought it was better than that.
As it turned out, of course, eighth was two too high. The Hokies finished 10th, which begged two questions: What happened, and is there any reason to think things will get better?
Tech won four fewer league games than it did last season, although it wasn't really that far away. Let's take a quick look at how the Hokies did against the teams that finished in the top four slots and earned byes in the first round of this year's ACC Tournament.
Duke needed a 45-shot by senior guard Sean Dockery as time expired in Cameron Indoor Stadium to beat Tech in the league opener on Dec. 4. The rematch in Blacksburg wasn't as close. Duke's 13-point margin in the second game was Tech's biggest league loss.
The Hokies forced 25 turnovers out of North Carolina, but they got killed on the boards and lost by three.
Tech twice got a three-pointer in the air as the buzzer sounded against Boston College, both of which would have been game-winners. But Zabian Dowdell's shots missed both times, and Tech lost to the Eagles by one and two points.
The Hokies rallied to get within two of N.C. State after trailing by 22, then ended up losing by six.
So that's 0-6 against the Big Four, with five of the losses coming by a total of 14 points. Yeah, they were close.
Injuries limited the Hokies' depth in 2005-06, and many players were affected by serious illness in the family. Coleman Collins' father died during the season, Shawn Harris' grandmother died, and A.D. Vassallo's host mother (he's an exchange student) died.
Next year Tech should have better depth, and the Hokies hope to be tragedy-free. Importantly, all of the Hokies' contributors are eligible to return.
Another big factor that will help Tech next year is that coach Seth Greenberg should be able to get back to doing what he does best, which is coaching. He'll be the first to admit that he hasn't handled all of the outside-the-game situations well, that he isn't trained for that and that he often found himself wondering how to proceed.
Greenberg is about as prepared as a coach can get. He's also personable, if a bit sarcastic, and accessible. He's a good guy. He's also wound way, way, way too tight, and it gets the best of him at times.
Greenberg was called for four technical fouls this season, all in the second half of close games the Hokies lost. The most damning came last week against Clemson, in the final home game of the season, when the Hokies very likely were playing for their postseason life.
Down two with 11.3 seconds left, the Hokies lost the ball out of bounds. Incensed that the call didn't go Tech's way, Greenberg earned a technical. Now, it isn't fair to say that call cost Tech the game. Clemson had a two-point lead and the ball even without it. But it had a four-point lead and the ball after the foul shots were made. You could see the Hokies' shoulders sag. They had some chance without the technical; they had no chance with it.
Greenberg expects his players to learn from their mistakes. He needs to learn from his, too. He's successful because he cares so much, because the game means more to him than anything outside of his wife and three daughters.
But he needs to keep those emotions in check, to find another way to express himself, especially late in close games. Technicals are going to happen now and then. But four in similar situations? That's too many.
Some other basketball notes:
Unless Tech manages to win at least two games in the ACC Tournament, Greenberg will have just his third losing record in 16 years as a head coach. He had a losing mark in his first seasons at Long Beach State and South Florida.
Meanwhile, though recruiting technically is done for next season, another scholarship could open up before then. Sources said a current Tech player with eligibility remaining may be excused if his academic performance doesn't get upgraded quickly. No names yet, because there's still time for a turnaround that would ensure the player's return next season.
It is not one of the big three -- juniors Dowdell, Collins or Jamon Gordon. It's definitely not Collins, who is on track to graduate in May, after just three years at the school.
FOOTBALL STAFF SHUFFLE CONTINUING
Over in the football office:
Many in the athletic department were thrilled to see Danny Pearman latch on with North Carolina as an assistant coach, about a week after he was "reassigned" by Tech coach Frank Beamer.
At the time, the Hokies had just two openings and wanted to bring in three new coaches: Kevin Sherman, Mike O'Cain and Curt Newsome. So someone had to go, and Pearman was the odd man out. He spent eight years on Tech's staff as the tight ends coach, and he also helped out with the offensive tackles.
Beamer and others on Tech's staff were said to be instrumental in helping Pearman catch on at UNC. Why, some wondered, not delay the announcement of his "reassignment" until he could land another job? That way it looks like a happy tale all around, instead of another reminder that coaching is a risky business even when things are going well
And why Pearman? Though he hadn't recruited as well in recent years as he did earlier, he wasn't the worst recruiter on the staff, either. Not everybody can light it up on the recruiting trail. He was a good enough coach at his position that the Hokies basically gave up on using a fullback and started using two tight ends regularly. His players had tremendous respect for him.
The answer is simple: Veteran running backs coach Billy Hite and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring have more seniority on staff and more cache, for lack of a better word. An offensive coach needed to go to get all three newcomers in, and Pearman was it.
It was nothing personal at all, simply the way the business works sometimes, and Pearman knows that It just could have been handled a little bit better.
Beamer, by the way, went four years without losing a single coach, but he will end up losing four this year, once defensive backs coach Lorenzo Ward's move to the NFL's Oakland Raiders becomes official.