December 5, 2006
BLACKSBURG -- Two weeks before the start of basketball season, Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg referred to his team's schedule as the toughest in the history of the school.
But Western Michigan wasn't supposed to be one of the opponents that struck fear in the hearts of Tech's players and fans.
After losing Nov. 23 to Western Michigan in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Tech might have to worry for the rest of the season about the three most dreaded letters for borderline NCAA Tournament teams -- R-P-I. Going into its Dec. 3 game against George Washington, Tech was 158th in the nation in RPI, 11th in the ACC. Miami (187th) was the only ACC team rated lower.
Of course, the beauty of December basketball for college coaches is that it's, well, December basketball. With an entire slate of ACC games ahead, there's ample opportunity for Tech to pull up its dismal RPI and get back into the good graces of the NCAA selection committee.
"I don't really get caught up in all that RPI junk," Tech guard Jamon Gordon said. "You just need to win games. If you base your season on RPI, you're already saying which games you're going to win and which games you're going to lose."
Gordon's approach is a good way to look at it, but the selection committee may have a longer memory. The Western Michigan game signaled the continuation of a disturbing trend in Greenberg's four-year tenure at Tech. Since the start of the 2003-04 season, Tech has lost eight games to opponents from the mid-major conferences. Two of those have come this season, but the loss to Southern Illinois was almost excusable, considering that the Salukis have been to five consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
"We definitely thought we'd go into December undefeated, but at the same time, no one is jumping ship quite yet," Tech forward Coleman Collins said. "We've still got a lot of games coming up. The good thing is, we have a lot of games back-to-back, so we don't have any long layoffs to kind of dwell over anything."
In Greenberg's opinion, his team is down one game, meaning Tech has to win at least one game nobody expects it to win. North Carolina and Duke will present Tech with those upset chances three times in January and February.
"I'd say we're probably a 'minus-one,'" Greenberg said. "That's just the way it is. We can get to 'plus-one.' Playing in our league, and playing the kind of schedule we're playing, you can get to plus-one real quick.
"If we win eight games in the league, nine games in the league, and if we win eight or nine games non-conference with the schedule we're playing, I think we're going to be in pretty good shape."
Two deficiencies plagued Tech in the first two weeks of the season. Again, the problems were the same as they've ever been under Greenberg. Poor free throw shooting and subpar rebounding caused big problems.
In its first six games, Tech shot an ACC-worst 58 percent from the free throw line. The Hokies were out-rebounded in three of their last four games in November. Despite being out-rebounded by Iowa, Tech was able to cap off the month with a quality win in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which could serve as a momentum boost.
Collins has been Greenberg's other worry. At 6-9 and bulked up to 243 pounds as a senior, it was a mystery why Collins averaged just 7.8 points (on fewer than six shot attempts per game) and 4.3 rebounds in Tech's first six games. The best reason given for Collins' slow start was a sprained left ankle that kept him out of late summer and early fall workouts for six weeks.
After playing six games in 13 days in late November and early December, Tech will play just five games from the second week of December through the end of the month. Collins should be able to get the ankle completely rehabilitated before the bulk of the ACC slate begins, Jan. 6 at Duke.
"If there's a situation where I'm called on to score, I'm definitely going to step up to the challenge," Collins said. "Come January or February, if things are still really bad or something, I'll probably have a problem on my hands."
BEAMER SINGING NEW BCS TUNE
Add Tech football coach Frank Beamer to the list of college football insiders in favor of some form of a playoff system.
Beamer has changed his tune about the Bowl Championship Series a few times in recent years. His attitude regarding the BCS generally has had a lot to do with whether Tech was involved in the BCS or not. In years Tech had a shot to earn a BCS bid, he went with the "everything-BCS-related-will-work-out-in-the-end" soft-shoe approach.
This season, Tech was pretty much out of the BCS picture by Thanksgiving. When speculation started to circulate that the BCS could dial in Michigan and Ohio State for a rematch in the national championship game, Beamer spoke up. He likes the idea of a four-team mini-tournament, because it could be over in early January and wouldn't interfere with class time.
"I think the obvious solution is you take the top four teams at the end, let them play in two of those BCS games, and then have a championship game the next week," Beamer said. "If you're saying four teams, Michigan is going to be one of those four teams, and Ohio State is one of those teams, and then whoever else. If Michigan and Ohio State win (the two semifinals), then they should play the following week.
"To me, it shouldn't be a rematch. In other words, it should be Ohio State versus somebody else to decide the national championship. There's always controversy about that third team. I just don't think there'd be nearly as much controversy about the fifth team. If you took the top four teams, is that fifth team in the same category as the (top four teams)? In some years, maybe yes, but more years than not I think it would solve a lot of problems."