Virginia Basketball Bursts Hokies Bubble
The bird is truly going to be the word in Blacksburg tonight.
Jeff Allen, one of the Hokies key players, could only watch from the bench as his own middle finger popped the bubble of Virginia Tech's NCAA tournament dreams.
The Virginia Cavaliers, a team that was dead as a doornail just a short week ago, came out with extreme confidence after vanquishing the Clemson Tigers last Sunday and kept rolling all the way to a convincing 75-61 victory over their arch-rival.
How on earth did Virginia find new life these past two games after losing eight straight? They found players to help shoulder the load offensively.
The Cavaliers have been able to rely on freshman sensation Sylven Landesberg all year long and his 19 points tonight were huge. The Hokies had no answer for him defensively and he was able to step up in the first half whenever Virginia needed a key basket.
However, Virginia's success as of late has come from the other players on this team finally playing with confidence and making shots on the offensive end.
Mike Scott, excluding a horrific missed dunk late in the game, played with a tenacious level of energy throughout the contest. When Scott stays in the game mentally he is a stellar player and he had big plays throughout the game.
Scott, alongside the young but talented Assane Sene and the surprisingly improved Tunji Soroye helped Virginia secure 15 offensive rebounds which stifled any potential long runs by Virginia Tech.
More importantly, they were able to move their feet without fouling and really take the Hokie offense out of any rhythm.
A.D. Vassallo and Malcolm Delaney may have scored 21 and 11 points respectively but Jeff Jones and Calvin Baker made them earn it. Both men struggled mightily from the outside and when they were able to attack the basket, Sene and Soroye were there to swat the ball away.
It was the defensive performance Virginia coach Dave Leitao had talked about and his finally players had finally delivered.
Of course, defene is easier when Sammy Zeglinski and Calvin Baker do a good job of running an offense that had been dead last in the league in nearly every category.
Zeglinski has 12 assists in his last two games and has kept the offense running at a faster tempo that has led to easy transition points.
If Virginia could actually create some inbounds plays, this game would have been even more decisive as the Hokies clawed back in the final five minutes, getting as close as eight points.
For Virginia, this was a desperately needed win. Sure the 9-13 record is not going to impress many people but this team has almost assured they will prove the critics wrongs and not finish last in the conference.
The Cavaliers have a more favorable schedule down the stretch, including three home games that are certainly winnable.
When Virginia plays with confidence and they make their shots, it ratchets up their energy on defense and they really become a complete team.
With every main contributor returning for next season, the Cavaliers may actually be rebuilding towards something in 2009 as opposed to being stuck in neutral as they were for most of the ACC season.
As for the Hokies, there is no way to deny it, this loss hurts a great deal.
After all, losing to a team near the bottom of the ACC is one thing but the schedule does not bode well for a team at 16-9, 6-5 in the ACC.
The Hokies still have two games against Florida State, a game at Clemson and home games with North Carolina and Duke.
All four teams were ranked last week and Virginia Tech now has no room for error.
The Hokies once again may be undone by a non-conference schedule where Virginia Tech lost a few too many games. A win against Xavier or a win against Wisconsin would be a big help come tourney time, but those wins were not meant to be.
Last second heartbreak mixed with a win against Wake Forest which is losing its luster may result in yet another disappointing NIT berth for Virginia Tech.
It will be interesting to see how the bird man himself, Jeff Allen, will be received by his teammates. After losing a big game against your in-state rival, Allen could have been a great deal of assistance banging inside against Sene and getting him in foul trouble earlier.
Now Allen will have to prove his mental and physical toughness against some of the better big men in the country down the stretch.
If he pulls his weight, all will be forgiven.
If not...well then Hokie fans will always remember the bird that got away.
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