Now that the streets of downtown Blacksburg have cleared and the party is over, Virginia Tech must continue to push forward in the aftermath of their biggest win of the year over No. 1 Duke.
Barring a complete collapse by Virginia Tech, the Hokies should be primed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time in the last four years. With the conference tournaments quickly approaching, the ACC tournament looms large for a good number of ACC bubble teams. For the Hokies, the close of this season offers up more than just a higher seed in the NCAA tournament, it provides Malcolm Delaney an opportunity to make his final case for ACC Player of the Year. It also gives Seth Greenberg a chance to solidify his third ACC Coach of the Year award in the last six seasons.
Whether or not Malcolm Delaney has a shot at ACC Player of the Year is debatable, because Nolan Smith has had an amazing season that deserves recognition. But that argument of Smith-vs.-Delaney is for another day. When you consider the ACC Coach of the Year for the 2010-2011 season, I think you can only seriously consider three candidates as viable options: Coach K of Duke, Roy Williams of UNC and Seth Greenberg of Virginia Tech.
All three of these coaches had high expectations for their teams as the season began. Duke started the year off as the No. 1 team in the nation, and the consensus favorite to win the ACC. When media members voted prior to the season, they followed Duke by predicting Virginia Tech to finish second and UNC third in the conference. As of March 1st, the conference standings look similar to the preseason predictions, with Duke on top, followed by UNC and then FSU (predicted fourth preseason) and Virginia Tech in fourth place.
If you just took the conference standings at face value and compared them to the preseason predictions, one might think that Seth Greenberg has failed to live up to expectations with his Virginia Tech team. That is if you do not know the backstory of what Greenberg and the Hokies have had to endure.
The reason Virginia Tech came into the season as the second favorite team in the conference was due to the experience that was returning to last year's 10 in-conference win team. Over 90% of Virginia Tech's minutes from last year came back to compete for the Hokies and they were adding some solid players from a good recruiting class. To add to the Hokies promising lineup, the team was supposed to add a major big that had just sat out last year after transferring from the University of Florida, in the name of Allan Chaney.
Chaney was not just a typical transfer, but instead, Chaney was a 4-star prospect that was listed in the top 100 recruits in the nation in 2008. Chaney was so highly regarded by Greenberg as a star that Greenberg has already been quoted as saying that Chaney would be "a first round [NBA] draft choice." So the stars seemed to be lining up for the Virginia Tech basketball team to make a deep run.
Just when everything looked to be turning up roses, the Virginia Tech basketball program experienced a set-back, and then another, and then another and then another. One might think that the emphasis on one after another is being a little over-the-top. Then you start to hear about the injury bug that hit the program and you might think that Seth Greenberg and the Hokies are snake-bitten.
It started with Chaney. Chaney started experiencing problems in practice towards the end of last year. Reports were that Chaney had passed out in practice, and that his 2010-11 season and possibly his entire career was in jeopardy. Once the season began, it became obvious that the reports were not just rumors. Chaney was not going to suit up for the Hokies until at least March, if he played at all this season. Down goes one big-time piece to the Hokies puzzle.
Then the dominoes began to fall for the Hokies, and these were not dominoes falling in the sense of it being a good thing. These were more like nightmare dominoes. Chaney's injury was followed by news that the sixth man from last year, and also another low post player, J.T Thompson was going to be out with a season-ending knee injury. All of this prior to the first official shot of the year was taken.
The low post options for the Hokies were running thin as Tech was left with only three true low post players. Then as the Hokies got into November came the excitement that one of those three guys, the 6' 9'' sophomore Cadarian Raines, would return from his second foot surgery since April of 2010. That excitement didn't last long as Cadarian's playing chances for the season were shot down by the disheartening news that Raines would join the club of Hokies low post players that were out for the season.
All of this was enough to bring down any college team. This, obviously, was not the NBA where the team could go pick up a serviceable player from free agency to fill the void of these injured players.
No team could survive in a major NCAA Division I conference with only two low post players and without three players that were expected to see tons of playing time. Well, that three then turned into four players. And this time, the Hokies were not just losing an important player, but they were losing the second leading scorer from last season and their starting small forward in Dorenzo Hudson.
Hokie nation was rocked. How could they survive the loss of four key players to their once promising team?
One name: Seth Greenberg.
The Virginia Tech basketball team currently stands 9-5 in the ACC, fresh off of the big win over Duke this past Saturday night. While 9-5 and 4th in the ACC is not quite on par with preseason predictions, you have to take into consideration that Greenberg is only suiting up eight scholarship players and two true big men.
Also consider that Greenberg doesn't have the luxury of replacing his injured players with more McDonald's All-Americans like Duke and UNC would do. In fact, the Hokies do not have one high school All-American on their roster.
So when the ballots come out for ACC Coach of the Year, you may have two top-15 teams in the nation in UNC and Duke with two hall of fame coaches. Additionally, the Virginia Tech Hokies may be unranked and might be 4th or 5th in the conference, several seeds below where media members projected them.
But ask yourself: How many coaches would have kept their team competitive, knocked off the No. 1 team in the nation, and made a total shift in coaching philosophy midseason (where VT has almost completely switched to zone defense for the first time in Seth Greenberg's career) with eight scholarship players, four key players down for the year, and no one giving them a chance? Not many, which is why the ACC Coach of the Year should be Seth Greenberg.
Sorry Coach K, looks like the score should be Hokies 2, Dukies 0.
I guess that Coach K and the Blue Devils are going to have to settle for a run at a possible 13th ACC Championship and fifth National Championship...not a bad consolation.