Big Win in Beantown Puts Hokies in Good Position

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From where I sit, Saturday’s victory over Boston College was the most
important win of the season for the Hokies. It was also the most unexpected, and
by grabbing a big win on the road, the Hokies have closed out a tough early
portion of the ACC schedule in great shape for the six-week stretch run of the
season.

When you’re playing six freshmen significant minutes, any win in the ACC is
to be treasured, and road wins are even more valuable. Seth Greenberg talks all
the time about plus-ones and minus-ones on the schedule, and what he’s talking
about is winning road games (that’s a plus) and losing home games (that’s a
minus). Start by assuming an 8-8 overall record (8-0 at home and 0-8 on the
road), and every win on the road or loss at home equates to a plus or a minus.

The Hokies are currently "plus one," having won twice on the road
— Virginia and Boston College — and having lost once at home (Duke). If you go
by the plus-minus system, the Hokies are on track for a 9-7 ACC record.

More importantly, Tech has come through a tough six game stretch to open the
ACC schedule with a 3-3 record, good for a fourth place tie in the league with
Clemson and Georgia Tech. Four of the Hokies’ first six ACC games this season
were on the road, and one of the two home games was against a vastly improved
Duke team. 1-5 or even 0-6 was not out of the question, but two overtime road
wins and a clutch win over Maryland at home have led to a record that positions
the Hokies well for the remainder of the schedule.

The four road games were Wake Forest, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Boston
College, and if you had told me before the season the Hokies were going to go
2-2 in those games, I would have picked Wake and GT as the road wins. Wake’s
roster looked depleted, and they were coming off the stunning offseason death of
head coach Skip Prosser. As for GT, they boast some talent, but the Hokies had
fared well at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, going 2-0 in Atlanta in VT’s first
three seasons in the league.

As for Virginia and BC, the Cavaliers were undefeated in ACC play in John
Paul Jones Arena before this year, and the Hokies were 0-6 all time in Chestnut
Hill.

But Tech flipped my expectations, losing to Wake and GT and winning over UVa
and BC. The BC win on Saturday is without question the jewel of the Hokies’
season so far, because Tech did it less than 48 hours after losing to Duke, and
they did it without Jeff Allen, against a team that was 3-1 in the league, in a
place they had never won. Savor this one.

Ironically,
the Hokies didn’t miss Allen’s production against BC, because fellow freshman
J.T. Thompson stepped in and posted Jeff Allen-like numbers: 14 points and 12
rebounds. Thompson’s performance came on the heels of a 13-point, 8-rebound
performance against Duke, for a two-game average of 13.5 ppg and 10.0 rpg. He
shot 13-of-19 (68.4%) from the field, and 8 of his 20 rebounds were offensive.
Suddenly, Seth Greenberg has a new card to deal.

This is the way things work, though. When a key player is suspended, you look
for someone to step up. Thompson did. In the wake of his performance, some Tech
fans are trying to figure out what five players are the Hokies’ best lineup and
whether Thompson should start, but that’s not the point. The bigger point is
keeping Thompson in the groove, because it wasn’t until he got to start a couple
of games that he found his confidence and played to his potential. I don’t care
if he starts or comes off the bench; I just want him to continue being
productive.

Speaking of players stepping up, Hank Thorns dropping nine points on BC in
overtime is the very definition of stepping up. Basketball is a game of runs,
and Thorns picked a great time to go on a run.

At this point in his career, Thorns isn’t a consistent player. Duke ate him
alive, holding him to 2-of-9 shooting and forcing five turnovers in 33 minutes.
His size limits him overall, but he has had his moments, and his performances
against Maryland and Boston College directly contributed to key wins.

(A tangent about Tech’s 67-66 win over the Terps on January 12th: The Hokies
stole one there, I think. MD played without Eric Hayes, and Greivis
Vasquez [2-of-14] was atrocious, enabling the Hokies to escape with
a one point win. The victory over Maryland stands as the second biggest win of
the season so far, though some of you might disagree.)

Thompson and Thorn’s heroics helped the Hokies overcome a horrid game from
the three point line (3-of-16, 18.8%) and the free throw line (16-of-29, 55.2%).
Those aren’t usually numbers posted by a team that wins on the road, but those
figures were offset by stellar numbers in rebounding, where Tech held a +9
advantage, including 20 offensive boards, and in turnovers. The Hokies only
turned the ball over eight times, just two days after giving it away 22 times
against Duke.

VT ranks 9th or lower in the 12-team ACC in every major offensive statistic:
scoring offense (11th), free throw percentage (10th), field goal percentage
(11th), three-point percentage (10th), and assists (9th). The Hokies make up for
it with rebounding and defense; Tech’s rebounding margin is 5th in the league,
and their scoring defense is a bright, shiny 1st. If I didn’t know better, I’d
swear I was observing Virginia Tech football, not Virginia Tech basketball.

One area of concern is that opposing point guards are lighting the Hokies up.
In the last four games, the Hokies have surrendered an average of 25.3 ppg to
opposing point guards. That includes 34 by UVa’s Sean Singletary, 30 by GT’s
Matt Causey, 10 by Duke’s Greg Paulus, and 27 by BC’s Tyrese Rice.

The Hokies have managed to win two of those four games, and the key has been
that they slowed the other team’s point guard down in the stretch. Singletary
had just two points in the last 12:13 of the game, both coming from the free
throw line, and Rice had just two points in the last 14:29 of the game, again
from the free throw line.

With the tough six-game ACC start in the books at a respectable 3-3, the
Hokies now turn their attention back to Cassell Coliseum, where they’ll play six
of the next nine games, and all six look promising:

Date Home Opponent
1/29/08 Florida State
2/2/08 Virginia
2/9/08 Miami
2/23/08 Georgia Tech
2/26/08 Boston College
3/4/08 Wake Forest

Yes, it’s the ACC. Yes, anything can happen. But I’d like to think the Hokies
can find four wins there, maybe even five or six. Five wins would guarantee an
8-8 ACC record, nothing to sneeze at for such a young team.

One game at a time, though. One concern with freshmen is that they might hit
the wall in mid-February, and then you’ve got a losing streak on your hands to
close out the season. But a 30-game basketball season is like raising kids: You
can’t do it all at once. You have to take it day by day, or in this case, game
by game.

The next game up is Florida State, Tuesday night at nine in Cassell Coliseum.
Thanks to the big win at Boston College, FSU is not the difference between 3-4
or 2-5 for the Hokies; they’re now the difference between 3-4 and 4-3. Tech has
the chance to be over .500 in the ACC seven games into the conference schedule,
and for this team, that’s a good accomplishment.

With six home ACC games left, everybody healthy (knock on wood), and Jeff
Allen returning to the lineup, the Hokies have a great opportunity to put the
pedal to the metal and push towards the top third of the league standings. It’s
all about positioning, and Tech’s in good position.

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