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Duke and the ACC now have a much better idea of what to expect out of
Virginia Tech, but what a lot of people still don't understand is the intensity
level of the fans. Football comes first, of course, but if you took a
Virginia Tech team to a tiddly-wink contest, there would be a few dozen people
cheering in Virginia Tech togs. So if you think it's going to be an easy
game in Blacksburg, think again. And on top of their normal intensity, many Tech
fans think they have a grievance from the game in Durham and want to take it out
on Duke. And some of the players have said as much too. The Blue
Devils should be forewarned: they'll have to earn it.
On the other hand, as their debut season goes on, and as the other schools
have gotten a better idea of what Tech does, their record has started to
slide. They were looking pretty good at 10-6 and 12-7, but now they are
12-10, and like last time, they are getting Duke after Duke lost to Maryland.
We're not saying this is going to happen, but if Virginia Tech finished the
season with no more wins it wouldn't be shocking. After Duke, they host
Miami, then go to N.C. State, then to Clemson, and finish with Maryland.
Of course, they're not going to see it that way, and there's no reason any
team should. They've already beaten Miami and Clemson and State.
Still, people have caught on to what Tech does, and if you hang on to the
ball and play tough defense, you're at least in the game.
Seth Greenberg has masked some weaknesses by really pushing a ballhawking
defense. In the first UVa game, for instance, Tech forced 24 turnovers and
won 79-73. In the rematch, UVa only had nine turnovers and won 65-60.
Surprisingly, that's the only rematch they've had so far. They've played UNC
once, at FSU, Clemson, N.C. State, at Georgia Tech, UVa, at Duke, at Miami,
Wake, at Maryland, and at UVa.
Still, even though UNC destroyed them in their conference opener, the Hokies
forced 22 turnovers. Clemson had 22 as well. State had 17 in their game,
Tech had 13, Duke had 10, Miami had 15, Wake had 17, Maryland had 13, and in the
rematch, as mentioned, UVa held it down to nine.
As the second half kicks in for Tech, aside from watching tape, the various
coaches have seen what they do, and like Gillen, have adjusted.
And their wins have been close. They beat Clemson by two, State by one, Tech
by one, UVa by six, and in their biggest win, beat Miami by 10.
So if you take away just a few turnovers in each of their wins, with the
arguable exception of Miami, they might easily have lost to Clemson, State, and
What we're getting at is that their margin of error is really thin. In
fact, they are only outscoring opponents by one point a game. They're
giving up 18 points a game from three point range. They're being outrebounded
by 4.7 per game.
However, they are getting 10.1 steals per game to 6.3 from their opponents,
and have 100 blocks to 78 by their opponents.
The steals are mostly coming from Jamon Gordon, with 53, Carlos Dixon, with
46, and Zabian Dowell, with 38.
Tech gets two other advantages from their ballhawking: they get in
transition, and they overcome their size disadvantage that way also.
When an opponent controls the ball and plays defense, and scores competently,
Tech is in trouble.
That's not to demean them. They have some talent, notably Dixon,
Dowell, and Gordon, and Greenberg has done a masterful job of masking their
weaknesses. Indeed, when you consider the ACC this year, you'd have to think
that Pete Gillen, Herb Sendek, Gary Williams, Paul Hewitt, and Leonard Hamilton
have all turned in subpar years to date. Only Roy Williams, Mike
Krzyzewski, Skip Prosser, Frank Haith, and Seth Greenberg have really had
commendable years thus far. Williams and Prosser were supposed to, and
people generally expect excellence from Coach K (though this could be his most
masterful coaching job ever, considering the problems he has had this year), and
Haith, as it turns out, has solid talent in general and a potentially great
player in young Diaz.
Greenberg has less talent and less of almost everything. Considering
what he has had to deal with this year, he's done as good a job as anyone.
Still, as the season grinds towards its conclusion, Virginia Tech is sliding,
and there's no way to deny that. 12-10 is not going to get anyone in the NCAA,
and with the tough matchups they face from here on out, it won't get any
easier. A win over Duke would do an enormous amount for their post-season
chances. They have to finish at .500 to make the NIT, and if they have any
shot at the NCAA, they have to clean up down the stretch. Duke would be
huge in that scenario, and they have nothing to lose.
That reality, and the rabid nature of the fans, and the sense among many in
Tech's corner of the world that they were treated unfairly in Cameron, should
combine to give Tech a surpassing intensity in this game.
Duke will have to match it, and should be prepared for a very rough game.