People use various measures to determine what constitutes a close game. The best definition is games in which the teams are separated by five or fewer points with five minutes to go, or separated by five or fewer points at game's end, or any contest that reaches overtime.
Since full play-by-plays for every game undertaken by every team are exceedingly difficult to come by, most of us must judge closeness by the final score. This is a time-tested rule of thumb for close games, as is the five-point differential, the equivalent of two possessions. This is not a foolproof method - Georgia Tech rallied within 65-61 with 2:20 to go at Vanderbilt on Dec. 9, clearly constituting a close game, only to lose by a deceptively decisive 73-64 score.
Last season Virginia Tech was the ACC team notably cursed in close contests. Within a three-week span early in the season there was a 72-71 home loss to Bowling Green on an own-goal by A.D. Vassallo and a 77-75 defeat at Duke on a 35-foot jumper by guard Sean Dockery, hardly noted for his marksmanship.
Matters never improved, as the Hokies lost 10 of 12 close encounters and finished with a losing record overall in a season shadowed by deep personal tragedies off the court. Note that Wake Forest finished lower in the ACC standings, yet managed a 6-5 mark in close games.
Even with the clouds of personal angst dispersed, coach Seth Greenberg's squad has picked up right where it left off in 2006, dropping three of four close games this season, several times after holding late leads. Most recently, against George Washington, senior big man Coleman Collins missed a dunk for the lead, then got stripped going in for a layup on another go-ahead possession. The 63-62 loss ended with Vassallo's shot off an inbounds pass hitting the bottom of the rim.
Since joining the ACC for the 2005 season, Virginia Tech has lost two-thirds of its close games (16 of 24).
Such results over an extended period inevitably raise questions about the coach, and whether something in his personality or system mitigate against success at nail-biting time.
Certainly N.C. State's squads appeared to reflect the tightly-wound personality of coach Herb Sendek, to ill effect. The Wolfpack lost more close games than they won in seven of Sendek's 10 seasons at Raleigh, and overall were 38-45 in those encounters.
One is hard-pressed to make a similar argument about Greenberg. Just yet, anyway. In 2004, his first season at Virginia Tech and the school's last as a Big East member, the Hokies were 7-2 in close games.
|CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE BASKETBALL KIND|
|Team Records In Close Games, As ACC Member
2005 Season Through Games of December 10, 2006 (2007 Season)
|* Changed coaches during this span.|