Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg has a theory about conference tournament games, especially on the first day. It’s an extreme one, with no middle ground, but it bears repeating with the 10th-seeded Hokies getting set to face No. 7 seed Clemson in the opening-round of the ACC tournament Thursday night.
“They’re either, someone gets smacked or it comes down to the last shot,” Greenberg said this week. “Hopefully we can either smack them or make the last shot.”
“For us, it’s about finishing,” he added, referencing Virginia Tech’s many close losses this year.
Whether it has been via a first-round bye or a victory, the Hokies have played on Friday of the ACC tournament all but one year they have been in the conference. The only time Virginia Tech lost its opening-round Thursday game was 2005-06, the only other season in which Greenberg won just four ACC games and failed to finish the regular season with an above-.500 record.
To avoid that distinction again, Virginia Tech will need to navigate past the Tigers in the first game of the Thursday night session at Phillips Arena. And they’ll have to do so without forward Victor Davila once again, who told reporters after Virginia Tech’s open practice in Atlanta that he won’t play in the tournament at all.
Both of the Hokies’ regular season matchups with Clemson were decided on the final possession.
In Blacksburg back on Feb. 4, Virginia Tech didn’t have a field goal the final 5:57, but held on for a two-point victory when Tigers freshman K.J. McDaniels missed two free throws and Tanner Smith watched a potential game-tying shot rim out at the buzzer. Smith hurt his back after a hard fall in Clemson’s regular season final, but should be available Thursday night.
Last week on Clemson’s senior night, the Hokies couldn’t get a bucket the final 3:41 and sophomore Cadarian Raines missed two free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining in a two-point loss to the Tigers. It comes as no surprise considering 10 of the 12 games these teams have played since Virginia Tech joined the ACC have been decided by five points or less.
What will decide this latest meeting? Here’s three things to watch in Atlanta from abroad here in Washington:
That’s how Coach Seth Greenberg described both teams this week, and the statistics bear that out. Virginia Tech was eighth in the ACC in scoring and Clemson was ninth, so expect a score similar to the 58-56 result last week at Littlejohn Coliseum. The Hokies held the Tigers to 0-for-10 shooting from three-point range at Clemson, but Virginia Tech hasn’t had a fast-break point the past two games. Both are inefficient in the half-court, so easy baskets will be pivotal.
Jarell Eddie vs. Andre Young
These two won’t guard each other, but they’re the key players for each team. Eddie got open looks and scored 15 points in both regular season meetings. He was manhandled on the glass at Cassell Coliseum, but won his matchup with Clemson’s Milton Jennings last week. The Hokies have limited Young to 8-of-23 shooting in two games this year, including 2 of 12 from three-point range. The honorable mention all-ACC guard is particularly dangerous from outside when Clemson gets out in transition, and Virginia Tech would be wise to focus its defense towards him again.
At Clemson last week, Virginia Tech committed 14 turnovers and almost all of them resulted in easy lay-ins for the Tigers. Clemson got 21 points off of Hokies turnovers, and by Greenberg’s count, 13 were “indefensible.” Virginia Tech must be stronger with the ball while initiating offense and taking it to the hole or its season could come to an end Thursday.