Now that the ACC tournament field is set, we can start to map out Virginia Tech’s path to re-affirming its NCAA tournament status before Selection Sunday arrives in six days. The Hokies will begin action Thursday night with a 9 p.m. matchup against Georgia Tech. Should it win, Virginia Tech would then face No. 3 seed Florida State in a Friday night quarterfinal, followed by a potential rematch with Duke the next day in the semifinals.
But before speculation of that sort can really begin, the question needs to be asked: Do the Hokies have enough energy left in their collective tank to make such a run, especially after limping to the finish with two-straight losses to close the regular season? That was one of the main topics of discussion following Saturday’s season-ending 69-60 loss at Clemson after Tigers guard Demontez Stitt told reporters, “I think they were definitely worn down. That’s why they missed shots at the end -- they didn’t have their legs.”
Even Virginia Tech’s players admitted as much, and some mentioned how hot it was inside Littlejohn Coliseum. Take sophomore Manny Atkins, for instance, who emerged from the Hokies locker room and almost immediately said, “Everybody just got dead; no legs,” when discussing the Clemson defeat.
The strain from a season in which every game was viewed through the prism of how it would help Virginia Tech secure its first NCAA tournament berth since 2007, combined with having just eight scholarship players available since mid-December, may be catching up with the Hokies.
“I don’t think it’s cumulative,” Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said Saturday when asked whether his team might be worn down. “I think we’ll be alright. These guys are used to playing a lot of minutes.”
Let’s examine that last assertion by Greenberg a little closer. Sure, since conference play began in full, most of these Hokies are used to shouldering a large quantity of minutes. But Virginia Tech is one of three teams in the ACC with two players amongst the league’s top 10 in minutes played, and every single non-freshman on the roster is averaging a career high in minutes per game. Take a look for yourself:
2007-08 - 27.3 minutes per game (mpg)
2008-09 - 36.9 mpg
2009-10 - 35.7 mpg
2010-11 - 38.2 mpg
2007-08 - 28.2 mpg
2008-09 - 30.5 mpg
2009-10 - 26.3 mpg
2010-11 - 32.7 mpg
2007-08 - 7.1 mpg
2008-09 - 12.4 mpg
2009-10 - 28.3 mpg
2010-11 - 32.0 mpg
2008-09 - 11.9 mpg
2009-10 - 23.2 mpg
2010-11 - 31.9 mpg
2009-10 - 12.6 mpg
2010-11 - 29.8 mpg
2009-10 - 8.6 mpg
2010-11 - 11.2 mpg
Making matters worse Saturday was the fact that Greenberg really only used six players. Freshman guard Tyrone Garland played just three minutes before being removed from the game in the first half after a couple turnovers. Fellow freshman Jarell Eddie, meanwhile, did not play at all.
Eddie, you’ll remember, is facing possession of marijuana charges stemming from a Feb. 15 incident. The last time he didn’t play, in a loss to Virginia on Feb. 19, it was the result of a one-game suspension that Greenberg has yet to explain to reporters.
So after Eddie sat on the bench again this past weekend, some wondered if his status with the team had changed in recent days. Greenberg once again said it was a “coach’s decision” to not use Eddie, and that, “When you’re king you get choices. You get to decide who gets to play and who doesn’t.” He never, though, directly answered whether Eddie would be available to play in the ACC tournament.
Like Eddie’s eligibility, this question as to whether the Hokies have hit the wall is a complicated one. Only seven days before the Clemson loss, Virginia Tech pulled off once of the biggest upsets in program history over then-No. 1 Duke. But that was accomplished in front of a loud, sold out Cassell Coliseum crowd.
There are no such home games remaining, though. And after how sluggish Virginia Tech has looked in its past two games, legitimate questions remain as to whether these shorthanded Hokies have expelled too much energy in getting to this point.
Nobody’s questioning their effort, because it’s remarkable they’ve gotten this far with such a limited roster. But the lack of depth has left Greenberg with few options if one of his starters is struggling — like Saturday when Green shot just 2 of 13 from the field and Allen had nearly as many turnovers (eight) as points (nine). Perhaps Allen summed it up best when asked during the postgame scrum if he and his teammates were beginning to tire physically after the grind of a 28-game regular season.
“We got eight players,” he said. “So yeah.”