There are plenty of reasons why the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team is in the midst of a three-game losing streak, from an offense that can’t score enough points to a front court that doesn’t rebound the ball consistently enough to a group of underclassmen who have yet to figure out how to finish off a close game.
But over the past week, Hokies Coach Seth Greenberg has pointed to one development that perhaps could have gone a long way toward solving some of Virginia Tech’s issues thus far this season.
“We’ve always had when we’ve had these young teams – we’ve always had one really high-energy player, whether it was Deron Washington or Bryant Matthews or a Carlos Dixon. We don’t have that high-energy guy to set the tone right now,” Greenberg said Monday to open up the ACC teleconference before later revisiting the topic. “I thought JT Thompson was gonna be my high-energy guy. We always called him our energizer bunny, and that’s kind of the role he played.”
If you remember, Thompson was lost for a second consecutive year when he re-tore his ACL during a preseason workout in November.
And now that the Hokies are sitting in last place in the ACC with a daunting schedule over the next five games — including Thursday’s matchup with No. 8 North Carolina at Cassell Coliseum — Greenberg is making public just how much of an impact Thompson’s experience could have had on this team.
Though he averaged just 7.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game off the bench during the 2009-10 season, Thompson saw extensive crunch-time minutes as Greenberg relied on him to come up with loose balls and tough rebounds. This year, Virginia Tech is just 2-5 in games decided by single digits. In five of their six losses, the Hokies have watched a second-half lead go to waste.
“Bryant Matthews was a hard, hard playing guy, so he was kind of a real-life lesson for those guys,” Greenberg said Tuesday. “I think that when Malcolm [Delaney] and Jeff [Allen] and Terrell [Bell] got here, Deron Washington was a hard, hard playing guy. It was visible. I think we have guys, Erick is really working on his leadership, but you don’t have that energizer bunny.
“Well we did, we thought that, obviously, JT Thompson would be that guy for us this year. He’s not here, so I think that’s something we’re missing a little bit. If you want to call it a role model, that might be it. . . . I think that’s missing a little bit, but again, we’re just trying to push forward and get them to do those things.”
Those are strong words, especially for the team’s two veterans that weren’t mentioned – seniors Dorenzo Hudson and Victor Davila. But the bottom line is these Hokies aren’t playing the frenetic style Greenberg’s most successful teams in Blacksburg have employed.
Part of that is not having Thompson in the lineup, but it’s also a result of the slow pace the Hokies have employed much of the season. Virginia Tech is currently averaging fewer possessions per game (65.9) than they ever have before under Greenberg. The Hokies are 209th in the country in that category after finishing within the top 100 the past three seasons, according to Statsheet.com.
But if there is one good thing about this three-game losing skid to start ACC play, it’s that perhaps the toughness Greenberg seeks will develop from this adversity. Virginia Tech’s young players now seem to be grasping just how small a margin there is between success and failure against quality competition in college basketball.
The Hokies’ three losses have come by a combined nine points, and sophomore Jarell Eddie said Tuesday the difference between winning and losing has been “in the end, having to get that stop, that rebound just to finish out the possession.”
“We are good enough to beat Boston College and Wake Forest. We just didn’t finish those games, we didn’t close those games the way we should have,” Eddie added. “We’re good enough to beat anyone. We’re still confident and still believe we can contend with anyone we play against.”