Seth Greenberg jokes that it must be the clam chowder, because he can’t really explain why Virginia Tech has had so much trouble winning basketball games at Boston College over the years. The Hokies are 1-9 all-time at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and four of the last six times Virginia Tech has played at Boston College, the game has been decided by three points or less or gone to overtime.
“But I don’t think it’s a curse,” Greenberg said Thursday before the team headed to Boston.
In this latest meeting, though, the Hokies have no room for error. They are 0-2 in conference play for the first time since the 2005-06 season, and with No. 3 North Carolina and No. 16 Virginia on the schedule next, Virginia Tech can’t afford another loss if it hopes to maintain its emeritus spot in the annual NCAA tournament bubble discussion.
As always, Greenberg is shying away from putting too much pressure on one game, but he understands something needs to change for his young team. Less than a week after entering conference play with a promising 11-3 record, the Hokies are suddenly in danger of becoming irrelevant.
“The last time I checked we’re guaranteed 16 [league] games and I think we’ll have an opportunity to win a lot of games,” Greenberg said. “But we’ve got to continue to get better. Certain times we’ve been better than I thought we were gonna be, and sometimes we haven’t been as good as I thought we were gonna be.”
The Hokies’ improvement should start with an increase in tempo. Virginia Tech hasn’t lost this year when it scores more than 65 points.
In recent defeats to Wake Forest and Florida State, however, the Hokies have allowed the opponent to dictate the pace of the game. One of the major reasons why Virginia Tech is shooting just 35 percent through two games of ACC play is because it has scored just six fast-break points total.
Changing this will fall on the shoulders of point guard Erick Green, who is already averaging a team-high 16.1 points and 3.2 assists per contest. It’s a lot for the Paul VI Catholic grad to handle, but he’s the only Hokies player who has had any sort of offensive consistency this year.
“He needs to be a play starter, he needs to be a playmaker and he needs to be a scorer, and that’s a lot to ask of one guy,” Greenberg said. “But that’s what we have to ask of him because that’s the make-up of our team right now, quite honestly. Are we asking him to do a lot? Yeah, but that’s also an honor.
“I’d like to see him guard a little more consistently but we’re asking him to do a lot. There’s only so much left in the tank. There are some games where he’s been making plays for other people, and he’s obviously shot the ball very well. We’re trying to get more consistent in his push in transition. I’m really, really pleased with the progress he’s made.”
The hope is that a faster pace will get more players involved in the scoring on Saturday. In four of Virginia Tech’s five losses this year, two or fewer Hokies finished in double figures. In fact, Virginia Tech hasn’t ended a game with three players scoring in double figures since a Dec. 17 win over Campbell.
But facing Boston College, the Hokies find themselves in something of a no-win situation. The Eagles are currently No. 231 in the RPI, so a victory Saturday won’t bolster Virginia Tech’s NCAA tournament resume. A loss could render the rest of the season meaningless.
The worst part is that after Boston College (6-10, 1-1) spent the beginning of the season losing to every New England college imaginable – Boston University, Providence, Harvard and Rhode Island to be exact – the Eagles have improved in recent weeks.
They gave North Carolina a tougher-than-expected game last weekend in Chapel Hill, N.C., and followed that up with a two-point home win over Clemson Thursday night. The Tigers, you’ll remember, beat Florida State by 20 last weekend before the Seminoles came into Cassell Coliseum and handed the Hokies a demoralizing loss.
“For us to come out and compete and get a win, you know the rest of the league is saying, ‘You know what? They’re playing.’ There is some respect,” Boston College Coach Steve Donahue told the Boston Herald after Thursday’s victory. “Not that it means a whole lot but you want that. You want people to understand you have a good basketball team with good players that play hard.”
The Eagles are in serious rebuilding mode as five of their top six scorers are freshmen, and they have nine total on the roster. Freshman guard Patrick Heckmann of Germany is Boston College’s leading scorer at 10.4 points per game, but freshman big man Dennis Clifford (9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds) has come on strong of late, scoring in double figures in five of his past six games. Freshman guard Lonnie Jackson, meanwhile, is making close to 45 percent of his three-pointers this year.
One of Greenberg’s major concerns has to do with the environment at Conte Forum. The place looked empty on television for the Clemson game and the crowd might be worse Saturday with Boston College’s hockey team facing Northeastern at Fenway Park at the same time.
But with Virginia Tech’s season teetering on the edge of disaster – it has dropped more than 20 spots to No. 59 in the RPI over the past week — Greenberg isn’t so much worrying specifically about the atmosphere or the Hokies’ second two-game losing streak of the year. As he put it, “I’m worried about everything.”
“We’re minus-one the way I look at it, unfortunately,” Greenberg said. “I’m disappointed because we lost a home game and we lost what we thought was a winnable road game, but we’re not alone. It’s league play, and I don’t want to use this as an excuse, but this is a new experience for the majority of the guys that are contributing for our team. Is it adversity? You’re gonna have adversity in league play.”