At first glance, Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg shouldn’t have been so upbeat when he met with reporters Thursday afternoon. His team was just two days removed from allowing an upset over a top 25 opponent slip through its grasp for a second time in three games, and things only get harder with a trip to No. 5 Duke on tap Saturday.
Perhaps more surprising, he was in a good mood after showing the Hokies film of every possession during the excruciating 13-minute sequence that saw Virginia Tech score just one field goal to close out its 61-59 loss to No. 25 Virginia.
But Greenberg is starting to see progress, and he reiterated once again these sorts of setbacks are all part of the process this young group must go through before it starts winning on a consistent basis.
“Our guys, I think, hit the wall about four weeks ago. I think they’ve gotten their second wind, quite honestly,” he said. “I think our guys are in a really good place.”
Maybe that’s why Greenberg was in such a reflective mood as Virginia Tech gets set for its final three games of the regular season.
For instance, he admitted the team hasn’t practiced special situations, like end-of-game execution, as much as it has in the past. Instead, the fundamentals have been stressed with so much untested youth on the roster.
“I have not spent as much time on late situations. We can only keep them in here so long,” Greenberg said before elaborating later when asked if it should be the other way around given the historic number of close games this team has played. “You gotta figure out what’s important. To me, the things we need to work on [are] to make sure it is close.”
Greenberg went on to say that for a time, like when the Hokies went on their 1-7 swoon to begin 2012, he got away from focusing on the basics. “That was, as I look back, probably a mistake,” he conceded.
But he seems to have found a groove recently with this group. Though the best of Virginia Tech’s three ACC wins this month came against a team ranked No. 148 in the RPI (Clemson), the Hokies have seen five of their past six games come down to the final possession.
Twice Virginia Tech has gotten game-winning heroics, but to get over that hump more often Greenberg believes it’s about getting good spacing on the floor and allowing his players a chance to make a play in crunch time.
But even he can’t ignore that in the waning moments recently, the Hokies have waited too long into the shot clock to initiate their offense and haven’t been able to penetrate inside the three-point-line once they do. When Virginia Tech blew a 15-point second-half lead at Florida State last week, the Hokies had just two field goals over the final 14 minutes of the game.
“We had some possessions that . . . surely it took us awhile to get into what we wanted to do,” Greenberg said, referring specifically to the Virginia loss. “Then when I looked at who I had on the court at that time, it was kind of evident that lineup was not as seasoned. It was basically four first-year guys.”
This, it seems, is where every question about Virginia Tech’s 2011-12 season leads. With senior forward Victor Davila’s status for the rest of the season uncertain, the Hokies are relying even more on six underclassmen that have already taken plenty of lumps this year.
One such experience came earlier this month, when the Blue Devils led from start to finish in a 75-60 win over Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum, getting 18 points from freshman Austin Rivers and 15 from senior Ryan Kelly. In the immediate aftermath of that loss, which at the time was the Hokies’ most lopsided defeat of the year, Greenberg said his team “melted.”
“I didn’t think we were competitive in the first game, not in the second half,” Greenberg said Thursday.
To the coach, though, there is more than pride and progress at stake as the season winds down. Greenberg wants to win, and not just because of his hope that Virginia Tech will pull off enough victories to secure a berth in the National Invitation Tournament.
He may be in better spirits, but it doesn’t mean all these near misses haven’t taken a toll.
“I’m not gonna lie, losing is no fun,” Greenberg said. “When you’re competitive, losing is not exactly a lot of fun. But it’s also sometimes necessary. Sometimes you gotta lose in order to win really big.”