Virginia Tech will face Florida State at 9:30 tonight in an ACC quarterfinal after easily disposing of Georgia Tech, 59-43, in a first round matchup. The Hokies will have a chance to give themselves a little breathing room on Selection Sunday if they can manage to get a win over another RPI top 50 opponent like the Seminoles.
But maybe the more intriguing storyline revolves around one player: Florida State’s Chris Singleton.
He hasn’t played since fracturing his foot in a Feb. 12 game against Virginia, but speculation has been rampant this week that he may make his return to the lineup in time to take on the Hokies. On Wednesday, I watched Singleton participate in Florida State’s open practice at Greensboro Coliseum and then happened to be right behind him as he took two steps at a time on his way to the Seminoles locker room afterward.
So I asked him point blank: Do you think you’ll be playing on Friday?
“I don’t even know yet,” Singleton responded. Minutes later he sat in front of a horde of reporters and basically said a longer version of the same thing.
Singleton wouldn’t put a percentage on how healthy he is, and made statements like, “It’s all up to the doctors and how my foot’s doing.” Or “I’m not 100 percent, so I can’t really force my way out there.” It seems, though, that if desperately needed, Singleton could probably give it a go.
“I can jump. I can run,” Singleton said. “It’s just how well can I do those things. That’s where we’re headed to, just making sure everything’s right, everything’s still progressing.”
Florida State Coach Leonard Hamilton was equally as coy when speaking with reporters Wednesday after practice.
“I’m never gonna put any of my kids at risk,” he said. “If anything happens, we won’t be keeping it a secret.”
The important part of all this rhetoric is that neither Singleton nor Hamilton ruled the 6-foot-9 forward out of Friday night’s game. Singleton is one of the best defenders in the country and was a third team all-ACC selection this year after averaging 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg was asked Thursday night after the Hokies win over the Yellow Jackets just how he would go about preparing for the Seminoles given that he has very little insight into what Singleton’s status may be. With Singleton out of the lineup the past five games, Florida State has gone 3-2, with wins over Wake Forest, Miami and North Carolina State.
“Chris Singleton is special. He’s as active a player as there is in the country, but ... it’s not like they don’t have enough guys that can play,” Greenberg said. “He’s another guy that can play. It’s not like we’re gonna reinvent our preparation. There’s only so much we’re all gonna be able to process in 24 hours. I gotta get these guys rested; I gotta get them a good night’s sleep. We’ll evaluate in a simplistic terms what we have to try to do to be successful.”
Singleton’s presence may not make all that much difference. You’ll remember back on Jan. 8 the Hokies beat the Seminoles, 71-59, a game in which Singleton scored 22 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. But he was overshadowed by Virginia Tech senior Jeff Allen, who exploded for 24 and 11 rebounds. After nursing an ankle injury for much of this week, Allen recorded his 16th double-double of the season in the win over Georgia Tech Thursday and did not seem limited at all.
That game against the Seminoles back in January was also noteworthy since it represents the first game Greenberg broke out the 2-3 zone that has been so successful for much of the conference season. Using mostly zone against the Yellow Jackets, Virginia Tech allowed just 43 points, the fewest the Hokies have given up against an ACC opponent since joining the league in 2004.
The Seminoles, meanwhile, shot just 35.5 percent from the floor against that 2-3 zone, including 7 of 24 from three-point range. A key player to watch tonight other than Singleton may be junior Deividas Dulkys, a 6-foot-6 guard from Lithuania. He shot an abysmal 3 of 14 against the Hokies in January despite plenty of open looks. But he’s a streaky shooter, and averaged 15 points during the three games after Singleton went down with his foot injury.
He isn’t the only picking up the slack, though. Since Singleton went down five games ago, six different Seminoles have scored in double figures at some point.