Virginia Tech vs. Virginia: Hokies hope to play the spoiler
By Mark Giannotto,
After enduring more than his fair share of Selection Sunday snubs in recent years, Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg doesn’t like predicting how the NCAA tournament selection committee views certain wins and losses over the course of a season.
But Greenberg hasn’t had to confront such uncertainty as much this year, not with his Hokies sitting in ninth place in the ACC because of a 4-8 record in 2012. That, though, made it all the more intriguing when Greenberg discussed Virginia Tech’s game with No. 25 Virginia Tuesday night.
It was just last year, after all, that the Cavaliers finished 16-15 but managed to win both their meetings against the Hokies, who saw their bubble burst once again come March. This season, however, Virginia Tech scored a narrow 47-45 victory at Virginia back on Jan. 22 and could land a defining blow in the return game as the Cavaliers position themselves for their first NCAA tournament berth since 2007.
“We were a good basketball team last year and we lost to Virginia twice. If we’re fortunate enough to beat Virginia twice, does that mean they shouldn’t play in the NCAA tournament?” Greenberg said Monday. “I’m not sure that’s right, either.”
But with less than two weeks remaining in the college basketball regular season, postseason ramifications will be the primary backdrop when these two rivals meet for the 135th time at Cassell Coliseum. Most NCAA tournament projections have Virginia safely in the NCAA tournament with an at-large berth as of Monday, but with matchups against No. 15 Florida State and No. 7 North Carolina on the horizon, this road game looms large considering the Cavaliers’ nonconference schedule is ranked 229th in the country, according to collegeRPI.com.
Just last week Virginia was upset at Clemson, and though the Cavaliers put on a dominating second-half performance in a bounce-back win over Maryland this past weekend, Coach Tony Bennett was quick to point out that “every game is significant at this stage.”
“You’re always trying to play hard, but you’re certainly trying to amp it up in these games,” Bennett said.
Since the 2007-08 season, eight of the nine games between these two in-state foes have gone to overtime or been decided by seven points or less. The cumulative score during that time is tied at 573.
When Virginia Tech won in Charlottesville last month, the game followed a similar script. The Hokies’ defense was strong, holding Virginia star Mike Scott to 10 points and six rebounds as the Cavaliers shot just 32.6 percent from the field in their first game without injured center Assane Sene.
Sene is still out with a fractured ankle, and Bennett reiterated Monday that there is no date set for when he will return to the lineup. Virginia guard Joe Harris is playing through a broken left hand. The Hokies, meanwhile, will likely be without senior Victor Davila (groin), the primary defender on Scott in the first meeting, for a third straight contest.
When asked Monday if the Hokies had turned a corner after three consecutive home wins, leading scorer Erick Green could only respond, “Honestly I really don’t know right now. . . . Just winning games helps the chemistry. The great thing is we’re starting to pull these things out.”
But the recent upswing has provided more than a glimmer of hope for Greenberg. While his team may be in position to play the spoiler role against Virginia, he insinuated there is more than one team playing for the postseason Tuesday.
“We’re still trying to play our way into the NCAA tournament. We’re trying to win so we can improve our resume,” he said. “Who knows what’s gonna happen in the next three weeks? What if we win a bunch of games and get to the finals of the ACC tournament?”
Virginia at Va. Tech When: Today, 9 p.m. TV: ESPNU