VIRGINIA TECH

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Virginia Tech Gears for Pivotal Game With N.C. State

Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney, guarding Boston College's Tyrese Rice last week, says a victory over N.C. State "puts us in position to win some games and then basically get to the NCAA tournament."
Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney, guarding Boston College's Tyrese Rice last week, says a victory over N.C. State "puts us in position to win some games and then basically get to the NCAA tournament." (By Michael Dwyer -- Associated Press)

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By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 2009

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- After Sunday's game against North Carolina State, the Virginia Tech men's basketball team will have reached the midpoint of the ACC season with a conference record of either 5-3 or 4-4. To the Hokies, the difference is enormously significant.

"I think 5-3 keeps us at the top," guard Malcolm Delaney said. "I wouldn't be happy if we left this game at 4-4. We should have a better record. But 5-3? I think you have to look at that as a good start to the first half of the season and puts us in position to win some games and then basically get to the NCAA tournament."

From the beginning of the season, the Hokies have vacillated between exhilarating highs and devastating lows. Six of Virginia Tech's seven losses were by a combined 13 points, and three were decided by buzzer-beaters. Yet the Hokies narrowly got past Virginia, used overtime to beat Miami and didn't secure their season-opening win over Gardner-Webb until the game's final seconds.

All of that has left the Hokies with little margin for error during the conference season to bolster their NCAA tournament résumé, which makes a home game against a bottom-tier team essential.

"If somebody told me we'd be 5-3 in the first half of the league, I'd take it," Coach Seth Greenberg said. "That's pretty good in this league if you're 5-3 in the first time through. We've got a chance to be plus one at the first go-through in the league, and that's why this game is so important."

A win could also eradicate a collection of bitter feelings. Virginia Tech's last two games ended with heartbreaking losses. The Hokies surrendered a 15-point second-half lead against Clemson and lost to Boston College after failing to box out on defense and allowing a tip-in the game's final second.

"When you play in the ACC, when you play in an elite conference, you're going to have some hiccups, and the only way you deal with it is to stay in the present and not let the hiccup snowball," Greenberg said. "And it can easily snowball in this conference. So let's get past it, let's stay in the present, let's move forward."

A week without a game gave the Hokies time to focus on their weaknesses. When asked what Virginia Tech must improve, Delaney answered before the question's final word.

"Rebounding," he snapped, not even taking a beat to consider. "That killed us a lot this year. I think if we did that, we'd have a better record right now."

Virginia Tech averaged 34 rebounds in the first seven ACC games. Opponents averaged 35.3 -- another in the trend of thin margins, but already a costly one.

"Let's face it: We're a block-out away from getting a great road win against Boston College," Greenberg said.

Greenberg identified block-outs and close-outs as the two areas of most concern. He also wanted to rectify ball-screen defense during the first few days of the week.

"We've had the whole week to work on it, and we've been going hard," forward J.T. Thompson said. "By Sunday, if they try a ball screen because they watched film, it's not going to work."

Virginia Tech won two road games two weeks ago, including one against then-No. 1 Wake Forest. Last week brought the two devastating losses. Together, they proved that as the Hokies return to the court, their oscillating fortunes could rise as quickly as they fell.

"When you're playing at the very highest level, there's a very, very fine line between winning and losing," Greenberg said. "We were one or two plays away from having another good week, but it ended up it wasn't so good. As I told our players, when we were up 15 against Clemson, I'm sure in the back of their minds they're going, 'Damn, we're pretty good!' And we are pretty good. We just have to continue to get better."


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