Hokies hope to use home court to their advantage against Terrapins

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 27, 2010

Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg regularly writes letters to the editor of the Collegiate Times, the school's student newspaper, attempting to generate more support for his squad. But coming off a 20-point loss at Boston College on Wednesday, Greenberg conveyed a greater sense of urgency than usual in his latest missive.

Greenberg described how the lackluster atmosphere his team faced Wednesday contributed to the lack of energy the Hokies displayed against Boston College.

"Having said that, Saturday's game against the University of Maryland becomes as important a game for our basketball team that we have played this season," Greenberg wrote in a letter that was published on the newspaper's Web site Thursday night. "It's the next game, it's a home game, it's a game against a top 25-caliber opponent and it is a game that could put us in a position to earn a bye in the upcoming ACC tournament."

Indeed, there is far more riding on the outcome of Saturday's matchup between Maryland (20-7, 10-3) and Virginia Tech (21-6, 8-5) for the home team than for the visitors, a notion that will make winning at Cassell Coliseum for the first time an even more daunting challenge for the Terrapins.

Virginia Tech must overcome a nonconference strength of schedule that ranks No. 336 in the nation and a reputation as a team that only plays well at home. The Hokies are 2-5 on the road in conference play.

But they are 6-0 in the ACC at Cassell Coliseum and could receive a considerable boost to their NCAA tournament résumé with a victory over Maryland, which is ranked No. 28 in the RPI.

"They going to be fired up, especially coming off a loss," Maryland junior guard Cliff Tucker said. "But we going to be fired up, too. We just concerned about us. We just got to go out there and play our game."

Maryland will enter Saturday's contest having won six of its last seven games. With 10 conference wins already claimed, the Terrapins have all but locked up an NCAA tournament bid.

But one of the integral characteristics of this season's Maryland squad has been its insular focus, and on Friday, the players re-emphasized that the exterior implications of Saturday's game -- or any game, for that matter -- are irrelevant.

The Terrapins know that Virginia Tech plays stingy defense, evident in its plus-3.6 turnover margin. They know that Hokies guard Malcolm Delaney leads the ACC in scoring (21.8 points per game).

And they know that they have never won at Cassell Coliseum, the 10,000-seat venue completed in 1964 that Virginia Tech calls home.

"Cassell is probably one of the loudest gyms in the ACC," junior forward Dino Gregory said. "It's an old gym. It's real small, but a lot of students get in there. It's real packed every game. . . . Those fans get really crazy, so it's a special place to play basketball at. It's going to be really loud."

Maryland is 3-3 in road conference games this season, a point of pride for Maryland Coach Gary Williams during what he called "a home-court year in the ACC." The Terrapins understand the value of home-court advantage as well as any other team in the conference; Maryland is 7-0 at Comcast Center in ACC play.

That also means, however, that Maryland comprehends the difficulty of playing in an environment in which the home team has proven tough to beat.

"We've won before on the road, and you know, we know what you have to do to win because we've done it," Williams said. "You have to play very well. Most home courts go anywhere from seven to 15 points probably, in terms of an edge for a team. Hopefully we have a good home court here. Virginia Tech has a good home court. And we'll have to see how well we can play."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company