Virginia Tech basketball has one mountain left to climb: Winning in NCAAs

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By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 1:14 AM

BLACKSBURG, VA. -

It could just be Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg's natural reaction to being on the wrong side of the March Madness bubble the past two years. Or maybe it's simply a way to deflect attention off a Hokies team that returns the ACC's leading scorer and its entire starting lineup from 2009.

But Wednesday during Virginia Tech's annual media day, Greenberg insisted that an NCAA Tournament berth would not define the success or failure of Virginia Tech during the 2010-11 season.

"We can't control other people's perceptions," he said, emphasizing that the goal every year is to make the NCAA Tournament. "We can only do our job."

That, though, doesn't coincide with how his six-member senior class is thinking.

They've now won 65 games at Virginia Tech and could finish this season as the winningest class in school history. Coming off a record-setting 25-win season last year, the Hokies are ranked No. 23 in the USA Today coaches poll, and last week were rated behind only Duke in the ACC's preseason poll. Greenberg's rhetoric aside, it seems almost everyone, players included, believes there's only one logical step forward for this group.

"We're tired of playing in the NIT," said forward Jeff Allen. "NCAA Tournament, it's the big stage. We're seniors, that's the stage we need to be on."

On paper, there is no better time than now. With a starting lineup that will feature four seniors and a junior, the Hokies have close to 89 percent of their scoring back.

They'll once again be led by point guard Malcolm Delaney, who is back for his senior season after averaging an ACC-best 20.2 points per game. Delaney originally declared for the NBA draft last spring, but later pulled his name out, which is allowed because he did not hire an agent. Along with fellow senior Dorenzo Hudson (15.2 ppg in 2009), the duo will likely form one of the top back courts in the country.

Part of Greenberg's reticence has to do with a disastrous preseason in terms of his front-court depth. In September, forward J.T. Thompson, the team's sixth man in 2009, was lost for the year when he tore his ACL in a pickup game.

On Wednesday, Greenberg also ruled out the possibility of having 6-9 Florida transfer Allan Chaney at any point this season. Chaney, a player Greenberg has called a "first-round [NBA] draft pick," in the past, was diagnosed with viral inflammation of the heart this fall after collapsing during a workout in the spring.

Sophomore Cadarian Raines, a 6-9 forward, just had a walking boot removed this week from a left foot he's broken twice since arriving on campus. He won't be cleared for practice until next week at the earliest. It leaves the Hokies with just one player, junior Victor Davila, that is taller than 6-7.

"For us to really be special, we need Cadarian to be healthy," said Greenberg.

Personnel, though, has had little to do with Virginia Tech's recent disappointments on Selection Sunday. If there was one stumbling block that stood in Virginia Tech's path to the NCAA Tournament in the past, it was a weak non-conference schedule.

That shouldn't be the case this year. In addition to scheduled games against No. 3 Kansas State, No. 8 Purdue, Penn State and Mississippi State, the Hokies could potentially face Oklahoma State, Stanford and UNLV in the 76 Classic over Thanksgiving. Try as he might, Greenberg can't ignore this urgency. Even Wednesday, as he detailed the many accomplishments his senior class has achieved, his thoughts quickly turned to what could have been had he played zone defense on the final few possessions of Virginia Tech's 70-65 loss to Miami in the first round of last year's ACC Tournament.

"That's what we come to college for, to play in the NCAA Tournament," said Hudson. "I feel like right now with the guys who came in here together, we need to try to get there."

Whether the coach wants to admit it publicly or not, his players know success in college basketball is measured by who makes the NCAA Tournament.

"In my mind, last year was a failure," said Delaney. "We broke the record for wins, but we didn't do what our goal was. And when I don't reach a goal, that's failure for me."


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