Virginia Tech basketball fights injuries, frustration during three-game slide

By Mark Giannotto
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 11, 2010; 7:00 PM

BLACKSBURG, VA. - Senior forward Terrell Bell sat in the middle of the Virginia Tech basketball team's dressing room, his head down following the Hokies' third straight loss, to Virginia last Sunday. Once approached by reporters, Bell was asked a simple question: What happened?

What happened to the team picked to finish second in the ACC? What happened to the squad that won a school-record 25 games in 2009-10? What happened to a senior class that entered this year with a chance to become the winningest group in Virginia Tech history?

"I have no explanation for it. I have no clue," Bell said. "We've just got to move forward from here. We've got to work on the little things that will make us a great team, so we've got a lot of work to do."

The three-game slide could come to an end Sunday afternoon when Virginia Tech takes on Penn State at Cassell Coliseum. But the Hokies must also deal with a new reality because their record stands at just 4-4.

Though it is still early in the season and three of those defeats came to teams currently ranked in the top 25, Virginia Tech has lost much of its room for error in terms of making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007. Only one ranked team - No. 1 Duke - remains on the Hokies' schedule. Even more disturbing is the fact that since starting last season 21-4, Virginia Tech is just 8-9 in its past 17 games.

Coach Seth Greenberg said he spent this past week going "back to basics" with his team. He's had to navigate through some shorter than usual practices because of exams, but he's also tried to encourage his team to realize that four losses do not make a season.

"It's not an ideal situation, but it's not like they're all that far away," Greenberg said this week. The Hokies have lost their past two games by a combined six points. "You play good teams, there's a chance you're gonna lose games. It hardens them for the long term. I'm hoping we can get our guys to understand that."

But it's injuries and depth concerns that Greenberg and company often point to when discussing this early season swoon. Forward Allan Chaney, a transfer from Florida, was supposed to contribute on the interior this year but is out indefinitely with a heart ailment. Senior J.T. Thompson, the team's sixth man a year ago, will sit out the entire year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and the Hokies have yet to find an adequate replacement.

Forward Cadarian Raines, meanwhile, has missed five of the Hokies' eight games this year recovering from offseason foot surgery. Greenberg said this week that Raines tweaked his injured foot yet again and his status for Sunday is up in the air.

It's no wonder, then, that in consecutive games Purdue's JaJuan Johnson (29 points, five rebounds) and Virginia's Mike Scott (21 points, 13 rebounds) feasted on Virginia Tech's depleted front court.

To make matters worse, guard Dorenzo Hudson admitted last week that he's been slow to recover from an offseason stress fracture in his right foot. Hudson averaged more than 15 points per game during a breakout season a year ago, but has just 10 points in his past three games. The turmoil only got worse this week when guard Ben Boggs announced he will transfer at the end of the semester due to a lack of playing time.

"I expected this group to be a little more consistent, but this isn't the team in the summer that we planned on coaching," Greenberg said. "We've got to figure out now if there's no Cadarian, no J.T., my challenge is to figure out how to put [freshman] Jarell Eddie and whoever else that comes off the bench in position to contribute."

The Hokies could certainly use their help scoring, especially since the bench has been outscored 178-79 in eight games this season. As a whole, Virginia Tech is averaging just 56 points per game in its last four contests and hasn't scored more than 30 points in a half during that time. Only guard Malcolm Delaney and forward Jeff Allen are averaging double figures in points.

Greenberg said he's hoping for more production out of Hudson and Bell in particular, and insists the Hokies' identity must come from the defensive end. Whatever the solution may be, Virginia Tech must find some answers fast or risk watching another March Madness from home.

"I'm not worried," Delaney said last Sunday. "I know what we're capable of. If it were a big problem, I'd be worried. But it's not a big problem."

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