Virginia Tech's seniors feeling a sense of urgency entering ACC tournament

Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg conducts drills as a day before his team's first-round matchup with Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg conducts drills as a day before his team's first-round matchup with Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 1:06 AM

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg has distributed handwritten notes to his players throughout his coaching career, but the ones he delivered this week had a more personal tone.

His Hokies begin postseason play Thursday night against Georgia Tech, once again fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. Only this time, a first-round ACC tournament upset could mean that seniors Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen - two of the best basketball players ever to play for Virginia Tech - will end their college careers without an NCAA tournament berth.

"This year is a little different. The tone is [different]," Greenberg said of his notes. "I kind of communicated to them how I felt about them, [and] for our upperclassmen especially, their journey the past four years. It's not a long expose, but it's important for me that they feel appreciated."

His players, it seems, are beginning to feel the same sort of finality after enduring a week they would surely like to forget soon. With a chance to secure their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 following an upset of then-No. 1 Duke two weekends ago, the Hokies fell flat against Boston College and Clemson and suffered their first two-game losing streak of the conference season to close the regular season.

As a result, talk of Virginia Tech's precarious position on the NCAA tournament bubble has increased in recent days, much like it has in past years around this time.

Following an open practice Wednesday afternoon at Greensboro Coliseum, the Hokies (19-10) tried their best to convince reporters - and perhaps themselves - that one bad week was simply an anomaly. But every time they tried, the desperate situation they find themselves in for a fourth consecutive year inevitably came up.

"We just got to go out and play hard, play to win," Allen said.

Allen, more than Georgia Tech's depth or how to contain Yellow Jackets guard Iman Shumpert, may be Virginia Tech's biggest concern entering Thursday. The Washington native did not participate in running or contact drills during Wednesday's practice after injuring his right ankle during the first half of Saturday's loss at Clemson.

Allen, who earned second team all-ACC honors this week, expects to play and said the ankle "should be okay" by Thursday. But Greenberg conceded, "It's an injury that will be an inconvenience."

The Hokies are down to seven scholarship players after Greenberg announced in a school-issued statement late Wednesday night that freshman Jarell Eddie will not dress or play for the Hokies for the remainder of this season. The suspension is in response to a Feb. 15 incident in which Eddie was charged with possession of marijuana.

As for the pressures of the bubble, the Hokies say they're used to it by now. But last year, faced with a similar situation in the first round of the ACC tournament, Virginia Tech lost to Miami and was forced to play in the National Invitation Tournament despite a 25-win season. Sophomore Erick Green suggested that experience would pay dividends Thursday because the Hokies "know what's at stake." Delaney believes Virginia Tech has a firmer grasp of a tournament berth than most.

"Right now, we're in the tournament," said Delaney, who is 21st on the ACC's all-time scoring list. "We can't do anything but play our way out of the tournament. We just gotta win games."

If the players appear calm, it could be because of the fact that Greenberg has picked up the slack when it comes to be being worried. Over the past week, he's professed to watching basketball through the night, saying "sleeping is overrated this time of year."

But Greenberg has tried to keep those nerves out of sight when around his team. So as the Hokies huddled at the conclusion of Wednesday's practice, he decided to attempt a couple trick shots.

All he could manage, though, were two half-court jump hooks that didn't come close to the rim, a display that drew laughs from his players. A fan in the crowd then suggested he "take a third one, for a win" on Thursday

"Last year I made it, and we lost," Greenberg replied with a smile on his face.

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