He cringed, and oftentimes buried his head in his hands, when Virginia Tech committed every one of its season-high 17 turnovers. He yelled at freshman Dorian Finney-Smith coming off the floor for halftime, imploring him to play better in the second half. He got mad at freshman Marquis Rankin late in the game, and after the point guard rolled his eyes in response, his play improved down the stretch.
Even when the final buzzer sounded, Greenberg sought out a Boston College security official, and screamed about a particularly vulgar fan seated behind the Hokies bench. His postgame news conference alternated between second-guessing some of his own decisions and criticizing his team’s offensive woes (“I mean, God darn, we don’t run hard.”)
What Greenberg tried to avoid, however, is the slippery slope his team now finds itself on. After an 0-3 start to ACC play, there’s a distinct possibility these Hokies could be on an eight-game losing streak (with an 0-7 conference record) when they face Clemson on Feb. 4.
Virginia Tech’s next five games are against No. 8 North Carolina, No. 15 Virginia on the road, BYU (No. 41 in the RPI), Maryland on the road and No. 4 Duke. And after losing to Wake Forest and Boston College, the two teams picked to finish at the bottom of the ACC this year, the Hokies will not be favored in any of those games.
The last time Virginia Tech started off this poorly in ACC play – losing the first six games of 2005-06 – it ended the year with a 4-12 conference record.
“We can’t dwell on the losses. They’re losses. We can’t do anything about it now. We just have to be ready to play the next game,” senior Dorenzo Hudson said Saturday. “I feel like we have a very, very good team. We just need to put it all together.”
But the person under the most scrutiny is Greenberg. He has made Virginia Tech basketball relevant again, but his success has created increased expectations.
On Saturday, he compared the Hokies’ early-season conference struggles to that of Louisville and Pittsburgh. But after missing the NCAA tournament so narrowly in recent years, Greenberg is dealing with a restless fan base, and it’s noticeable in my inbox, on message boards and, most importantly, at the box office.
The Hokies had 10 sellouts at Cassell Coliseum a year ago, but haven’t had one yet this season. Meanwhile, the announced attendance at games has far exceeded the actual attendance. As of Monday, there are still tickets available for Thursday’s game against the Tar Heels.
There are no indications from the administration that Greenberg’s job is in danger, and in this beat writer’s opinion, it shouldn’t be. He just brought in the highest rated recruiting class Virginia Tech basketball has ever gotten, and has earned a chance to coach them up over the next few years.
Many fans who have sent me responses in the past couple days have pointed to the fact that Greenberg has only made the NCAA tournament once during his eight years in Blacksburg and his penchant for losing games against inferior teams — at least on paper. After these three losses, it will likely be once in nine years, a stat that would be unacceptable at just about every other ACC school.
However, most overlook that the Hokies made the tournament just once during the 17 years prior to Greenberg arriving on campus. Not to mention this year’s team was picked to finish sixth in the ACC and features six players getting significant minutes for the first time in their college careers. Greenberg also has a four-year contract extension that kicks in after this season.
But Greenberg has left himself open to the critics with these three losses, and the foreboding schedule that remains. A few breaks, and perhaps the Hokies wouldn’t be in this mess. After all, they’ve lost their last three games by a combined nine points, and the latest close defeat came with leading scorer Erick Green out with a knee injury.
As Greenberg put it Saturday, “A week ago we felt great about our team, so it’s not like all of a sudden we stink.”
Hudson echoed that sentiment, even now that Virginia Tech is on the cusp of watching a promising season go down in flames.
“The last couple games, all it’s been is one possession, one stop here, one stop there,” he said. “My message will stay the same: ‘Just stay positive and try to gut out a win.’”