Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tech's star fails to shine

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Here's the play-by-play for one individual that tells the story: Missed jumper. Missed jumper. Offensive rebound. Missed jumper. Foul. Air ball.

Malcolm Delaney played every minute of Virginia Tech's 70-65 loss to Miami on Friday in the ACC quarterfinals. All of the above events are attributed to him in minute No. 40. Those are his last six actions, the final flailings of one of the conference's brightest stars.

If that doesn't explain why the Hokies are at home today instead of playing Duke in the semifinals, nothing will.

This year, we've seen Delaney toast the Tar Heels for 30 points, vex Virginia for 27, fry Florida State for 28 and maul Maryland for 27. Just last week, the junior guard poured in 32 to help the Hokies get their biggest victory of the year, a road win at Georgia Tech. He's always been solid offensively, typically much more than that.

But we haven't seen him like this. Not this year, in a game of this importance. And while it doesn't qualify as a slump, it does qualify as a concern as the Hokies prepare for a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Delaney's shooting line -- 3-for-15 from the field, 0-for-8 from beyond the arc -- was his worst against an ACC opponent since last year's conference tournament. His seven points rank as his lowest output against a league foe this season. And the frustration written all over his face when this one slipped away might have established a new career standard.

Virginia Tech falls in ACC

No. 12 seed Miami 70 | No. 4 seed Virginia Tech 65

Aaron McFarling

UVa's ACC woes

No. 1 seed Duke 57 | No. 8 seed UVa 46


"I shot the ball horrible," he said. "I got a lot of open shots. They were going under ball screens. I never had a team go under ball screens on me. They played it smart because I wasn't making shots."

To be fair, the Hokies as a whole didn't make many. Tech shot 29 percent in the second half, 38 percent for the game. But the Hurricanes were willing to give Delaney's supporting cast more chances if that meant keeping him contained.

"I think he was the main focus," Miami coach Frank Haith said. "There's no question."

And he will be for whomever the Hokies meet in the first round of the NCAA tournament next week, assuming they snag an expected at-large bid. Tech's first opponent now will have a perfect tape to study heading into the game.

The Hokies have improved this year because their role players have found ways to score and contribute more often, but the NCAA tournament is about stars playing like stars. If others can harness Delaney like Miami did, the Hokies are in trouble.

Then again, it might not be as much what Miami's zone defense did as what Delaney didn't do.

"Every shot he missed today, he made against Georgia Tech, and that was just a short time ago," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "He just picked a bad day to not make shots."

The natural worry is that Delaney is beginning to wear down. Nobody in the ACC gets to the foul line more often than he does, and his 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame isn't built to absorb that much contact even if his heart and mind are.

He doesn't get many breaks, either. Only three players in the ACC -- Ishmael Smith, Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler -- average more minutes than Delaney's 35.4 per game.

"That's my fault, because he's a little bit of a security blanket," Greenberg said. "I probably just should have found a way to get a couple of chances to get a rest."

Delaney will get about a week's worth of rest now. That might be a good thing, because the Hokies will need him then more than ever.

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