Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies proudly submit this year's NCAA resume

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- He's seen his jilted coach on TV, lobbying for an expanded field.

He's heard his disappointed coach give the "Certifiably Insane" speech to a full room of reporters -- and have it mean nothing.

He's heard analysts such as Bob Knight and Digger Phelps stick up for Virginia Tech, say the Hokies should have been included in the NCAA tournament when they weren't -- and realized that even famous basketball people have only so much basketball pull.

Yes, Tech senior guard Malcolm Delaney has seen plenty over the past four years. Enough to know that he ought to beware the Ides of March.

"I don't think we're in," he said, sitting by his locker Saturday after Tech's 77-63 loss to Duke in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

He doesn't really mean it. Forced pessimism is what that is. A wise psychological trick to avoid the big letdown, like when you ask the pretty girl to dance in middle school.

"I just don't want to get my hopes up," he said. "I'm going to be honest with you. I'm not going to sit here and say, 'Oh, yeah, we're in.' That's the thing I did last year."

Lesson learned.

But the difference this year is that they should be in. And if they're not, there won't be any columns from me Monday morning advising coach Seth Greenberg to stop complaining, schedule better and win more, like I've written in the past.

Uh-uh. This team did what it could with the resources it had. It gave a strong closing argument here in Greensboro over the past three days, blowing out Georgia Tech on Thursday, rallying to beat Florida State on Friday, then hanging around with Duke on Saturday before the scalpers-dream title game was set.

There was a sense of accomplishment in that locker room Saturday, and there should have been.

"I can't name another team that could do what we did with six or seven people -- most of the time six," Delaney said. "We got the best out of our abilities this year, and I'm proud of the guys that were able to step up and help us do what we did."

Guys like sophomore Manny Atkins, who hit the huge 3 on Friday night to finish Tech's comeback from a miserable first half. Or sophomore Erick Green, who stepped in for the injured Dorenzo Hudson in December and quickly emerged as a scoring threat and strong leader.

Will it be enough to punch their ticket? I don't know. You don't know. Joe Lunardi doesn't know. The selection committee doesn't give extra points for having a roster thinned by injury, transfer and suspension. There's not some 6-on-6 sock hop out there to comfort the leg-weary. They just look at what you've done, the teams you've beaten, and go from there.

But when the Hokies turned in their resume this time -- blemishes and all -- they could do so content in the effort expended to craft it.

"Every time people thought they didn't have anything left," Greenberg said, "they kind of dug down a little bit inside themselves and found a way to get something done. That's them. Right to the bitter end."

The end has come. Now they wait until 6 tonight to see if their preseason goal is met. But whatever happens, we should view this season through the right prism -- NCAA bid or not.

"What we accomplished -- 21 wins, nine in the league, beating the No. 1 team in the country, beating Florida State twice -- it's good," Delaney said. "It just speaks for itself."


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