Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Even at 0-2, it could be worse for the Hokies

BLACKSBURG -- The final horn sounded, and Seth Greenberg stood there with his hands on his hips and his eyes on the floor.

He waited there for a few seconds - no more plays to call, no more orders to shout - before making his way through the handshake line to congratulate Florida State on its 63-59 victory over Virginia Tech on Tuesday at Cassell Coliseum.

The fans got up and exited quietly. The players walked to the locker room in silence. And the coming-to-grips process began for all parties involved.

Nobody expected Virginia Tech to be 0-2 in the ACC at this point. Not after entering games as favorites at Wake Forest and at home against the Seminoles. Not after showing promise at the end of their nonconference schedule, punctuating a six-game winning streak with an upset victory at Oklahoma State.

But that's where the Hokies are now, and it's a place they haven't been in a while. Six years, in fact. That 2005-06 campaign was the most trying under Greenberg - the team fell to 0-6 in the league before staggering to a 4-12 -finish, all while battling a litany of off-the-court devastation involving ailing family and team members.

There's none of that heart-wrenching stuff going on here now, thankfully, but the start has an ominous feel. The schedule over the next three weeks threatens: North Carolina, at Virginia, BYU, at Maryland, home against Duke. It all makes Saturday's winnable game at Boston College all that more vital to claim.

But this one was vital, too, and everyone knew it.

"We deserved to hurt this game," guard Jarell Eddie said. "We played our tails off, and we worked hard; we just didn't come out with the win. But if we continue to play that hard, with that intensity and that attention to detail, we'll get wins in this league."

That was the message after this one, from the coach on down, and that's the only one they can take. It's serves no purpose for Tech to dwell on the woeful shooting (19percent in the first half, 30.5percent for the game) or the staggering number of blocked shots by Florida State (15, tied for the most ever by a Tech opponent). No, the Hokies must look at who they desire to be - and then figure out a way to get there.

"I know this sounds silly because we're 0-2, but I like our team," Greenberg said. "We've been down this road before. We're going to challenge them and beat 'em up in terms of getting tougher, but I like the potential of this team."

There is talent, starting with Erick Green, who scored 21 points Tuesday and missed a late leaner in the lane that could have tied it. Freshman Dorian Finney-Smith just missed a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds.

The biggest X-factor is Dorenzo Hudson, who averaged 15 points per game two years ago but has alternated good and bad nights this season.

The challenge now is to get him to score consistently or, failing that, to get Eddie and Finney-Smith enough touches so that Green doesn't have to be a one-man show.

"I think one of those three guys has got to emerge," Greenberg said. "It was nice to go into a game knowing, tonight we're going to get this out of this guy, this guy and this guy. I think that's another part of maturity, and that's a little bit of the inconsistency of some of our upperclassmen.

"We're asking basically three of the freshmen and two sophomores who didn't basically play last year to shoulder a lot of the load."

They'll ask them again on Saturday against a struggling opponent. The Hokies are 1-9 all-time at Boston College, but they should enter as favorites against a team that's lost to Holy Cross, UMass, Boston, Rhode Island and others.

In other words, things could be worse. Tech, an angry 0-2, must ensure that they don't.

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