Well, the 2006-2007 VT basketball season is over and this team will do for the basketball program what the 1999 Virginia Tech football team did for that program. It announced the arrival of the program on the national scene. We are all very proud of this team and it's seniors and we wish them the best as we turn to welcome the best incoming recruiting class in Virginia Tech basketball history.
But before we choke on the smoke being blown up everyone's ass about basketball let's not overlook how incapable the team and coaching staff were at the end of the season. Let's make sure we remember, so that this can serve as a lesson learned, and one not to be repeated. But why so mad, you might ask. Well, my Calm and Beloved Reader, for one thing, I'm Mad Jay and for another, let's review the final 6 games of this basketball season. I think when I'm done, you may be a little put-out yourself.
First of all, prior to the beginning of the final stretch run, Coach Greenberg announced to the media that he believed the team was in the NCAA tournament. That they were a "lock". This had been the goal from the beginning of the season and Greenberg believed the Hokie resume is strong enough to make it in. At that point, for the record, I agreed with Greenberg, but felt it was a stupid thing to say. Once said, however, it became the coaching staff's job to re-focus the team on a new set of goals. How about winning the ACC? How about making it to the Sweet Sixteen? When goals are accomplished, you can't just sit on your laurels, you have to refocus on new, achievable goals. This is a basic principle and it applies in coaching, as well as elsewhere in life (business, hobbies, etc.). And in this, the coaching staff failed MISERABLY. Beyond miserably, they failed COMPLETELY.
The first of the final 6 games was against bitter rival UVA. Going into Charlottesville, VT had a chance to take over first place in the ACC with the tiebreaker held over UVA and UNC who were two of the three teams that would then be in second place. So what did the Hokies do? They went up to UVA and got destroyed. So be it. A road game against a rival you had just beaten badly two weeks prior. I was mad, but I could understand it. Time to get ready for the ACC tournament, because UVA would never lose to Wake Forest. BUT THEN, the impossible happened and UVA lost to Wake Forest. If Tech could beat lowly and reeling Clemson on Senior Day in Blacksburg, they would secure their first ACC crown and be the #1 seed headed into the ACC tournament. How they Hokies lost this game, I will never understand, but I can assure you it came down to effort and focus. Clemson shot below 50% from the foul line and VT outshot them from the field, but Clemson somehow just wanted it more. They got more loose balls and created more turnovers and simply outhustled the Hokies even when Tech had so much on the line. This was the first sign to me that this team was in bad trouble.
In the ACC tournament, the Hokies lucked out and got to play Wake Forest which had just pulled out a late night overtime thriller less than 20 hours prior against Georgia Tech and was exhausted against the Hokies. Despite the circumstances, I thought VT might restore some confidence and focus after beating the Demon Deacons soundly, but alas, they proceeded to get bombed for the third time in the season against NC State. Now it's one thing to lose to a team 3 times in a season. But to lose to that team the same way every time is just an embarrassment to the coaches and players. Where the perimeter defense vanished off to, let's just say it begins with "Never" and ends with "land".
So the Hokies get unceremoniously dumped out of the ACC tournament, but sure enough, they get invited to the NCAA tournament and in fact, draw a prestigious #5 seed. I've already lambasted the team for the way they played against Illinois, but they followed that up with an identical performance against Southern Illinois. Now you can say what you want about defense from Illinois and Southern Illinois and I will credit those two schools' transition defense from here to eternity. But in the half-court set, the Hokies had open looks and plenty of lay-up opportunities in both games and just couldn't hit them. And explain to me again how defense affects free-throw shooting????
Let's look at the statistics over the last 6 games of the season. You know, the final 6 games of the Dowdell/Gordon/Colllins era? When everything was on the line and this program had the chance to close out the year with a bang by either winning the ACC or advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, they went into the absolute tank. I didn't like the substitutions, game strategy (minus the good call to press Illinois with 7 minutes left) nor re-focusing efforts of the coaching staff. They put the players through a great deal of preparation for X's and O's but they didn't get inside the team's psyche and help them find the motivation to achieve even greater goals than making the NCAA tournament. Anyway onto the stats.
Over the final 6 games, the Hokies shot 43% from the field and a miserable 27% from the 3-point line, and their opponents were 49% from the field and 38% from the 3-point line. Now keep in mind that up until 6 games left in the season, VT was #1 in the ACC in 3-point defense, allowing only 30% from the field from beyond the arc. All of a sudden the perimeter defense was gone. Meanwhile, opponents outshot Virginia Tech 67% vs. 59% from the free throw line in those final 6 games. To average 59% over 6 games from the free throw line as a team doesn't begin to describe the ineptitude, because many missed free throws were in one-and-one situations at critical times in the game. Even in wins, Hokie free-throw shooting was terrible down the stretch. Against UNC, Markus Sailes missed two free throws at the end of the game that almost cost Tech the win and would have if it weren't for great defense by Deron Washington at the other end.
I just can't say how disappointed I am for these players. This fade over the final 6 games was a total departure from their performance during the previous 27 games. I could understand if this were a team full of freshmen, but this was a senior-laden squad with guys reaching the end of their basketball careers, some of them permanently. I only foresee Zabian Dowdell playing in the NBA out of all the seniors on Tech's squad and he vanished more than anybody over the final games. How's this? Zabian averaged 18 points a game for the first 31 games and then playing in his first NCAA tournament he averaged 7.5/game. Not exactly rocketing up people's draft boards with that performance.
Looking to the future, I am heartened by the recruiting class and people like Deron Washington and AD Vassallo, but the bench was a disaster at the end of this season as well. The bench produced 4 points during the NCAA tournament. 4 POINTS IN TWO FULL GAMES!!!!!! Just completely out of character for this team based on what they had done during the season. I can't help but think that the coaching staff just totally lost the team once they realized they would achieve their goal of making the NCAA tournament.
I am proud of the Hokies and expect them to learn a great deal from this landmark season. I look forward to cheering on Tech basketball next season. But I have a very high expectation for the coaching staff to improve most of all. I know they can do it.