eth Greenberg believes his
belong in the
tournament. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski concurs.
But they don't have a vote. Moreover, they're not the most impartial observers.
As the regular season concludes, the Hokies must convince a far more objective group: the 10-member NCAA basketball committee.
Saturday afternoon Tech squandered an opportunity to state its case, falling to seventh-ranked Duke 72-65. And with Selection Sunday two weeks away, those opportunities are dwindling to a precious few.
This was the Blue Devils' third game in six days, the latter two on the road. Time for the Hokies to attack early and often.
Except Tech opened in a haze. Duke led 9-2, 20-5 and 32-16. Most troubling to Greenberg, defensive tactics stressed during practice were being ignored and/or forgotten.
Force Gerald Henderson to his left. Don't bite on Kyle Singler's pump fakes. Shadow Jon Scheyer beyond the 3-point arc.
And what happened? Henderson made a living going right, Singler lost defenders with pump-fakes, and Scheyer made three 3s in the first half.
"Defensively was the worst part," A.D. Vassallo said of Tech's wretched start.
"The scouting report is only as good as what's digested," Greenberg lamented.
Sure, Duke is good. Very good on its best days. But a tournament-worthy team should not go more than 27 consecutive minutes of a critical home game trailing by at least five points.
That's what happened to the Hokies (17-11, 7-7 ACC), and when they finally did claw close, they brain-cramped again.
Duke led 66-63 after Tech's Dorenzo Hudson made two free throws with 35 seconds remaining. Kyle Singler took the ball out of bounds and, ex-high school quarterback that he is, flung a deep pass to a wide-open Greg Paulus for an easy layup.
"You get a layup at that point, God bless America," Krzyzewski said.
"Miscommunication," is the word Vassallo and Greenberg used.
A miscommunication that should not befall a tournament team.
Hey, kudos to the Hokies for forging a 58-all tie. Applaud the defense that harassed Henderson (21 points, six rebounds, six assists) into 0-for-7 second-half shooting, and admire the Vassallo binge that saw him score all the points in a 15-4 run that knotted the score.
Also acknowledge that Tech was short-handed with point guard Hank Thorns sidelined by cramps and dehydration that sent him to a hospital following Wednesday's gritty victory at Clemson. Without Thorns, Malcolm Delaney, most comfortable and effective on the wing, was forced to play the entire 40 minutes at the point.
Not coincidentally, Delaney missed 10 of his 12 shots and scored seven points, nearly 12 below his team-high average. He had scored at least 10 in 32 straight games dating to last season.
The Hokies also were without forward Cheick Diakite, whom Greenberg said did not play because of "matchups." That's a curious explanation at best.
First, in Tech's last three games, Diakite started and averaged 24 minutes, 4.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocked shots.
Second, in the Hokies' January loss at Duke, Diakite, had eight points, five boards and three blocks in 20 minutes.
Third, Diakite's replacement, Lewis Witcher, missed five of six shots from the field, including a dunk, and the front end of a bonus free throw with 4:08 left and Tech down two.
One final element that figures to gnaw at the Hokies and their fans: Gary Maxwell calling Delaney for a dubious moving screen with 1:50 remaining, and all three officials missing an apparent Scheyer walk in the final minute.
All that said, Tech needed to be better. And the Hokies will need to be better still as they conclude the regular season with games Wednesday against No. 4 North Carolina, and Sunday at No. 23
"They're playing really hard and well," Krzyzewski said of Tech. "They deserve to be in the tournament."
"If we play as hard as we did today," Vassallo said, "we've got a chance."
Hard isn't good enough. Coming up empty on six consecutive possessions with the score tied in the waning minutes, as Tech did, isn't good enough.
"We just needed one basket," Vassallo said, "and we would have broken them down."
Getting Thorns back should help. Rediscovering Diakite should, too, especially against Carolina's imposing front line.
"We've got opportunities out there to do something pretty special," Greenberg said.
Krzyzewski's forecast for the final week: "More hellacious games."
Bet he's right.