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October 12, 2009

Getting defensive the main emphasis for men's hoops squad heading into upcoming season

By: Jimmy Robertson

A conversation about the upcoming basketball campaign with Seth Greenberg leads one to believe that he is exploring a new defensive philosophy this season.

Sounds like he doesn’t want his team to pick up the opponents at halfcourt. Nor does he want his players to pick them up at fullcourt.

He wants his group to pick them up when they walk out of the hotel lobby.

As he and the staff look ahead to this upcoming 2009-10 season, they plan on placing a renewed emphasis on defense. It’s not that the Hokies played terrible defense on their way to 19 wins and an NIT appearance a year ago. They held opponents to 42.1 percent from the floor, a number that ranked sixth in the ACC.

But they often failed to get the critical stop at the most important juncture of the game.

“I don’t think we defended the way we did in the past,” Greenberg said. “I think we got into too much of a mindset of trading baskets as opposed to getting stops. We lost our identity a little bit.”

Perhaps his working-class, Long Island background established his identity as a coach long before he ever got into coaching, but Greenberg wants his teams to be tough, both mentally and on the court. He spent his first few years defining that for his teams at Tech, and once he got the players who embraced that same mindset, the Hokies started attending postseason play with regularity.

Guys like Jamon Gordon, Zabian Dowdell and Deron Washington thrived under him because they loved challenges. They salivated over playing close games on the road and needing a defensive stop to preserve a win or to give themselves an opportunity to get one.

For these guys, giving them that scenario was like giving Billy the Kid a pistol or Buffalo Bill a horse.

“For five years, that’s who we’ve been,” Greenberg said of playing with toughness, passion, intensity and with the proverbial chip on the shoulder.

Last year’s group, though? Eh, not quite as much.

Sure, the Hokies exhibited some fortitude when they won at then-No. 1 Wake Forest and they showed some pluck in a victory at Miami. They showed some resiliency when they rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat N.C. State and they showed backbone in outlasting a stubborn Duquesne team in double overtime in the NIT.

But on seven other occasions, Tech lost in the waning moments of the game. The Hokies lost two games by one point and two others by two points.

Margin of victory, though, isn’t measured by points.

It’s measured by toughness.

“If we’re a little tougher and win three of those, it’s a great season,” Greenberg said. “We’ve redefined that [toughness] in the spring. We’ve redefined that in our conditioning program and we’ve redefined that in our individual workouts. It’s been presented to our team in a number of different ways. They understand who we are and who we need to be to have a chance to win.”

Hence, the emphasis on defense.

In an ideal world, he would find a defensive stopper among his current group. He wants someone to embrace stopping Trevon Hughes (Wisconsin) from driving the length of the floor and hitting a game winner or Toney Douglas (FSU) from hitting a winning 3-pointer.

“We were limited defensively because, in the past, we had the luxury of a lockdown defender and that takes away a lot of pressure off of you defensively,” Greenberg admitted. “As the season went along, we missed that element, and that’s something obviously that we have to address for this upcoming season.”

Could it be Dorenzo Hudson? He defended UNC’s Wayne Ellington pretty well in the ACC tournament, chasing him off screens. He was closer to Ellington than Ellington’s girlfriend.

Could it be Terrell Bell or J.T. Thompson? Would they put their arms around such a role?

One thing is certain – the Hokies better put their arms around the knowledge that they’re going to be playing in a bunch of close games again this season. Rare exceptions aside, no one blows anyone out and no one gets blown out in the ACC.

Greenberg, of course, knows this. He also knows the Hokies did a lot of good things last season, continuing the building process that has seen them win 62 games the past three seasons.

They just need to do a few more things for a season to be classified as great.

“Defense, a commitment to getting stops, understanding toughness, guarding the ball, picking up 50-50 balls, getting through screens, not quitting on a play – that’s been the emphasis since the season ended,” Greenberg said, ticking off the list.

Check back in March to see if the emphasis has paid off.