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October 15, 2010

Five keys for Hokies' hopes of making it to the NCAA Tournament

By: Jimmy Robertson

On a recent Monday evening, your friendly editor shunned a portion of Monday night football to catch an episode of Dancing with the Stars.

Why, we’re not sure. Instead of watching Chicago’s Devin Hester twinkle-toe his way down the sideline, the family watched Jennifer Grey defy age (has it really been 23 years since Dirty Dancing came out?) and Michael Bolton painfully attempt to jive. They said they all loved him, but they lied. The next evening, he got the boot.

Such silliness aside, the subject of dancing fits this column because that’s what the Tech men’s basketball team hopes to be doing next March. With five starters returning, the Hokies hope to return to the NCAA Tournament, better known by hoops junkies as the “Big Dance.”

Tech has a very good shot, even though injuries have robbed the Hokies of JT Thompson (torn ACL) and possibly Allan Chaney (heart inflammation), and limited Cadarian Raines (foot) in the early going. They still return those five starters, including arguably the league’s best backcourt in Malcolm Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson. So Tech could be in worse predicaments.

Getting that invitation figures to be difficult – it is for everyone. That said, here are five keys, in no particular order, for the Hokies heading into the 2010-11 campaign:

Keeping Jeff Allen on the floor – As most know, Jeff Allen has been prone to getting into foul trouble throughout his career. A year ago, he averaged a career-low 26.2 minutes per game.

That said, when Allen plays extensive minutes, he’s a double-double machine, and quite honestly, one of the best players in the ACC. Without Thompson around, Allen needs to average around 35 minutes a game. If he does that, he could average a double-double – and only one player in the ACC accomplished that last year (Wake’s Al-Farouq Aminu).

“We can’t afford to have Jeff pick up two early fouls,” Greenberg said. “We don’t have JT coming in there to give you 10 minutes. So he can’t have hiccups this year.”

Better shooting and/or shot selection – The Hokies were 11th in the ACC in field-goal percentage (42.7) and last in 3-point field-goal percentage (30.7). That comes as a surprise considering that Delaney and Hudson are good shooters. The ultra-competitive Delaney shot less than 40 percent a year ago.

“Has he taken bad shots? Yes, but he knows when he takes one and I want him to be aggressive,” Greenberg said. “I think that’s really, really important. I don’t want him to be tentative. I want him to attack.”

The Hokies should shoot better this season, considering that guys like Erick Green, Ben Boggs and Manny Atkins now have a season under their belts. They should be able to help Delaney and Hudson.

Better on-ball defense – Tech played great defense last season, holding opponents to under 40 percent from the floor. But after the Rhode Island game, Greenberg lamented about his team’s on-ball defense. Expect that to be a point of emphasis because getting beat off the dribble usually leads to others getting in foul trouble. And as stated, the Hokies lack depth.

“We’ve got to be tougher on the ball,” Greenberg admitted.

Win a big non-conference game early – The NCAA selection committee cited Tech’s non-conference slate as a reason for exclusion last spring, but Greenberg scheduled aggressively this season, with a trip to Kansas State, a three-game tournament in Anaheim, and a neutral-site game against Mississippi State. Plus, the Hokies drew Purdue in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I met with the seniors and I asked them what they wanted for their senior year and they wanted a challenge,” Greenberg said.

Kansas State and Purdue should be in the preseason top 10. Many pick Mississippi State to win the SEC West.

The Hokies play these games within a month’s span early in the season. Winning at least one of these would be quite helpful come next March if everything else falls into place.

Stay in the moment – It’s okay to embrace expectations, but don’t get consumed by them. In other words, don’t talk about the NCAA Tournament after the season opener against Campbell.

“If we believed in expectations, then last year, we would have come in eighth instead of fourth,” Greenberg said. “The reality is we’ve got to win games on the court.”

That means taking it one game at a time – a tired cliché that rings so true. Control what you can control and let everything else sort itself out.

Actually, that’s like participating on Dancing with the Stars – as your editor got to find out.