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February 9, 2011

February a short month that will go a long way toward determining Tech's NCAA fate

By: Jimmy Robertson

February stands as the shortest month of any year with just 28 days (29 every four years), but for college basketball teams, those 28 days are the most important of the season.

A color commentator on a recent broadcast compared February to James Brown’s smash hit, It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World. Not sure if that’s the best of comparisons, but you get the point.

February is the time when teams are desperately scrambling for an at-large invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Coaches coach with even more intensity, players play even harder, crowds cheer even louder and reporters gaze at the RPI like it’s a Heidi Klum photo shoot.

The Hokies find themselves in good position with the February days trickling away. That speaks to their character because they haven’t leaned on excuses. Losing four players for the season because of injuries, including heavy lifters Dorenzo Hudson and JT Thompson, would be an easy one.

Despite being down to eight scholarship players, Tech has displayed some mettle, beating Florida State at home, dodging insults (and other objects) to win impressively at Maryland and holding on late to slip past Miami at home. The Hokies get their usual return from Malcolm Delaney, but also continue to get tremendous output from Jeff Allen and Erick Green. Unsung and underrated role players Victor Davila and Terrell Bell should not go unnoticed.

Green has been the surprise of the bunch. Coming into the season, Tech coach Seth Greenberg joked that Green “didn’t make a 3-pointer in 2010.” That’s not entirely true, but not far from it. He made six 3-pointers the latter half of his freshman season, but two came against N.C. Central, which shouldn’t count. He made just one of his last 14 3-point attempts a year ago.

This season, though, he’s averaging better than 10 points a game and shooting it respectably. He’s taking care of the basketball – he led the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio heading to BC.

More importantly, the Hokies went 11-2 in their first 13 games since Green’s insertion into the starting lineup for the injured Hudson.

“We’re not surprised at all,” Green said. “We knew we could do it. I mean, yeah, it hurt with the losses we had. But we still feel like we can play with anybody with the eight scholarship players we have. We just play hard. That’s the main thing. We play hard and get after it.”

To get an at-large bid, Tech basically needs to continue to win these league games in February because its non-conference slate isn’t going to help when it slaps its resume down in front of the NCAA Selection Committee. Kansas State and Oklahoma State have struggled, and Mississippi State never got going.

The Hokies do have opportunities in league play, with a game against Duke on Feb. 26 looming large. That game wraps up the month of February.

“The month of February is a pivotal month,” Greenberg said. “You need to get better. Teams that get better [in February] usually play in March.”

The month is only 28 days. But it’s a time span that will determine Tech’s future fate.

Final thoughts on recruiting

Rivals, a popular Web site devoted to recruiting, ranked Tech’s 2011 football recruiting class No. 33 nationally, rating four of the Hokies’ recruits as “4-star recruits” and 14 as “3-star recruits.” The staff signed six defensive linemen and four tight ends. (For more on 2011 recruiting see the recruiting story in this issue).

A small segment of the Tech fan base seemed disappointed in the haul. But Tech’s coaches never get caught up in rankings, and they target selectively the players they want, and that strategy has worked in the past.

“I think we do a good job of evaluating the players that we like,” head coach Frank Beamer said. “It’s like the Pittsburgh Steelers a little bit. You look at their roster, and I don’t know how many are high-ranked free agents. But I know they cut a guy loose to the Jets who didn’t fit in [Santonio Holmes], and then they replaced him with some other guys you’ve never heard of at receiver, and all of the sudden, they’re pretty good.”

Fans should keep rankings in perspective. Texas and Georgia have rosters loaded with 5-star guys, and both had losing seasons. In contrast, Stanford had classes ranked 50th, 20th and 26th by Rivals the past three years and finished in the top five in the polls this season.

Check back in four years. That’s the best time to rank a recruiting class.