January 19, 2010
Hokies off to a solid start, but postseason story to be written in next six weeks

Virginia Tech’s basketball team enters Saturday afternoon’s ACC home game against Boston College with a 14-3 mark, the Hokies’ best record since the 1995-96 team opened 19-2. That’s an impressive start to this season for Tech and marks just the 11th time in school history – in 101 seasons – that the Hokies have won at least 14 of their opening 17 games.

So the record is gaudy, but how good is the team?

“We can get better,” architect and head coach Seth Greenberg said of his seventh Tech squad. “We need to be junkyard dogs every night and play with a chip on our shoulders.”

Not that Greenberg, a Jim Croce-era man himself, wants his kids to be meaner than Southside Chicago’s Leroy Brown. But he wants his 2010 club to be both mentally and physically tough.

“Junkyards have fences. Junkyards have locks,” Greenberg said. “But it’s that junkyard dog that really keeps people out. And that dog is there 24-7. We need our guys to be tough, both mentally and physically for 40 minutes, every night, every game.”

That toughness has been there most nights, notably in late-game situations at Penn State and Iowa, where the Hokies got key defensive stops down the stretch. Even in the loss at Florida State last Saturday, the Hokies showed tremendous resolve in coming back from a 14-point deficit to cut the lead to one-point in the final seconds.

Tech has a marvelous player in guard Malcolm Delaney, the ACC’s scoring leader and a guy who has a legit shot, if he stays healthy, to become Virginia Tech’s fourth 2,000-point player (Bimbo Coles, Dell Curry and Dale Solomon are the others). Delaney is a tough, hardened warrior who is now deadly coming off screens. He already had the ability to beat people off the dribble and get to free-throw line at will. He’s really becoming a fantastic player.

But Tech’s success hinges on the rest of the team, the chemistry, and as Greenberg points out, its mental toughness.

“Especially when it comes to winning on the road,” Greenberg said. “So many games are one-possession games. It’s coming down to getting one stop, getting one rebound, getting one tip-in. That’s what the ACC is.”

And that’s what the second half of this 2010 basketball season will be for the Hokies. Tech finished the non-conference portion of its schedule 13-1. Its postseason story will be written in the next six weeks.

“We need to win some games,” Greenberg said bluntly. That project starts this Saturday against visiting Boston College.

Tech has beaten BC in four of the past five head-to-head meetings, including the past three at Cassell Coliseum. Saturday’s game tips at 1:30 p.m. You can hear it on Virginia Tech ISP Sports Network radio affiliates throughout the region, on XM Satellite Radio Channel 190 and on Hokies’ All-Access.

An update

If you recall back in December, I noted that, curiously, only two college football coaches are still coaching at the schools that faced Virginia Tech in bowl games. That trend continued last week when Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin bolted Knoxville to become the head coach at USC.

So, to update, only Cal’s Jeff Tedford and Georgia’s Mark Richt are still coaching at the schools that faced the Hokies’ Frank Beamer and Tech in bowl games over the past 17 seasons.

The other 15 teams (Indiana, Bill Mallory; Tennessee, Phillip Fulmer and now Kiffin; Texas, John Mackovic; Nebraska, Tom Osborne; North Carolina, Carl Torbush; Alabama, Mike Dubose; Florida State, Bobby Bowden; Clemson, Tommy Bowden; Air Force, Fisher DeBerry; Auburn, Tommy Tuberville; Louisville, Bobby Petrino; Kansas, Mark Mangino; and Cincinnati, Brian Kelly) have all made coaching changes.

Chick-fil-A ratings

The Hokies’ win over Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A bowl was seen by roughly five million viewers on New Year’s Eve. The final Nielsen research figures for the game showed the contest drew a 4.2 national rating, which made it the third most-watched bowl game on ESPN. The game’s rating was up substantially from the previous year’s game, which turned into an LSU rout in a win over Georgia Tech. The Birmingham News compiled a nifty chart if you’re interested in seeing how all the bowls did from a TV ratings perspective. Click here to see it.

For the sake of comparison, last spring’s NCAA Tournament championship game between North Carolina and Michigan State drew a 10.8 national rating on CBS, while the BCS national title game between Alabama and Texas drew a 17.2 on ABC.

Overall, the “March Madness” basketball coverage on CBS averaged a 5.7 last spring, which is about the same as … well … the Alamo Bowl. Surprising, eh?

Updates on former Hokies

Former Hokie Carlos Dixon reports he is recovering from a broken bone in his leg, but has been released by Sionista, his professional team in Argentina. Dixon asked to “say hello to everyone in Blacksburg and make sure they know how much I miss Tech.” Dixon said he might try to sign with another team in Argentina. If not, he might return to the States.

We also spoke with former Hokie great Ace Custis this week. Custis is still playing in Japan and his team is in second place. A new rule in the Japanese pro league, however, allows just one foreign player (or import, as they call it) on the floor at any given time. Thus, Ace is averaging just 16 minutes per game, while sharing time with former Tulane star Jerald Honeycutt.

While this is Custis’ seventh season in Japan, his family still lives in Virginia. In fact, he reported his third child is due April 2.

“It’s going to be my third son,” he said. “I can’t get the little girl thing right.”

Custis would like to get into college coaching when his pro ball career ends. You can follow Ace and his team, the Panasonic Trians, here.

For updates on Virginia Tech Athletics, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@hokiesports).

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