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The Balla Report 3/10/10

• The 57th annual Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament gets under way tomorrow from Greensboro, its natural home I feel. With no truly dominant team in the conference, this season’s tournament figures to be a wide open affair, with many teams – including the Virginia Tech Hokies – figuring they have a legitimate shot at taking home the banner and the trophy. Here’s how the Balla thinks things will shake down –

1st Round – bc over uva, miami over wake, gt over unc, clemson over n.c. state

Quarterfinals – duke over bc, VT over miami, maryland over gt, clemson over fsu.

Semis – duke over VT, maryland over clemson

Final – duke over maryland

• Congratulations go out to Malcolm Delaney for being a unanimous selection to the All ACC first team. For the record, the Balla’s All ACC selections for 2009-10 would be as follows –

First team – Greivis Vasquez – maryland, Malcolm Delaney – VT, Jon Scheyer – duke, Al-Farouq Aminu – wake, Kyle Singler – duke

2nd team – Trevor Booker – clemson, Gani Lawal – ga tech, Nolan Smith – duke, Ish Smith – wake, Dorenzo Hudson – VT

3rd team – Tracy Smith – n.c. state, Sylvan Landesberg – uva, Joe Tripani – bc, Chris Singleton – fsu, Deon Thompson – unc.

Vasquez – the player everyone outside of College Park loves to hate – takes home Player of the Year honors, edging out Malcolm Delaney who should be pre season selection for 2010-11 ACC P.O.Y.

Gary Williams gets the nod for Coach of theYear, beating out Seth Greenberg and Coach K.

ga tech’s Derrick Favors is the Freshman of the Year. Hokie fans may have gotten their only look at Favors last Saturday as he likely will be one and done for the jackets.

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The Balla Report 3/5/10

• There has been a lot of talk recently about expanding the NCAA Tournament from 65 teams to a field of 96. Expect to hear a lot more talk about this subject over the next few weeks as we prepare for this year’s version of the Big Dance. To put this as plainly as possible, a 96 team NCAA Tourney is a bad, bad, bad idea. The folks who favor this expansion cite giving more teams a shot at the title as the biggest benefit of this plan, but we all know this is being driven by the almighty dollar. More teams in the field means more games on television for advertisers to spend beau coups of money on. More games also means the possibility of bringing in more networks – like ESPN – into the mix so they can get a piece of the pie. Also, keep in mind that many coaches who support expanding the field have bonus clauses in their contracts for making the NCAA Tournament.

For the third season in a row the Virginia Tech Hokies find themselves squarely on the bubble of making the NCAA field. The last two seasons the Hokies were unquestionably one of the last teams to be left out, or one of the infamous “first four out”. They certainly would have been included in an expanded 96 team field. But to what benefit? 31 additional teams will without question water down what has become one of the biggest events in all of sports.

Look at the college football bowl season where new bowls are added each and every year which now allow for every mediocre and sometimes downright bad 6-6 team to make the post season. Do you watch the Eagle Bank, International, Papa John’s or GMAC Bowls? Is this what we want to happen in college basketball? We already have an event – and a pretty good one at that – that allows teams that weren’t quite good enough or didn’t quite win enough games to make the NCAA field to participate in the post season. It’s called the NIT.

Proponents of the expanded field also cite giving each and every team – from maryland – baltimore county to kansas – a shot at the national championship. Well hello…every conference with the exception of the Ivy League has a conference tournament with the winner getting an automatic bid to the Big Dance. Thus, every team has the opportunity – no matter how remote the chances are – of making the NCAA Tournament and winning the national championship. Certainly not every sport can say that every team does in fact have a chance to win it all.

Don’t get me wrong, I want nothing more than the Hokies to get an NCAA bid. But I want it to be an earned reward for a great season, not just a ho-hum reward for a mediocre season. To me, part of the excitement and anticipation of these late season games – like tomorrow’s 4:00 showdown against georgia tech – is seeing if the Hokies can knock off one more quality opponent in order to impress the selection committee and earn their way into the field. These games sometimes become elimination games – just like the tournament.

If there must be expansion, then how about expanding from 65 to 68 teams, with the eight lowest seeds playing in the infamous “play-in” games for the right to get slaughtered by the #1 seed a couple of nights later? This would allow three more teams who would currently be snubbed and who may have quite a case for making the tournament – like the Hokies in each of the past two seasons – a chance to play under the big lights.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, could someone please explain to me how you would fit 96 teams onto one pool sheet? Enough said!

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The Balla Report 2/19/10

• Seth Greenberg has preached for the past several weeks about the Hokies needing to “define the way” they win ballgames. Simply put, do the little things. Some examples: 1) Dorenzo Hudson made all the Sports Center highlights with his spectacular fast break jam over two wake players, but it wouldn’t have been possible if freshman Cadarian Raines hadn’t blocked David Weaver’s layup attempt at the other end which led to the fast break. 2) Midway through the second half with Tech trailing by five and the shot clock running down, JT Thompson kept alive a key Hokie possession with a nice save of an errant pass from Malcolm Delaney just as the ball was headed out of bounds. JT somehow got the ball to Zo who drove the middle of the lane and connected on a scoop shot which cut the wake lead to 63-60. 3) Terrell Bell atoned for turning the ball over by chasing down wake’s C.J. Harris to swat away his transition shot. This led to Malcolm’s twisting and-one at the other end, which cut the wake lead to one and eliminated deac big man Chas McFarland in the process with his fifth foul.

• How did the Hokies outrebound the much larger deacons, who go 7-0, 6-11, 6-11 and 6-9 along their frontline, 47-38 you wonder? Greenberg knew Tech’s big men – Allen, Thompson, Davila and Raines – would have to get a body on each wake tree and hope that the guards and wings could get some boards. I’d say they succeeded as Delaney grabbed 9, matching his career high, to go along with his sensational 31 points, Hudson had 7 rebounds from his guard position, and Bell was simply huge with his 14 rebounds which included 7 on the offensive end alone.

• Speaking of T Bell, the Hokies new rebounding machine as of late with his 14 boards against wake which followed recent 9 and 11 rebound efforts versus uva and unc respectively. With his length on defense and nose for the ball off the rim, does Bell remind anyone of a young Dennis Rodman, just without the bleached do, piercings and tattoos (to this point)?

• The key moment of this season could very well turn out to be the opening minutes of the December 30 game against longwood. This is where the season took a dramatic turn for Dorenzo Hudson as Delaney left the game with a sprained ankle. Zo finished the longwood game with 11 points but then took his game to a whole new level with 41 against seton hall three nights later with Malcolm unable to go. Hudson hasn’t looked back since and has become the second go to scorer the Hokies desperately needed, now averaging 14 ppg and 16.6 in ACC play. Would Zo have had the break through season he’s had if he weren’t forced into the scorer role with Delaney out of the lineup? Who knows. But I do know this – you can go ahead and start engraving Dorenzo’s name on the trophy for the ACC’s most improved player.

• Jeff Allen and JT Thompson played much of the second half against wake forest with four fouls and Malcolm Delaney actually fouled out of a game for the first time since his freshman season. JT’s defense on wake future lottery pick Al-Farouq Aminu, even after being saddled with his fourth foul, was vital to the Hokies comeback. Experience playing effectively while in foul trouble could be huge going into Cameron Indoor, where as we all know, duke tends to get the nod from the refs on anything resembling a close call. How the Hokies react when certain call don’t go their way, which inevitably they all won’t, could be a key factor in this Sunday night’s battle for first place in the ACC.

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The Balla Report 2/3/10

• For those of you who haven’t gotten around to flipping over your calendar yet, it is now February. And as any fan of college basketball knows, it is now crunch time, time to put up or shut up. And for the Virginia Tech Hokies, what better way to tip off this all important month than a home date with the defending, yet recently downtrodden, national champion north carolina tar heels? Furthermore what better way to start the key stretch of this season with four of the next five games in the friendly confines of Cassell Coliseum? A win over unc certainly gets the ball rolling on the final push of the Hokies ’09-10 campaign to end up on the right side of the bubble line. It also gives them great confidence going into Saturday’s next big game against clemson.

One slight problem, coming off last Sunday’s 75-60 home loss to the uva cavaliers, the struggling but still very talented tar heels will be looking at this game as a “must win game in order to salvage their season”. With the tar heels sitting at 2-4 in the ACC with a trip to maryland looming Sunday before returning home to face duke next Wednesday, unc could be staring straight at an almost unheard of 2-7 conference start as well as dwindling chances of even making the big dance, unless they can pull out a win in Blacksburg. They’ll be circling the wagons for sure.

Recent history shows the Hokies do not fare well when facing teams in this situation. The most recent example of this came last Sunday as Tech dropped an 82-75 contest to a miami team that had been reeling with four straight losses, and had to have a home win over the Hokies to have any chance of making any kind of noise this season. Knowing this full well going in, Virginia Tech still came out lacking the sense of urgency needed to win any road game in the ACC much less to win a road game against a desperate team like the canes.

Hopefully an inspired and raucous crowd in the Cassell can help the Hokies get off to the fast start they will need in order to make an early statement in this game and not let carolina gain any confidence and remind them that they were just blown out at home by uva. This will be extremely important because if Tech comes out slow and unable to knock down shots, the tar heel team that blew past n.c. state last week in Raleigh or knocked off #5 michigan state in December could make an unwanted appearance.

Virginia Tech can make great strides to a NCAA bid by winning four out of five over this next stretch, and a win over the defending national champions does nothing but strengthen your resume.

• I’ve heard a lot of talk recently that Virginia Tech’s biggest rival was becoming more and more the miami hurricanes and less and less the uva cavaliers. This talk is stirred on mostly because of the struggles of the wahoo football team and the fact that the Hokies dominated the series over the last 10 years with many of those games blow outs. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a win over “the u” as much as the next guy, but a win over the arrogant and elitist wahoos in any sport still has that extra oompth and still gives me great sense of pride as an alumni.

While the football rivalry between the Hokies and canes may have been much more competitive over recent years, I firmly believe that any school’s main rival should encompass all sports, whether that sport be football, basketball, debating or bass fishing. That being said, take a look back at last week when the Hokies hoops team faced back to back road contests against uva and miami. Ask any Hokie fan if they would trade Tech’s gritty come from behind overtime win over uva for a win at miami, and I think you would get a resounding NO across the board. Therein lies the answer to who the Hokies main rival is. And as for me, I can’t wait to knock off those hated wahoos again in the Cassell come February 13.

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The Balla Report 1/22/10

• The Swing Game – Every season there are one or two games on the schedule that go a long, long way towards determining a team’s post season fate and in general how it will be remembered in the future. Saturday’s 1:30 contest in the Cassell against the boston college eagles is one such game for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Not that a win over bc will lock up any sort of post season bid by any means, or impress anyone in the national media, but a loss could be devastating.

A loss to the eagles, who come in at 11-8 and 2-3 in the ACC, would have the Hokies staring straight down the barrel of a 1-5 start in conference, with road games looming next week at first place uva and a miami team that will be looking to avenge the beat down they took in Blacksburg last week. And that’s before starting a two game home stand with unc and clemson, certainly no pushovers. This is a good Hokie basketball team who’s off to its best start in over 10 years, but that could be a hole they just couldn’t dig their way out of.

Anyone who looks at the bc game as a blow off guaranteed win should look no further than last Tuesday when the eagles came from behind to beat miami 79-75 in Coral Gables, FL. Reggie Jackson scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half to lead the comeback and Seth Greenberg has warned that he’s the kind of player who’s capable of taking over a game by himself. Hopefully a well rested Hokie team will come out, inspired by the home crowd, and take it to bc much like they did to the canes. A win will brighten Virginia Tech’s prospects come March, or definitely keep the light burning.

• With their 72-30 mauling of north carolina central on Monday night, the Hokies closed their non conference portion of the regular season at 13-1. While none of these wins would be anything close to a stop the presses or lead story on Sports Center type of win, none were the type head scratching and down right humiliating losses that have plagued Hokie fans in past seasons. Before Greenberg took the reigns for the 2003-04 season, the Hokies would routinely and out of nowhere drop games to supposedly overmatched teams like radford, VMI, liberty, east tennessee state, and william & mary to name a few.

Even with Seth at the helm there have been some dubious out of conference misadventures. Recall losses to east carolina and old dominion in 03-04, VMI and western michigan in 04-05, bowling green and odu again in 05-06. Heck, even the Hokies last NCAA Tournament season of 06-07 included stunning losses to those pesky western michiganers and even the thundering herd of marshall. With “bad” losses like that on the resume, the talking heads on ESPN always seemed to follow up commentary of wins over the likes of unc or duke with “yeah, but remember this team lost to marshall or VMI”. That won’t be an issue this season.

This season the Hokies have also managed to avoid the types of heart breaking and gut wrenching losses early on that plagued last season’s squad. There have been none of half court miracles (xavier) or games that came down to the last half second either to see the opposition sink a buzzer beater (wisconsin) or the Hokies unable to convert when they had the opportunity to do so (georgia). Those kinds of losses can make you feel snake bitten and haunt the team to the point that they have a “what can go wrong now” attitude whenever there is a close game down the stretch, like pretty much every ACC game.

So, hopefully in upcoming seasons, the Hokies can score some bigger name out of conference wins, and Seth is committed to continuing to upgrade the schedule, but for now 13-1 o.o.c. looks pretty good all things considered, have allowed guys like Dorenzo Hudson and Terrell Bell to really develop their games further, and have put the Hokies in a position for success the rest of this season.

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The Balla Report 1/15/10

• Protect This House!…During every season of Atlantic Coast Conference basketball it is paramount to win your home games and “hold serve” so to speak. This season it has never been more important to defend the home turf. With clemson’s 83-64 victory over unc Wednesday night every single team in the ACC has won at least one conference game. Eleven of the twelve teams have also lost at least one game. Surprisingly, the uva cavaliers sit atop the conference with a 2-0 record following their home win over georgia tech. (For any wahoo fan who may be getting a bit overconfident, remember back to football season when uva sat atop the ACC standings with a 2-0 mark)

The point here is that there is a lot of parity in the ACC this year. Unlike previous seasons there is no one or two truly great teams to dominate the league. carolina is rebuilding and still trying to find their identity. duke looks beatable especially away from Cameron. It’s not likely anyone will separate themselves from the pack. Conversely, there don’t seem to be any really awful teams either. With so many evenly matched teams, you can expect a lot of games to come down to the wire. As Seth Greenberg has described the ACC season, “16 root canals”. Road wins will be very hard to come by this season, as the heels and devils can already attest.

With parity like this, teams can ill afford to drop games at home. The team that defends its home court the best and can go out on the road and steal a couple of wins will be the team walking away with the regular season conference championship. This year it looks like everyone, and I mean everyone, has a shot. Should be an exciting race over the next two months!

• The Hokies did their part in defending the Cassell by whipping miami 81-66, showing no ill effects from the second half collapse at unc. Malcolm Delaney appears to be recovering well from his sprained ankle with another typically brilliant 28 point, 9 assist performance against the canes. The Hokies this time benefited from a much more balanced scoring attack. Jeff Allen had a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards. Terrell Bell played his best game since the iowa win with a 13 point performance on 5 of 6 shooting and a perfect 3 for 3 from long distance. Dorenzo Hudson chipped in with 11 and played with much more confidence than he displayed in Chapel Hill, which included a nice one handed dunk right down the lane. J.T. Thompson had a nice 8 and 8 effort and seems to be the poster child of Greenberg’s “junk yard dog” mentality.

With the canes outscoring Tech 43-31 in the second half, the Hokies still need to focus on playing a 40 minute game. Both halves, not just the first. Maybe the team can benefit from the second straight lackluster second half by focusing more on playing a complete game going into Tallahassee on Saturday to face fsu.

The balanced scoring attack the Hokies displayed at home Wednesday night would also go an awful long way towards helping Tech grab one of those elusive aforementioned road wins against the noles.

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The Balla Report 12/16/09

• The Virginia Tech Hokies head into their week long break for final exams with an 8-1 record, following Saturday’s thrilling 66-64 win at penn state. It’s their best start under Seth Greenberg. While the Hokies haven’t exactly beaten any teams currently anywhere near the top 25, thus far they have avoided any heart breaking, gut wrenching half-court buzzer beaters, and have avoided any embarrassing, head scratching losses. Some of their wins have potential to look decent on the resume come March.

While the Hokies lost to the best team they’ve played to this point, at temple, that loss doesn’t seem nearly as bad after the owls knocked off #3 villanova last weekend. Look at it this way, if the Hokies were in the Big Ten (11) (and let’s all count our blessings that we’re not) they would now be 2-0 in conference with two road wins. Not bad, especially considering the ACC lost to Big Ten (11) for the first time in the 11 year history of the ACC-Big Ten (11) challenge.

• Taking a look at this year’s freshmen, it’s becoming obvious that Erick Green is going to play a big role simply because of the lack of depth at the point position. Green did play a nice game against the nittany lions, hitting a three and getting good experience guarding psu star Talor Battle. But to me, the most impressive newcomer to this point has been Ben Boggs. Boggs has shown good court savvy, the likes of which have been missing from some past teams, and has demonstrated the ability to hit the open three and feed the big men in the post.

Think back two weeks ago. Tech was coming off a lackluster performance in the Philly Hoop Classic and heading to face iowa in Iowa City. The Hokies appeared to be dead in the water in the heartland, trailing the 2-4 hawkeyes 12-3 less then 5 minutes into the contest. That’s where Boggs stepped in by hitting two huge three-pointers that seemed to light a fire under this Hokie team and shake off the sluggishness. From there the Hokies used their superior inside game to separate themselves from the hawkeyes, but Boggs’ contribution was huge. As the Hokies continue to try to find a shooter to fill the void left by A.D. Vassallo’s graduation, future performances like this by Boggs will be key as Tech closes out its non-conference schedule and begins ACC play.

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The Balla Report 3/11/09

The 2008-09 ACC basketball regular season has come and gone. Don’t forget tickets are still available for the 56th annual ACC Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Hotlanta (assuming you have 20/10 vision and a very nice pair of binoculars). Anyway, it’s time once again for the Balla’s postseason awards. And the winners are………

All ACC First Team (in order)

Ty Lawson unc
Toney Douglas fsu
Jeff Teague wake
Tyler Hansbrough unc
Gerald Henderson duke

Reserves / 2nd Team

Tyrese Rice bc
Jack McClinton miami
Trevor Booker clemson
K.C. Rivers clemson
A.D. Vassallo Virginia Tech

Water boys / 3rd Team

Greivis Vasquez maryland
Jon Scheyer duke
Malcolm Delaney Virginia Tech
Kyle Singler duke
Gani Lawal ga tech

PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Lawson. The unc point guard edges out fsu’s Douglas and last year’s winner, Hansbrough. Even though Douglas scored 75 more points than the next closest player (McClinton), Lawson’s numbers are better across the board. He emerged as the leader of the top ranked heels. Always lightning quick, his ability to drive to the hoop and distribute the ball was the difference in several unc wins. Any time a guard shoots better than 50% from the field, that’s a helluva year.

COACH OF THE YEAR – Al Skinner, boston college. By a nose over fsu’s Leonard Hamilton. Skinner did more with less in my opinion. The lightly regarded eagles beat both unc and duke, and were the only team to win in the Dean Dome this season.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR – Sylvan Landesberg, uva. One of the few bright spots in an otherwise long season for the wahoos. If the name of this award was changed to “Newcomer of the Year” the award would have gone to bc’s Joe Trapani, the vermont transfer.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Douglas. I’m going with Douglas over freshman teammate Solomon Alabi. With all the great guards in the conference this season, it was Douglas who usually had to shut down a high scoring opponent, leading the ACC’s top defensive team along the way. Plus, he didn’t have the benefit of Alabi’s condor-like wing span.

Looking for a job? Facing foreclosure? Need some quick cash? Here’s how this year’s tourney will play out:

Round 1: miami over VT, clemson over ga tech, nc state over maryland, bc over uva

Quarters: unc over miami, fsu over clemson, wake over nc state, duke over bc

Semis: fsu over unc, wake over duke

Finals: wake over fsu

You heard it here first. Hell, what do I have to lose? Before the season I predicted the Hokies would be a sweet sixteen team this year.

Let’s just hope the only tornado that comes near the Georgia Dome this year is an improbable run by Delaney, Vassallo, and company. Remember, in last year’s SEC tournament which started at the Georgia Dome and ended at Alexander Coliseum, the georgia bulldogs pulled off an even bigger shocker to make the NCAA’s.

Posted in 2008-09 Season, ACC Tournament, Featured Columns, Home, The Balla Report5 Comments

The Balla Report 3/1/09

The duke blue devils used their famous sixth man (seventh and eighth too for that matter) to escape Cassell Coliseum with a 72-65 victory over the Hokies on Saturday. And no, we’re not talking about anyone off the duke bench. This time it was the three man officiating crew of Gary Maxwell, Tony Greene and Bob Donato who decided to buy into this flop fest. Now, anyone who follows ACC basketball knows that duke gets more than their fair share of close calls – pretty much any call that could be perceived to go either way with the exception of maybe when they’re playing carolina. Sometimes however, this gets down right ridiculous.

Let’s make one thing clear, I’m not saying the Hokies lost the game because of the referees. No, the Hokies lost the game because they turned the ball over 19 times (while only forcing duke into 9 turnovers). They lost because they forgot that Gerald Henderson can’t go left but he can go right as well as anyone in the league. And they lost because they simply weren’t able to hit the big shots down the stretch when given the opportunity.

But, man, what an advantage it would be to know that any time a quicker, more athletic player drove past you and to the hole you were likely going to be bailed out by a charge call. Makes playing defense a lot easier. Or, it’d be great to have a guy like Kyle Singler be able to use not one but two hands to push off on his defender (like he did on A.D. with 1:23 to go) then cut wide open for an easy layup. And who could forget Jon Scheyer’s lovely pirouette as he was trapped in the back court with 0:14 seconds to go and the devils clinging to a three point lead – in which he lifted his pivot foot three times by my count. Nice to have that get overlooked.

Quick memo to whoever is planning the white outs and black outs in Cassell: Virginia Tech basketball is two hours of heart pounding excitement on its own. The Atlantic Coast Conference is the most competitive conference year in and year out. We don’t really need any other gimmicks. Not to mention they haven’t worked – loss to clemson in the black out and loss to duke in the white out. Our school colors are Chicago maroon and burnt orange. No black, no white. Orange and maroon effects work well in Lane Stadium for football, why not go with those in the Cassell for hoops as well?

Next up for the Hokies are the unc tar heels Wednesday night. If nothing else, the Hokies should at least be used to the questionable officiating mentioned earlier, because they’re going to see it again against the heels.

It’s Senior night for A.D. Vassallo and Cheick Diakite. Most considered big Cheick as nothing more than a project coming out of Bamako, Mali by way of prep school in Massachusetts. Diakite has become a valuable contributor with his defense and shot blocking abilities, and has shown the ability to hit a jumper out to about 15 feet.

Vassallo has transformed his game from that of simply a stand still shooter as a freshman to that of an all around, complete player. I used to cringe whenever A.D. would try to put the ball on the floor. Now, not only is A.D. a world class shooter, but he’s an adequate ball handler who can drive to the hoop, he’s got an array of nice floaters and jump hooks in the lane, and he’s become one of the team’s better rebounders. I think A.D. definitely has a chance to play in the NBA. Let’s hope A.D. can find the “zone” one last time in the Cassell Wednesday night and get that elusive 8th conference win at the hands of the top 5 heels. Plans for mid March could depend on it.

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The Balla Report 2/22/09

The Heartbreak Kids, otherwise known as the Virginia Tech Hokies men’s hoops team, were back in action on Saturday night, and wouldn’t you know it, yet another gut wrenching, rip your heart out and stomp it defeat. This time 67-65 at the hands of the florida state seminoles. And this one really hurt. The game of basketball is a game of inches and they say everything evens out eventually. That being said, with the Hokies down by two on the final possession, I’ve never in my life had more confidence in one shot going in than when A.D. Vassallo launched that three from the top of the key. Reality struck when the ball hit nothing but the back of the rim as the final horn sounded. Another game, another heartbreaking loss. Though this one seemed a bit more cruel than the others. This was a must win and the Hokies appeared to have put themselves in perfect position to bring home the all important W.

To say that the ball just doesn’t seem to be bouncing our way this season would be the understatement of the year. Kind of like saying the economy is not very good right now. With the roles reversed, give any other player on any other team on Tech’s schedule the open look at the buzzer that A.D. had and you just KNOW that sucker is going in, much to the dismay of Hokies everywhere. Give credit to Greenberg for drawing up the play to get an open look. The execution was flawless, with the one obvious exception.

The amazing thing is that this team continues to battle. The second half against fsu was a very gutsy performance just to get back into the contest. With 25 points, including 5-8 from 3-point land, Malcolm Delaney showed that he is out of his recent shooting slump, which is certainly somewhat of a silver lining in an otherwise devastating defeat.

For the first time in his coaching career, a team coached by Seth Greenberg opened up in a zone. Interesting move, but to say this move backfired would be yet another humongous understatement. As usual, a team that had been a statistically poor shooting team coming in, shot lights out. Before you knew it, the Hokies were down 25-11 and clearly looked like they hadn’t yet recovered from back to back road losses to maryland and uva.

Zones have worked throughout this season when used from time to time during games to stem opponents’ runs. For some reason though, the Hokies didn’t show the fire defensively that they did after they eventually settled back into their man to man. My guess is that this will be the one and only time that you see the Hokies open in a zone under Greenberg.

Outside of back to back wins over duke and unc and stealing a win on the road in rematches versus clemson or fsu, the Hokies are the longest of long shots now for the NCAA Tournament. The good news is that it’s right there in front of them. If they want to get in, they can certainly go out and earn it, however much the odds are stacked against it. Three games in a row against top 10 teams is a golden opportunity for a team searching to show they belong in the field. But how can they possibly muster up the mojo to have a shot at any of these games?

Anything besides a blowout loss at clemson on Wednesday night would be a total shock to me at this point. But on the other hand, if there is one team that is all too experienced at recovering from these types of losses, it’s the Hokies. If there is one thing that’s been shown this season, it’s when the Hokies are at full strength they can compete with any other team. Will things finally start to even out for the Hokies and their much distraught fans? Or will this team continue to be snake bitten? The season’s not over and there is still a chance, however small that chance may be.

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The Balla Report 2/15/09

In the ACC, if you don’t come ready to play when you hit the road, then you can usually expect to head home with a loss. Teams in this league are just too good to just show up and beat, whether they be teams at the bottom of the standings or a middle of the pack team like the maryland terrapins. Look no further than yesterday in College Park. With the exception of reserve Lewis Witcher (8 points), no member of the Hokies showed up at the Comcast Center with anything remotely resembling their “A” game. The terps, on the other hand, were clearly inspired by the presence of the old Lefthander and the rest of the 1984 ACC championship maryland team, who were honored at halftime. The result was an 83-73 loss to the turtles.

The Hokies continue to struggle on the boards and are giving up way too many second and third opportunities. The terrapins came into yesterday’s game last in the league in rebounding margin (getting out-rebounded by an average of 3.9 a game), but kept alive several key possessions yesterday when the Hokies missed blocking out assignments or simply couldn’t secure the rebound. Tech is having a particularly difficult time keeping opposing guards off the offensive boards. 6-4 guard Sean Mosley had 3 offensive rebounds alone for the terps. In other recent games, state’s Courtney Fells, and clemson’s three-guard trio of K.C. Rivers, Demontez Stitt, and David Potter killed the Hokies on the offensive glass, and I don’t have to mention b.c. guard Rakim Sanders.

This trend has got to be corrected fast. There is nothing more frustrating in basketball than playing 35 seconds of good, tough defense only to give the opponent a mulligan because the rebound could not be secured. Granted, sometimes the ball is just going to bounce the wrong way, but if you do a good job of blocking out, getting a body on a body, then the odds of the ball bouncing your way is greatly increased.

The Hokies did manage to battle their way back into yesterday’s game by mixing up their defenses. About five minutes into the second half, Tech switched from their usual man to man to a 2-3 and then a 1-3-1 zone. The Hokies may have to rely on more zones down the stretch because they continue to struggle to get through opponents’ high ball screens. That was evident again yesterday as Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes had way too many wide open looks most of which they converted on.

Memo to Jeff Allen. Please remember that when you play in the ACC, most games are on television and there are cameras everywhere. So, next time you get the urge to flip off the maryland student section (not to say it wasn’t deserved) please keep this in mind.

Big Jeff also needs to distinguish, when he has the ball posted up down low, whether he has a pathway to drive to the basket or if he is just dribbling into traffic inviting either a turnover or offensive foul. Allen is a much greater weapon when he stays under control with his post up moves.

The Hokies get another chance to get back into the win column with a very important matchup with the uva cavaliers Wednesday night in Charlottesville. Tech can ill afford a loss if they want to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. The wahoos are struggling, at 2-8 in conference, but will be coming into this game with great confidence following an overtime win over #12 clemson earlier today. This figures to be another tightly contested game despite the records.

This is a key week for the Hokies, in addition to Wednesday’s rivalry game with the hoos, Tech returns to the Cassell Saturday night with a pivotal game with the fsu seminoles who are currently sitting just out of the top 20 in the all important RPI. Tech needs to stay out of the “bad loss” category against uva and needs to get another “key win” against the noles. The Hokies have some things to work on in practice leading up to these games. Hopefully the Hokies come focused and ready to take care of business.

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It’s gut check time now ladies and gentlemen. We’ve talked all season about it being way too early to make any conclusions on this 2008-09 season. Well, now that bright red light on the camera (not to be confused with the bright red jacket on Sidney Lowe) is on for good. It’s February now, which is to college basketball what September is to the baseball pennant races. Time to separate the contenders from the pretenders. At 4-3 in the ACC, and coming off back to back tough losses to clemson and boston college, the week off couldn’t have come at a better time for the Hokies. Hopefully this time has been used wisely because now it’s go time.

Starting with tomorrow’s game against old nemesis n.c. state, the Hokies play four straight games they are likely to be favorites (home against improving georgia tech, then at reeling uva and at inconsistent maryland). It is an absolute MUST that the Hokies sweep through this four game set. With home showdowns with duke and carolina sandwiched in between road trips to clemson and fsu to conclude the season, the ACC schedule makers have set the Hokies up with a murderers’ row type finish. The pivotal game in the season could come down to the February 21 game in Cassell againt fsu. So as you can see, it would certainly behoove the Hokies to be sitting at 8-3 in conference going into the final five-game stretch. It’s not just about distinguishing yourself as to whether or not you are an NCAA Tournament team, but putting yourself in position to make some noise once you’re in the big dance.

But, first things first, the key to this finishing stretch will be that overused cliché “to take each game one at a time”. Tech’s recent track record versus the wolfpack should be motivation enough to get the Hokies’ full attention going into tomorrow’s game. It better be, because now, it’s money time.

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The Balla Report 1/25/09

The Hokies scored their most impressive victory of the season to date on Wednesday night with their 78-71 victory at #1 wake forest. One thing we learned very quickly after the results were final was that a victory over a #1 ranked deacon team scored nowhere near the publicity points with the media machine known as ESPN as a victory over unc or duke. In the aftermath we heard it all: wake, who maybe wasn’t that good after all, was playing their fourth game in 11 days, so there was no way they possibly could have been up for this game against the Hokies. Not to mention the poor deacs had to play at bc and clemson in the same week. How could they be expected to hang with the unranked Hokies?

Why is it that everyone was unwilling to come out and just say Tech stepped up and simply played a better game and beat wake, in their own building, the team who was the best team I’d personally seen play this year so far going into this game? How about some credit to the Hokies physical defense , especially the inside game led by Cheick Diakite, who played his best game of the season and helped get the wake interior defenders in foul trouble early and often. Credit is also due to little man Hank Thorns — his ball handling and ability to bring the ball up allowed player of the game Malcolm Delaney to grab a quick breather or two on the court and free up for his all important outside J.

Props also go out to Seth for his use of the 2-3 zone which effectively slowed down wake’s high octane transition game. The zone is a work in progress with Greenberg, who has almost exclusively used man to man D as his signature throughout his coaching tenure. It’s no coincidence that our use of the zone coincides with the hiring of former syracuse guard Adrian Autry — who played under zone proprietor Jim Boeheim at the cuse — to the Tech staff. The Hokies ability to mix up their defenses will certainly be key down the stretch this season.

The Hokies get another shot at a quality, resume’-building victory when they take on the miami hurricanes tonight in Coral Gables. The canes currently sit at 28 in the latest RPI and are led by sharp shooting guard Jack McClinton. This will be another stern test for Malcolm Delaney, who’s coming off impressive performances on both ends of the floor against backcourt studs Tyrese Rice and Jeff Teague. Greenberg has consistently preached since the final horn in Winston-Salem that he doesn’t want the Hokies to follow in the footsteps of the bc eagles, who promptly followed up their victory at then #1 unc with four consecutive losses.

Even though the canes have won seven of their previous eight games, don’t expect the crowd in BankUnited Center to be much of a factor. miami is averaging just over 3,500 fans per home game. We’ll see if the fact that students are back on campus and a Sunday night ACC hoops television game will draw more fannies to the seats.

This is by no means a must win game for the Hokies, but it would certainly look like a nice notch in the belt come the second week of March. Let’s hope the Hokies come to play with the same intensity that they showed up with at wake.

Finally, you’ve got to give it up to the clemson tigers, who on Wednesday night continued the most amazing losing streak in all of sports. The tigers are now a perfect 0-54 in Chapel Hill against the unc tar heels following this year’s 94-70 loss. If the economy doesn’t pick up I think the Balla will be trying to make up all his recent losses to his retirement account by betting the house the next time clemson suits it up in the Dean Dome. There’s got to be no surer bet, right? In fact, maybe the Obama administration should take a good hard look at betting a solid portion of the national debt on this baby. Bailouts galore!

Posted in 2008-09 Season, Featured Columns, Home, The Balla Report4 Comments

The Balla Report 1/12/09

The Hokies took game one of this pivotal three game home stand with their 78-75 victory over the uva cavaliers on Saturday. There is no denying that A.D. Vassallo – 29 points, including the decisive turn around baseline jumper with 18.3 seconds to go – and Malcolm Delaney – 24 points to go with savvy ball handling and leadership – carried the Hokies to the must-win victory in Cassell. But there were some other positive signs that came from this game. One would have to include the play of Terrell Bell. Bell hit a three-pointer from the wing in the first half and played with confidence the entire game. His defense on uva freshman phenom sylvan landesberg in the second half was commendable and he had a huge steal off a uva baseline inbound attempt that led to a break away dunk by Delaney. Bell’s continued development will be key to whether the Hokies can make a run this season in the ACC.

Cheick Diakite and Lewis Witcher also gave the Hokies quality minutes, but they along with Victor Davila continued to miss way too many point blank shots. Every game from here out figures to be tightly contested so converting on these will be a must for the Hokies.

Jeff Allen continues to struggle, going 0 for 7 on field goal attempts againt virginia. He looked especially tentative against cavalier freshman assane sene. However Frank Beamer has to be taking note of Big Jeff, who is in the mold of current NFL star tight ends Tony Gonzales (cal) and Antonio Gates (kent st.) who were both college basketball stars before moving on to their prolific football careers. Will we ever see Allen line up at tight end in the fall for the Hokies? Who knows, but regardless, opposing teams who attempt to full court press the Hokies had better have their heads on a swivel. Just ask cavalier guards sammy zeglinski and calvin baker, both of whom were tko’d by Allen’s solid screens, much to the delight of the Cassell crowd.

Allen did seem to respond to his mid second half benching by Seth Greenberg and played better inside down the stretch, finishing with six rebounds to go along with a steal and blocked shot. Let’s hope the Dunking Donut can quickly regain his form starting Wednesday night against the richmond spiders.

The quote of the week this week came from ESPN broadcaster and former st. john’s and New York Knick star Mark Jackson, who was taking a break from his normal NBA duties to broadcast last Wednesday’s davidson – duke contest. Jackson described blue devil backup guard greg paulus as “A true professional…on the college level.”

Finally, the Mr. Inconsistency award has to go to the boston college eagles, who followed up their shocking win at #1 north carolina with home losses to harvard (the crimson’s first win against a ranked team, that’s right, EVER) and miami. It will be interesting to see which bc team shows up next Saturday in Cassell.

Posted in 2008-09 Season, Featured Columns, Home, The Balla Report1 Comment

The Balla Report 12/3/08

Well, no one ever said it was easy to be a Virginia Tech hoops fan. Just when the pain of feeling like you had been kicked in the nuts was beginning to ease – i.e. the xavier game – the wisconsin badgers came to town. No sooner did the badgers’ Trevon Hughes connect on his double clutch, off balance one hander in the lane with 0.9 seconds remaining, Hokie fans everywhere had to be wondering what we had done to tick off the basketball gods to this point. I’m now hearing rumblings within the Hokie Nation that this basketball season is a lost cause. This is utterly ridiculous.

Let’s all take a deep breath and lighten up here. While wins over sharp-shooting Big Ten power wisconsin and a xavier squad one year removed from an elite 8 appearance would certainly look nice on the resume’, there are no – repeat no – must win games in November or December. As Coach Greenberg said after Monday’s game, “No one gets eliminated December 1, and no one makes the tournament December 1.” Greenberg figures to get plenty of cracks at top-50 wins during ACC play alone this season. Look at it this way, even with all of the Hokies’ futility last season against out of conference and top-50 teams, if Tech could have squeaked out one more league win (such as reversing the loss to last place n.c. state for example) and with a 10-6 ACC record, compared to 9-7, there is no damn way we wouldn’t have gotten a bid.

The Hokies have seven non- conference games left this season (six before the ACC opener at duke). With the exception of the georgia game, Tech will be favored in each of the six. Win them all, and the Hokies will be at 10-3, their best mark going into conference play since 1995-96, when the A-10 member Hokies were in the top-25 virtually all season. Not bad position to be in. The key is to remain focused, avoid losses to bottom-150 RPI teams, get J.T. Thompson back into the rotation, then let’s take some more cracks at those marquee wins.

I have to give a shout out to A.D. for his remarkable career-high 30 point effort Monday night, which included 6 of 9 shooting from three point range. His clutch shooting down the stretch was nothing short of astounding and pretty much single-handedly got the Hokies back into the game, with Jeff Allen saddled with foul trouble the entire game.

Speaking of Allen, there were some very curious calls against the Dunking Donut, starting with a touch foul just seconds after the opening tip. I have to say that I was very impressed with Big Jeff’s ability to keep his cool after each of these calls, especially considering last season’s ref-bumping incident at georgia tech. Expect to see Allen on the other end of these calls, and on the free throw line even more, as he continues to mature.

Another encouraging note from the wisconsin game had to be the continued fast paced development of freshman Victor “Don’t Call Me V.D.” Davila. The Hokies’ other Puerto Rico native scored 13 points in 25 minutes and continued to impress with his footwork and quick moves around the rim. Victor is showing an ability to get the ball up on the glass quickly around the opposing big men. Personally, I can’t wait to see Coach Greenberg go with a front line of Thompson, Allen, and Davila.

Posted in 2008-09 Season, Featured Columns, Home, The Balla Report0 Comments


Your Virginia Tech Hokies tip off the 2008-09 men’s hoops campaign against gardner-webb (yeah, the same team that stunned kentucky in Rupp Arena last season) Friday night. Not since the 1995-96 season have Hokie fans looked forward to the start of a basketball season with such anticipation. Those were back in the Atlantic 10 days. Who can remember the days of trying to see who could score tickets for the umass visit to Cassell – or fordham or duquense for that matter?

The ACC looks to be very competitive this year. Carolina is the consensus pre-season pick to win the league and appear to be head and shoulders above the rest with all five starters returning from last year’s final four team. Of course a lot will depend on how long tyler hansbrough is out of the lineup with his stress fracture-like injury that they are saying is not a stress fracture. In addition, wake also returns all five starters in addition to bringing in what most consider the nation’s best recruiting class. The Hokies, duke, and miami return four starters. With clemson, n.c. state, and fsu returning a lot of experience as well the race should be very interesting to see who goes dancing in March.

How does the Balla see things playing out in the ACC this year you ask? Like everyone else with a pulse, I like unc to win the regular season. They will be followed by wake, duke, Virginia Tech, miami, and clemson rounding out the top six. The bottom half of the league is totally up for grabs with these teams competing for NIT and CBI invites so who really cares. Everyone but projected basement dweller uva has a shot at post season play.

The Hokies return virtually every key component from last season with the exception of the human highlight film and defensive stopper Deron Washington. So what will this year’s team look like? Here’s what I think:

Most likely to have a break out season – Dorenzo Hudson. After debuting last season at the semester break with a double digit effort at wake, Dorenzo quickly hit the wall and his biggest highlight the rest of the way was puking on the floor during Tech’s win at maryland. Hudson has all the tools to be a big time player in the ACC.

Most likely to replace Deron on YouTube – J.T. Thompson. Assuming J.T. is not out of the lineup long with what could be a sports hernia according to Coach Greenberg. J.T. showed flashes of brilliance last season as a freshman and threw down absolutely mean dunks against duke and george washington.

Most likely to step up and become the defensive stopper – Terrell Bell. With long arms to go with his 6’-6” frame, Bell has what it takes to become a great defender and check the opponent’s go-to guy a la Washington last year and Jamon Gordon before that.

Most likely to hit multiple game winning shots – Malcolm Delaney. With other teams likely to be keying on A.D. Vassallo, look for Delaney to emerge this season as a deadly clutch shooter. A.D. is not a bad option either or big Jeff Allen down low for that matter.

How will the Hokies fare overall you ask? You heard it here first – they will finish in the top four in the ACC this year and not only will they make the NCAA Tourney, they’ll be a Sweet 16 team, book it.

Posted in 2008-09 Season, Featured Columns, Home, The Balla Report0 Comments

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