NEW YORK — If this were tennis at deuce, advantage: Virginia Tech.
But there is a return serve coming.
The Hokies mucked their way to a 59-57, just-held-on-to-it win over Oklahoma State Friday afternoon in the consolation game of the NIT Season Tip-Off. Decent W. Thing is, these two get another crack at each other on New Year’s Eve, at Oklahoma State, so who’s to say how big this win ultimately will be; the teams could cancel each other out if Okie State wins on Dec. 31. But Virginia Tech won on Nov. 25, and for now, that’s all that matters.
(The reason these two non-conference opponents get each other twice in one year is the unlikelihood and unpredictability of an early-season tournament like the NIT — Oklahoma State and Va. Tech scheduled each other long before they knew they’d get each other in NYC.)
Seth Greenberg’s team got a win, a confidence-builder. Still feeling the sting of the snub to last year’s NCAA tournament, winning a close one means something to Greenberg. It always does.
“The system’s flawed,” Greenberg said of the RPI, warming the cockles of my heart in the process. “We have a very difficult schedule … Kansas State, Minnesota, BYU, Rhode Island, it’s an extremely difficult schedule for such a young team. … I’ve never been able to figure out the RPI.”
To counterpoint Greenberg, none of the teams he mentioned are surefire tournament teams right now. Not easy ones, but nothing close to a Syracuse, which took beat Virginia Tech 69-58 on the eve of Thanksgiving.
I asked Greenberg if he considered bubble implications of this win for down the road, if he and his coaches were aware how winning this game and potentially earning a sweep over OSU in a month would possibly be paramount to his groups tournament chances. He already went into (and I offer this up playfully, not as a critique) defending-his-team’s-resume mode.
“The East Tennessee [State] win is going to help us; that team’s going to win 20-something games this year,” Greenberg said.
I couldn't believe it as he was saying it to me with a straight face. You can’t be using East Tennessee State as a defense ... ever. And he probably knows that, but he can’t help himself. It was funny to see Greenberg default back to that “mode,” if you will.
As for what this team is this year, without the departed Malcolm Delaney, the team's most valuable player last year, Greenberg said, “This team likes each other, is extremely unselfish. They have good trust and the upperclassmen, the few we have, are doing a good job with leadership. Dorenzo (Hudson) is the voice of the team. Erick (Green) leads by example and has total respect of his teammates, and Victor (Davila) is a guy that, when he opens up, people go, ‘Whoa,’ and pay attention.”
What Virginia Tech is best at right now: defending the long shot. The Hokies entered the game as the ninth-most efficient defense nationally against 3-pointers. Oklahoma State was 4-of-16 Friday afternoon — expect the Hokies back in the top five (they were No. 1 before losing to Syracuse Wednesday) by Saturday morning. Hard to judge Dorian Finney-Smith’s performance on an island, since he was a non-factor against Syracuse’s bigs, but he looked very nice against the Pokes. He helped out on a lot of second-chance points and had 14 boards, more offensive (eight) than not. He put up 10 points.
“He’s got a feel for the way the ball’s going to come off,” Greenberg said. “The big improvement was range. … He has a gift to rebound, but I think the best thing he does — he’s a facilitator. I think he makes other people better. He’s like a little kid on Christmas that has a lot of toys. He affects the game in a lot of ways. He can make enough shots to people honest, he can guard multiple positions, and he’s still learning a lot.”
The Hokies have another quick turnaround, as they host St. Bonaventure Sunday.