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Hooville via Cameron

Did anybody else realize that basketball season had started? It seems it has. It also caused me to take the long route to Hooville for this weekend’s Big Game. As a general rule, the shortest distance between Danville and Mr. Jefferson’s stomping Grounds does not include a detour through Cameron Indoor Stadium. This year it did.

It seems fairly ridiculous that any college basketball should be played prior to the annual late-season Hokies-Hoos get-together. Hoo pays attention? Well, they do at Duke of course, for obvious reasons.

Most professing allegiance to the royal blue probably are unaware that the Victory Bell is up for grabs this Saturday. Few know what it even looks like. If it was up to Lackey Joe and most any Devil not named Ted Roof and maybe him too, Duke basketball would begin somewhere around the first of September. But for the rest of the world, basketball should really wait their turn and that should at least be after the battle for the Commonwealth Cup.

It wasn’t just Duke getting a jump-start on the basketball season, either. While spending last weekend engaged in activities having nothing to do with organized collegiate athletics [my suggestion that the Teacher see if her old Tech cheerleading outfit still fit was not responded to in a positive fashion], I did manage to check my e-mail Sunday morning. There was a post from the helpful folks at TSL informing me that the Tech basketball team had also opened their season. They were also telling me that the Tech team was up to their old tricks and finding even more inventive ways to lose the sort of OOC games that really catch the eye of selection committees in March. Over the last two weeks, the Tech football team did not have a monopoly on bad losses, although at least Frank’s guys managed to lose to a decent team.

That was Tech and then there is Duke. Needless to say, basketball is somewhat of a bigger deal on Methodist Flats than it is in Southwestern Virginia. When Duke plays, even in the middle of November, it tends to grab people’s attention. It certainly did mine when my friendly neighborhood cardiologist called Wednesday after noon to inform me that his good buddy and former classmate at the Duke medical school had called to offer his Cameron season tickets to the Duke-Seton Hall game. When my friendly neighborhood cardiologist asked if I cared to join him it did not take even a heartbeat for me to answer in the affirmative.

It was much easier for me to go since I was aware that the Teacher spent her Wednesday evenings engaged in her part-time gig at the hospital. I had nothing better to do. It was just a bit trickier for my friendly neighborhood cardiologist. In order for us to reach Durham in time to enjoy an artery-clogging cheeseburger and mug of icy ale at our devine favorite Bull City haunt before tip-off, it involved the friendly neighborhood cardiologist blowing off his late-afternoon appointments. I sure hope that guy who was told, “I’m sure those stabbing pains up your arm are nothing serious. Take two aspirins and call me in the morning if you are still alive” is all right. Hopefully, he understood that while heart attacks are a dime a dozen Cameron tickets are a precious rarity.

We did indeed make the game by tip-off, about the only part of the game that was contested. Some may be aware that Duke won fairly easily. When Mikey is weauxfing about the high quality of his supersized basketball conference, Seton Hall-Duke is likely not a game he will reference. Needless to say, this Duke team is very good. Exactly how good remains to be seen, but when Coach K’s talented freshmen gain experience and learn to mesh and play with his talented seniors, and they will, this team will be a force. A lot can happen between now and next April. It popped into my head that this Duke team is not particularly quick, mainly due to their being about the whitest team one is going to find this side of the Ivy League. A team that plays a balls-to-the-wall full-court running game could give them problems, such as Louisville or Michigan State, but that is a long way away. In the meantime, it looks to be an especially apoplectic year for the legions of Duke haters.

Of course there are no more than a few hundred readers of this who care one whit about Duke basketball. Would you believe it, a few hundred? How about a couple of dozen? Would you believe my friendly neighborhood cardiologist, provided he is not huddled with the Hoo Lawyer devising a malpractice defense for walking out on that heart patient? This is primarily read by Tech fans not also fans of Duke and even those increasing numbers of Heels and Wolves who Swagger in don’t seem to be overly fond of the Devils, for some reason. Go figure.

What might be of more interest to the faithful is the conversation we held while cruising down 86. In addition to being a graduate Duke’s medical school, my friendly neighborhood cardiologist is also an alumnus of Virginia Tech. You can correctly figure that we were not discussing Duke basketball.

We both were aware that the last time the Hoos really laid it on Tech was way back in the early Nineties. Neither of us would be particularly surprised if it happened Saturday. The specter of 03 is definitely hovering over a lot of Hokies, not just Bill Roth.

My friendly neighborhood cardiologist was not the first Platinum Hokie I have heard express disapproval over Frank’s new contract. The Cult of Frank doesn’t seem to hold large sway over many who write the largest checks.

Most coaches in Frank’s high-altitude salary range do not have overall losing records in the month of November during this century, in Tech’s case from the time Big Bro sprouted Falcon wings. For all of Frank’s talk about seasons being determined not by how you start but how you finish, for the most part when the lights become the brightest is when the Tech teams have wilted. And now it is staring them in the face again.

Once again, columns are pondering how well Tech will respond following a late-season loss. The answers in 01,02 and 03 were not good. The 04 ACC championship team did not lose in November but had gotten its losing out of the way earlier in the year. It was also a team that did not carry the enormous hype attached to the other versions.

Once again a Tech team is trying to deal with unrealized expectations. There will be no Rose Bowl and it looks a lot like the Hokies will not win every ACC football championship. After all of the talk, talk and more talk about the MNC, the Tech coaches and team has to deal, again, with the reality of all that talk being just that.

This team really needs to acquit itself a bit better than the listless, dispirited bunch that slogged onto David Wayles Harrison Field in 03. You can bet your bottom franc that algroh will have the Hoos ready to play. The Smithsonian will be much louder than its usual French countryside ambience. It will be positively froggy. Hoo fans will be ready to go charging out of the Smithsonian to engage in a victorious divan-burning spree along Rugby Road. Marques Hagans finally has a chance to step out of the long shadows cast since high school by guys named Randall and Vick and will be ready. Tech had better be, too.

This will be a critical game for Frank Beamer’s Tech program. Reversing late-season slides has not exactly been his strong point. A loss to a Hoo team that is a touchdown underdog will not only set off another ‘Here we go again’ chorus but go a long way towards cementing a reputation for Tech as a team that folds up under November pressure. This is not a good reputation for a program to have, especially one led by a guy who just clipped his alma mater for a salary in excess of two extra-large. Tech certainly showed Frank the money.

What the fans paying that kind of coin get in return will again be determined Saturday in Hooville. There are questions being asked about whether the mental toughness of this Tech team is sufficient to overcome the Miami loss, some of them pointed. Another loss would signal another collapse that would seem to provide solid answers.

Tech can still win eleven games this season and play in a very good bowl. It is indicative of what Frank Beamer has built at Tech and the accompanying expectations that he does nothing to discourage that portions of the Tech fan base would consider it a disappointment. It shouldn’t be. If this Tech team behaves as recent ones have and tanks the season, it would not only be a bigger disappointment, but a pattern of them, presided over by one of the game’s highest-paid coaches. This is a game Frank Beamer and his program really needs to win.

Basketball season has come early, or let’s hope so. Tech heads to the land of Sally’s boyfriend really needing a win over the Hoos. There is more at stake than the usual rivalry stuff or the fun that can be had from again sticking a wine cork into algroh’s boasting. The Hokies need to show that, unlike recent Tech teams, they can overcome a tough November loss. It is expected that at Duke basketball will be the focus in November. It is also to be expected that when the Tar Heels come calling to Lane next weekend that basketball will also be foremost on the minds of their fans. Hopefully, another November loss won’t be causing the same at Tech. It’s too early for basketball season.

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