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Seth’s ‘T’

So much for Senior Night. It was almost the best of times for the Virginia Tech basketball seniors and the rest of the team Wednesday night against Clemson. Unfortunately, basketball rules dictated that the game be played for its scheduled forty minutes instead of thirty-six. That’s when the trouble came.

The Tech team that had displayed its usual fight fell completely apart down the stretch against the Tigers, managing to turn a seven-point lead into a loss by five. Quite frankly, it seemed a remarkable achievement for Tech to have managed a lead at all. Clemson, normally the ACC’s worst outfit when it comes to shooting from both the foul line and three-point arc, had a program night from both while Tech adopted its usual ‘Gang who couldn’t shoot straight’ posture, particularly when it came to free throws.

Tech had a lead, and then wilted down the stretch, a common occurrence during this tragedy-marred 2006 season. The loss practically ensured that Tech’s star-crossed season will end next Thursday or Friday in Greensboro . Maybe it’s just as well that this year be gotten over with as quickly as possible.

The late-game collapse by Tech came from the top down. Not only did the team lose its composure, but so did the head coach. How many technical fouls has Seth Greenberg now rung up since he contritely vowed earlier in the season to never get another?

It has been a trying season for everybody connected with the Tech team. A talent-shy and undermanned squad to begin with, they have suffered through death, injury and serious illness, the likes of which no 18-22 year-olds should have to deal with. They have maintained a fighting spirit throughout, banding together and continuing to give each game their all. It is as admirable a team as any of recent memory to take the court or field for Virginia Tech or anybody else.

What they have not done is win. Wile I certainly would not put it past the capabilities of this team to head to Boston Saturday and knock off Fredo, the odds are against it and chances are this team will finish the regular season with four ACC wins, half of last year’s total. It was not quite what was expected from a team that went 8-8 last year and was a very pleasant surprise in their first year of ACC play, but then nobody expected the mountain of personal and physical problems that afflicted this team, either.

This Tech team continues to lose games in the same manner, faltering late. This Tech head coach continues to demonstrate an unfortunate tendency to lose control at critical times. The technical earned by Seth at the end of the Clemson game goes into the same file that contains all of the other technicals, the unfortunate situation in the home Hoo game when Seth took the microphone following bad behavior by the Tech students and instead of attempting to calm the situation, did little more than egg them on, the media whining about officiating that at times gives Seth all the credibility of a rabid message board loon and the histrionics he displayed in Tech’s very first ACC game at Duke last year. This is getting to be a fairly large file.

It gets even larger when you combine it with his South Florida experience. Charging onto the floor after referees, throwing things and other temper tantrums highlighted the checkered Greenberg Era in Tampa . He hit the ground running at Directional Florida, generating enthusiasm for basketball at a place that had none, raising expectations to a level where winning seasons, NCAA bids and beating people like Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins became expected. That enthusiasm and raised expectations part of Seth’s history has been repeated at Tech along with the in-game flamboyance. Seth never really fulfilled the heightened expectations he spawned at his previous stop. It remains to be seen whether he will at Tech.

Seth Greenberg has done much good at Virginia Tech. This is a place where basketball became a financial casualty of the Metro/Big East mess a decade ago, essentially written off by necessity in order to devote a larger share of scarce athletic resources to the burgeoning football program that became Tech’s calling card.

Two years into ACC membership, it remains a football outpost in what is still a basketball-centric conference. It is a difficult basketball situation suffering from what is still a benign neglect by the administration, out-dated or non-existent facilities which by Sunday night will be the worst in the league, a casual indifference by the alumni and students who seem at times to be more interested in rivaling Maryland’s for classlessness instead of providing a solid homecourt advantage. To say it is a tough place to win is akin to saying that Maymont is a tough place for bears to prosper.

Seth has brought some excitement into the Tech program. The number of people who actually care about Hokies basketball is increasing, although still a bit behind roundball interest at other places in the league. This also happened at South Florida . Seth is generally popular among Tech fans, particularly among the students, as was the case in the early years at South Florida . What he has also brought from South Florida is the tendency to draw both attention and technical fouls to himself at most inopportune times.

Seth has at times been a breath of fresh air following the general aura of incompetence that seemed to envelop the Ricky Stokes regime. Players are actually developing, what looked to be an alien concept to Stokes, defense is actually being taught and played and game plans look to be a bit more elaborate than the ‘Gee, I hope we don’t lose by more than twenty’ approaches to games that often seemed to be the Stokes Method.

Had the misfortunes befallen a Stokes team, it is not hard to imagine that the team would have simply thrown in the towel, content to spend games watching the other guys conduct a lay-up line rather than display, over and over, the fiery competitiveness that Seth has elicited from this Tech team.

The 2006 Tech team has played the season on a knife-edge of emotions. It has no doubt taken its toll on everyone involved, including the coaching staff. Seth’s proclivity for sideline explosions could be excused as a byproduct of the emotional conditions were it not for the fact that such displays are part of his history, present even when all of the heartbreak of this year’s team was not present.

This team needed a strong hand to hold them together during a season of very trying times. Seth Greenberg provided it. They did not need a coach who would fly off the handle entirely too often during crucial game situations. Unfortunately, Seth has provided that, too.

Seth Greenberg eventually wore out his welcome at South Florida . When he took the Tech job, the sounds of celebration were much larger in Tampa than they were in Blacksburg . He wore it out in part because of the dark side that seems to go hand in hand with all of the enthusiasm. Tech saw that again at the end of the Clemson game.

After Seth was awarded the 2005 ACC Coach of the Year award for what had been a terrific job, a legitimate question was why such a seemingly-good coach had spent his career out of the basketball mainstream, toiling at places where huge success was very hard to come by. Perhaps Seth’s behavior at the end of the Clemson game and all of the other similar actions at the end of other games both at Tech and South Florida offer reasons why.

Next year’s Tech team will be a veteran one, the most experienced in the ACC. Hopefully, it will be free of all of the emotional turmoil that contributed greatly to the 2006 season not being a winning one on the scoreboard. Seth never quite got over the hump at South Florida and in the end left behind an absolute mess. He will have another chance next year. The 2007 Tech team will contain more maturity than any Seth has yet fielded at Tech. Hopefully the head coach will have a bit more, too.

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