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Baby Blue Makes Two

Virginia Tech seems to be figuring out this whole ACC basketball thing. The Hokies followed up their win over Duke at Cameron by taking out the ACC’s other blue-blooded basketball aristocracy, North Carolina , last Saturday in Cassell. This is becoming great fun.

When a game in Cassell ends with Woody jerking his headphones from his head and disgustedly flinging them to the table, it has probably been a good one for the home team. It was. It is becoming apparent why a certain member of Carolina ’s radio crew finds Tech’s colors so hurl-inducing offensive. At least Woody’s basketball sidekick Eric Montross was able to keep down his lunch as he spent much of the wild celebration on the floor gazing intently at the Tech cheerleaders, certainly a case of finding the good among the bad.

Carolina did make things quite interesting towards the end as they shaved twenty off of what had been a twenty-three point Tech lead. That had much to do with the undeniable fact that the Heels are a very good team that is going to be a load to handle come March. The waves of quality depth that Ol’ Roy threw at Tech had an effect, as the Tech team was clearly wearing down under the onslaught.

It should also be noted that Carolina is expertly coached by a class act. Dean in his Dome could not have handled the final four minutes any better, as Ol’ Roy used his times-out to, over and over, set that famous Carolina trapping defense, often to devastating results. If college basketball rules called for a forty-one minute game, things might have turned out very differently and the good old N&O would have been gushing over yet another Carolina miracle comeback.

Ol’ Roy didn’t seem to be nearly as distraught as Woody by the outcome, or moved to nausea by all of the maroon. He had a friendly chat before the game with Jamon Gordon, whom he had gotten to know last summer when both worked at a basketball camp. Following the game Roy was quick to congratulate Seth with a handshake and pat on the back and then spent much of his post-game press conference praising the Tech team and its senior guards. That was not behavior exhibited too often by Dean following close losses.

Tech won its second straight game against a Tobacco Road powerhouse much as they did the first, with senior guards Gordon and Zabian Dowdell dominating their much younger counterparts. Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson are going to be a fearsome backcourt if they hang around Blue Heaven long enough, but last Saturday they were callow freshmen being schooled by a couple of seniors.

Tech’s third senior starter Coleman Collins also had a very good game against Carolina ’s star post player Tyler Hansbrough. Tyler the Good got his points, which he almost always does, but nineteen was much more palatable than the thirty-five or forty he might have gone off for against what has been a suspect Tech frontcourt.

Aside from solid play by the three starting seniors, included was an improbable three by fellow classmate Chris Tucker [when Tucker throws down a three, one gets the feeling it just might be Tech’s day], Seth got a solid contribution from his bench. Carolina clearly had the deeper team, but solid minutes were provided by Cheick Diakite, quasi-starter AD Vassallo and point guard-in-waiting Nigel Munson. They helped fight against the Carolina depth and overcame the loss of Deron Washington, who got into almost immediate foul trouble. Seth and his staff did an excellent job of using what bench they had, providing sufficient amounts of rest for the starters.

The Tech team also seemed to be greatly encouraged by a very loud and raucous Cassell crowd. For at least one Saturday, Cassell woke up the echoes of its legendary past instead of looking to be the half-empty relic it too often has become these last years.

Tech had a solid homecourt advantage that at times appeared to rattle the Carolina freshmen. This was even with a large number of Carolina fans in attendance, particularly prominent in those prime mid-court seats usually and famously unoccupied by all of those NOVA Hokies. In the future, instead of giving their tickets to their Carolina buddies, or leaving the seats empty, they might want to consider selling them to Tech fans, or just maybe attending the game [you missed a good show], Or, better still, give them to me, as I demonstrated again last Saturday that when offered free tickets, I rarely say no.

There were a goodly number of Carolina fans in the house, as there always is most anywhere the Heels play. Their fans find ways to get in. Among them were those we met in the parking lot. As we always find to be the case when interacting with them, Carolina fans are a great group of folks, at least those actually attending the games.

We had an enjoyable time chatting with them and were only taken aback during a discussion of the Heels’ new football coach when Butch was referred to as a ‘Frank-killer.’ The Carolina fan with what seemed to be a much higher opinion of his new football coach than any Tech fan old enough to remember the Nineties reacted to our blank stares of incomprehension by pointing out that Butch ‘had never lost to Frank.’ Well, the Heel fan was young and probably not all that well-versed on the history of Big East football. It should also be noted that of Butch’s many, many, many losses while at Cleveland , not the first one was to Frank.

Returning to basketball, it is very hard not to notice that at least for another few days, Tech and Fredo stand alone atop the ACC standings as the league’s only two remaining teams unbeaten in conference play. Three trips around the league have demonstrated that the ACC was in need of some football juice and perhaps still is. I would think most were unaware that Tech and Fredo were going to come in handy when it came to propping up the league’s basketball RPI as well.

It is still early and might be just a tad premature for Tech fans to start looking into scalping tickets to the Final Four. While the basketball Hokies have notched a couple of very good wins within the last fortnight, it is the same team that somehow managed to lose to Marshall and a couple of directional schools. There will be lots of opportunities during the upcoming weeks of the grueling ACC schedule to lose a few more. The large amounts of intensity and effort that Seth continually talks about as being necessary for success will have to be there, as it was for Duke and Carolina .

That was then and in the future. This is now and now means that Tech spends at least a little more time atop the conference standings. The most recent now includes back-to-back ACC wins over the two most famous basketball programs in the league, Duke and Carolina . Times are good. Amid all the griping about the football team ‘only’ winning ten games, it looks like the basketball team is figuring out the whole mystique of ACC basketball.

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