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College basketball mailbag: Counterpoint

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Apparently a few Virginia Tech fans took issue with my criticism of the Hokies earlier this week. I'm not sure how you can defend an experienced team less than a year removed from a 25-win season losing at home to Virginia, but the effort was certainly made.

Read below to find my responses to those e-mails , as well as a handful of others.

Depth an issue for VT

Virginia Tech fan here. I just read your ACC column on the Hokies. I will first say I have been very disappointed in the Hokies' play so far this year. So I can't complain too much about you slamming them. However, I felt you could have done a little more research on your end to find out a possible reason the Hokies have played so poorly. They have had to deal with a season-ending knee injury to J.T. Thompson and the nagging, day-to-day foot injury to Cadarian Raines. The Hokies are also without promising Florida transfer Allan Chaney due to a heart ailment. Dorenzo Hudson also has had nagging injuries and a more recent one that caused him to miss the game against Penn State. I guess it's easier to blame Malcolm Delaney's selfish play.

Stephen
No location given

Sorry, but I don't think Virginia Tech's season went kaput when Thompson and Raines – who were backups last year – went out with injuries. They averaged a combined 9.2 points in 2009-10. No matter what Virginia Tech may have been expecting of them, good teams adjust and move forward. That especially should've been the case in Blacksburg, where there are still plenty of other options on a squad that returns all five starters and 10 of its top 11 scorers from last season. Sure, Chaney's presence would've helped. But this same team won 25 games without him last year. What about Jeff Allen and Victor Davila and Terrell Bell and Erick Green? Why not hold them accountable instead of blaming everything on a few injuries? And please don't get me wrong – I think Delaney is an excellent talent and one of the best guards in the country. I also realize he's playing out of position at point guard. Still, it's no coincidence that one of his – and Virginia Tech's – best games came Sunday against Penn State, when he scored 18 points on nine, quality field goal attempts (instead of 19) while dishing out eight assists. Bell, Green and Davila all exceeded their season scoring averages. Amazing what a little structure and teamwork can do.

More Hokie angst

Did you try to learn anything about Virginia Tech's basketball team before writing your article "Hokie low?" Everyone who actually follows college basketball knew we were way overrated at No. 22 entering the season. The reasons are the same reasons why Kansas State pulled away from us with six minutes to play. We are missing sophomore forward Allan Chaney (viral inflammation of the heart), senior forward J.T. Thompson (torn ACL), sophomore forward Cadarian Raines (foot surgery). On top of that, senior guard Dorenzo Hudson has been playing hurt, and rather poorly at that. In short, Seth Greenberg has zero depth. Try actually watching a Virginia Tech game and you'll see Seth playing guys that wouldn't sniff a minute of P.T. if any of the aforementioned players were available. You'll see a team that hangs on until fouls pile up and fatigue takes over. Beyond having zero depth and being forced to play people we'd rather not, the injuries have taken away our other scorers. So Malcolm Delaney, whom you characterize as "selfish," has been forced to shoot – a lot. Nobody else can hit the broad side of a barn door, the latest win against Penn State not withstanding. You wouldn't know that because 1) you clearly haven't watched the Hokies very much and 2) you made no effort to educate yourself before belching out your latest blog. Being a Baylor graduate, you may know something about mediocre football, but you know zip about ACC basketball and even less about Virginia Tech.

Randy Barnhart
Atlanta

Thanks for the e-mail. And don't worry, I've been subjected to enough Virginia Tech basketball in recent years to form an opinion. First of all, the people "who actually follow college basketball" are the same sportswriters and analysts who ranked your team No. 22 to start the season. They knew Chaney wasn't going to play and that Thompson had torn his ACL. But with five starters back – let me repeat that … FIVE STARTERS BACK – it seemed reasonable to think that Virginia Tech might be able to, you know, beat a decent team or two. So far, the Hokies haven't. Yes, Raines is hurt and Hudson hasn't been 100 percent. But in case you missed it, good teams fight through adversity instead of letting it conquer them. How has Duke done thus far without Kyrie Irving? Is it me, or did Michigan State make the Final Four last year without Kalin Lucas? Purdue clearly isn't the same team without Robbie Hummel, but the Boilermakers still whipped Virginia Tech's tail this season. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't that in Blacksburg – the same place the Hokies lost to, ahem, Virginia. Where were the Cavaliers picked to finish in the ACC this season? Sorry. I know that hurt. Look, if this were the first time Virginia Tech had failed to live up to expectations, I'd understand why you're giving Seth Greenberg and the Hokies a free pass. But after three or four years, aren't you tired of making excuses for your underachieving team? Virginia Tech has had some very, very good players on its roster the last few seasons, yet none of them have ever played in the NCAA tournament. You mention that there are members of the team who "wouldn't sniff a minute of P.T ." if the injured players were available and that Delaney takes all those ridiculous shots because some of the Hokies "couldn't hit the broad side of a barn." If that's the case, what does that say about your recruiting? As a Virginia Tech fan, isn't it disheartening that you don't feel comfortable with anyone other than the top five players on the court? Considering your current NCAA tournament drought – which could very well be extended this spring – I completely understand your angst that is so evident in your e-mail.


Year of the mid-major?

The bottom dwellers of the Big Six conferences have lost to LOW -major squads this season. Oklahoma to Chaminade, Oregon State to Utah Valley, Wake Forest to Stetson … the list goes on and on. Penn State and Iowa are pretty bad in the Big Ten and DePaul is not up to par in the Big East. Auburn lost to Campbell. These are teams that should hurt the RPIs of their conference mates this season. After Butler's performance in the Final Four last year, I think this year we might see a record number of mid-major teams chosen for the Big Dance. What do you think?

Mo Dickens
Kansas City

You raise a great point, Mo. That could especially be the case in the Pac-10 or the SEC. Take Mississippi State, for example. The Bulldogs play in the horrendous SEC West. They'll probably be pretty good once Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost join the lineup. But playing schools such as Auburn, LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas two times each probably won't do much for their resume. Situations such as that could end up benefitting mid-major teams – and make no mistake, there are a lot of good ones this year. Everyone talks about UNLV, BYU, Memphis and San Diego State. But what about Central Florida, Southern Miss, Cleveland State, St. Mary's, Wichita State, Old Dominion, Richmond and Temple? Selection Sunday will be interesting.


Big East bias

Oh my … how many years in a row has the national media decided that the Big East is the best basketball conference, only to discover at crunch time that it should be more accurately called the Big Least.

Bob
Saginaw, Mich.

The Big East hasn't won a national title since 2004, but that doesn't make it a bad league. Only one conference can claim the NCAA trophy each year. Does that mean the other conferences stink? Of course not. I realize the Big East has some "bottom feeders" that are pretty bad. But the parity that exists between the top 10 or 11 teams is better than any conference in the country – at least at the moment.


Love for Illini

in a recent column you mentioned that the 2001-02 Kansas team was the last major conference team to go undefeated in league play. Illinois did it in '05, when their only loss on the season came in the NCAA finals to UNC. Just a heads up. Also, what's your take on Ohio State sitting at No. 2 after their powder-puff non-conference schedule? They played a vastly overrated Florida team and pretty much nobody else and are still No. 2. Meanwhile, other Big Ten teams like Illinois and Minnesota have played much tougher schedules and only have one loss each. Yet they are languishing on the bottom end of the Top 25. Can we expect them to drop 10-15 spots if they lose to one of these nobody teams before the start of conference play? Or are they being given the benefit of the doubt and keeping their No. 2 ranking on name alone?

Rob
Champaign, Ill.

The 2004-05 Illinois team lost to Ohio State 65-64 on March 6, 2005, the final day of the regular season. The Illini finished 15-1 in Big Ten play and 37-2 on the season after losing to North Carolina in the national title game. Still, what a great season that was for Bruce Weber's team. Regarding this season, I think Ohio State is ranked No. 2 not because of its resume – which isn't all that impressive – but because of what people think this team can do in the long run. With freshman of the year candidate Jared Sullinger joining all of those experienced players, Ohio State looks really, really tough. Granted, it'd be nice to see the Buckeyes prove it on the court, and I'm guessing they will eventually. Remember, preseason rankings are just a guess, because at that point, there haven't been any games on which to judge teams. Ohio State was ranked high from the start, and until they demonstrate that they don’t deserve such a lofty tag, there will be no reason to take it away from them. Illinois and Minnesota have both been impressive (although I still can't get over Minnesota’s home loss to Virginia). I wouldn't have a problem with either of them being ranked higher than they currently are.


Cincinnati soft?

We Cincinnati fans are well aware that our schedule thus far has been soft. That is why attendance is still low despite our 9-0 record. What exactly is the intended purpose of your article? Haven't UC fans endured enough in the post-Huggins era? There is plenty of upside to this year's Cincinnati squad. How about writing about that instead of this useless drivel? Or better yet, wait until we get into conference play and then you can bash us all you want.

Bryan
No location given

I wasn't trying to bash the Bearcats. I think weak teams should play weak schedules. Victories – no matter whom they're against – generate fan support, build confidence and create the kind of swagger that's imperative to survive in a conference as tough as the Big East. That's one of the reasons Kansas State's football team used to be so successful. Bill Snyder would schedule three or four non-conference games against cupcake opponents. By the time league play rolled around, fans had bought up all the tickets, the team was in the Top 25 rankings and players were performing above their heads. That led to victories in games Kansas State had no business winning, which helped it get exposure, which led to better recruits, which resulted in sustained success in Manhattan for years and years. I'm not saying that will happen at Cincinnati, but I certainly understand the philosophy, which may end up saving Mick Cronin's job. At least for another season.