After four straight losses and eight in ten games, it would be easy for the Virginia Tech Hokies and coach James Johnson to get discouraged and coast to the finish. But with ten games left, just as he said in his pre-season press conference, Johnson is more concerned with the development of his team heading into tonight's battle with Maryland.
"I see a better Virginia Tech team, I like the team that's playing right now," Johnson said. "As a team right now we're playing better on the offensive end as far as execution is concerned. We're still looking for more consistency as far as individuals, but we're taking better shots. And our defense is better, but we have to be better at rebounding especially against Maryland."
The past two losses have been tough (a late loss to No. 14 Miami and overtime loss at North Carolina), but Virginia Tech has proved it can play with anybody. However, the Hokies might not have a full, healthy lineup against the Terrapins, who demolished the Hokies 94-71 in College Park a little more than a month ago.
Sophomore guard Marquis Rankin and sophomore forward C.J. Barksdale missed yesterday's practice with flu-like symptoms, and will be game-time decisions.
Virginia Tech will need another star effort out of the nation's leading scorer, senior guard Erick Green, if it hopes to have a chance to win. Green averaged 30 points in his previous three contests before Saturday's loss to UNC, where he scored 16 points. It was the first time he hadn't scored more than 20 since Dec. 29.
Green did manage to record 28 points in the Maryland loss, which is evidence that the Hokies will need secondary scorers to step up tonight. One of those players is sophomore guard Robert Brown, who has been mired in a shooting slump for a while now. Since Dec. 8 (12 games), Brown has averaged 6.3 ppg and has scored at least 10 points just four times.
"He's having great practices, it's just not carrying over to the game right now," Johnson said. "As long as he's taking good shots within our offense that he's been working on, I'm not concerned about that."
Wins and losses may not be the most important thing for Johnson right now. But with time dwindling down in his first year as head coach, Virginia Tech must continue to show improvement if he hopes to be in Blacksburg for the long haul. And beating one of your rivals is a great place to start.
Tip-time for the Hokies and Terrapins is at 9 p.m. at Cassell Coliseum.