2003-2004 Men's Basketball Preview

Aside from the 213-170 career coaching record that he has compiled in thirteen seasons as head coach at Long Beach St and South Florida, there is one other notable standard that upon inspection, Seth Greenberg would love to see continued as he assumes the reigns of the Virginia Tech program. Not one of Greenberg’s previous teams has had a losing season after his first year on the job. That statistical achievement might be tested next year when Greenberg guides the Hokie program on its maiden voyage into ACC waters.

Greenberg indeed might also become the answer to a trivia question as well in the not too distant future. When he coaches his first ACC game - likely to be in early January of 2005 - Greenberg will be the first, and quite possibly only, head coach to have led programs in three consecutive seasons in the Big East, ACC and Conference USA.

With a coaching background that has seen Greenberg residing in the Tropics of Florida at South Florida, surfing out west at Long Beach St and with a heavy dose of Eastern Establishment basketball at Columbia, Greenberg doesn’t have the natural local background of his predecessor, Ricky Stokes, that would seem better served for Virginia Tech’s entrance into the ACC. Stokes went to high school in Richmond, played his college ball at Virginia and served the majority of his years as an assistant at a couple of ACC schools, Wake Forest and Virginia. On the other hand, Greenberg’s contacts throughout the east and his collegiate background at Fairleigh Dickinson suggest that his marriage to Virginia Tech and the Big East seemed an ideal pairing, although that ended abruptly in an annulment.

Greenberg has shown early on though, that things will be very much different, and that his lack of familiarity with the state of Virginia and its natural residence in the heart of ACC territory, will not at all serve as an impediment. Where Stokes and his previous staff felt that the program would be better served by establishing itself a bit more before trying to recruit the elite caliber type players, Greenberg decided he would skip the customary probation period and get busy right away. His early success on the recruiting trail, with the cachet of full ACC participation, gives encouragement to Tech fans that the battles will be fought in the future for players with ACC foes off the court, rather than some of the previous battles that included Colonial and Southern conference type programs.

But before enlisting new soldiers in the battles that will escalate within the ACC, Greenberg is first faced with a daunting task as Tech completes its association with the Big East Conference. Never before in its brief history has Virginia Tech participated in the season ending Big East Conference tournament, and reversing that trend will be problematic, to say the least, this year as well.

Tech lost starting center Terry Taylor, who averaged 15.0 points and 7.0 rebounds last year, along with alternating point guard starters Brian Chase and Eric Branham, to graduation. Starting forward Dimari Thompkins, who would have represented the lone returning front court player with any appreciable inside experience, decided not to return to school for his junior year, citing personal reasons. Returning senior and three year starter at guard, Carlos Dixon, who averaged 13.8 points last year, incurred a third fracture of his foot in the past twelve months that has his availability for this season in serious doubt, leaving Bryant Matthews as the only player who was a full time starter and the only player remaining in either the junior or senior class that is certain to see court time this year. In addition, backup post players Deonte Smith and Luke Minor both left the program as well, leaving Greenberg extremely thin and brittle inside.

Additional pre-season injuries to sophomore forward Fabian Davis, (stress reaction with three bones in foot) who has been out of action a month, and sophomore Shawn Harris (plantar fascia injury) have further depleted the depth of the team. Davis might return this week, but Harris appears to be on the shelf until conference play in January. Freshman Coleman Collins was the latest to go down, fracturing a metatarsal bone in his foot late in the exhibition game Monday night, and he will be out 3-8 weeks.

Greenberg has welcomed the players with an intense, almost manic coaching style. He is demanding and known as a coach who requires toughness and intensity in his players. Sound, hard-nosed defense has been a trait that has been evident in most of Greenberg’s teams, and while the lack of depth and numbers might keep fans from seeing the full encyclopedia of Greenberg’s defensive style, you can expect to see a lot of zone, some half court traps and full court zone pressure. Utilizing full court pressure as much as Greenberg would prefer might be the first casualty, and response to the greater than expected injuries that have handicapped the team.

Offensively, expect to see Tech run more than in the past. There were always hints in the past that Tech, under Stokes, wanted to increase the tempo, but that never really came to pass. Virginia Tech averaged 70.2 points last year, a slight increase from the 69.4 averaged during the 2001-02 season. With the lack of a low post game, Greenberg wants to run often, in transition and after made baskets, and that has been a point of emphasis during the preseason.

After finishing last in the Big East during the 2001-02 season with 19.1 turnovers per game, Tech saw that figure drop to 14.7 last season, tying them with Pittsburgh for 9th in the conference. Tech also finished 12th among conference teams with 12.9 assists per game, and Greenberg will require that this team share the ball and play more unselfishly. Tech ranked next to last in the conference in points allowed per game, giving up 73.2, and they were dead last in margin of victory with –3.0 per game. Tech also ranked 12th among teams in turnovers forced, so creating more offensive opportunities from the defense will be a focus point as well this year for Greenberg.

Finally, for Tech to be successful this year they must shoot the ball better, from both the floor and the foul line. Shooting the three wasn’t a problem last season as Tech shot 35.0% from behind the arc, tying Villanova for fourth in the conference. However, with the graduation of one of the better three point shooters in recent memory at Tech, Brian Chase, and the possible loss of Carlos Dixon, there will be a void to fill there. The big problem last year was shooting from both the foul line and the floor. Tech shot 42.4% overall last year, which ranked them 11th among Big East teams. From the free throw line, Tech shot just 66.5%,which placed them ahead of only West Virginia, Rutgers and Pittsburgh among conference teams.

With blowout victories last year over Virginia , Connecticut and Villanova at home, a road win at St John’s, and a conference win against Providence, Tech showed the capabilities of competing at any time. The season was marred however, by extreme inconsistency, an at-times almost maddening lack of intensity in some games, along with bouts of undisciplined play frequented by a loss of poise in games. Should Greenberg come in and establish his stamp on the program, getting the players to play intensely more often, while unselfishly at the same time, and to exhibit poise and good shot selection, then his first year can be considered a success, regardless of the final record.

A position-by-position overview of the team:


Zabian Sailes and Markus Dowdell look to get the majority … no wait, it just might seem to fans throughout the year that Sailes and Dowdell are one and the same. Markus Sailes, a 6-5 sophomore guard, started the most recent exhibition game, but he has by no means cemented the position. Zabian Dowdell, a 6-1 freshman who has recently gotten that "deer in the headlights" look, is a better shooter and scorer than Sailes.

Markus offers height, athleticism and is a little better finisher at this time than Dowdell. This position might go back and forth between the two throughout the year, at least until someone takes charge. One concern with both players is how well they will handle full court pressure and extreme on-the-ball pressure throughout the course of a game. Neither of the exhibition opponents provided a test at all in that regard. Tech would be best served by having one or the other assume control of the position, so we don’t see a repeat of the previous two years, where neither Chase nor Branham fully established themselves as the starter.


With the expected loss to injury this season of three-year starter Carlos Dixon, there is a hole to fill in the backcourt, but 6-3 freshman Jamon Gordon has given early indications that he is up to the task. Gordon is a very tough, hard-nosed player whose personality and playing style might serve as the blueprint for future recruits brought into the program under Greenberg. Gordon isn’t a terribly good shooter, but he makes just enough jumpers to keep defenders honest. He has a mid range game at a time when that is MIA with many college players. Above all, Gordon gets into the teeth of the defense, then he finishes with either hand, showing outstanding touch on his forays to the goal and excellent body control. Already, Gordon has also shown keen defensive anticipation and an inherent feel for the game and playing the passing lanes. He garnered 10 steals in the first two games and he is an unselfish player who can also pass the basketball. Working through the upcoming expected freshman inconsistencies would probably be his biggest hurdle this year.

Backing up Gordon will probably be one of the two point guards, now that 6-4 sophomore guard Shawn Harris appears out of action until January. Harris had dropped weight, gotten quicker and was having a very good preseason, shooting the ball very well. 6-4 junior walk-on Bob Ritchie, who is a very sound fundamental player with intelligence, and 6-3 freshman Mykhael Lattimore will also see minutes in the backcourt.


This position could see a number of different faces throughout the year. The big name and the one who will get the majority of minutes will be returning three-year starter Bryant Matthews. Matthews is the first player in the history of the Big East to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocked shots, and steals in the same season. Opie averaged 17.3 points and 7.1 rebounds last year and will be counted on for even more this year. Greenberg appears to be a coach capable of polishing even further Matthews’ game, and his improvement has been steady throughout his tenure at Tech. Matthews is extremely active on the floor and glass, he is very coachable, never plays less than 100%, and his shooting has improved each year. Turnovers and playing out of control has been his Achilles heel in the past, but strides have been made there and the focus this year has been on getting Matthews to take just one or two dribbles and make plays. Matthews will be counted on for scoring, rebounding and contributions from the defensive end, as he still remains the best on the ball defender for Tech.

6-6 sophomore Fabian Davis will be the primary backup for Matthews, once he returns from injury. Davis will need to get in shape and work harder to make an impact this year. His athleticism has suffered, but he is a reliable outside shooter who provides length and some interior scoring. Lattimore and Ritchie might also see some minutes here, and if Dixon doesn’t play, expect to see a three-guard lineup as well frequently, with Gordon swinging down to a forward position.


These two positions without question are the biggest uncertainties prior to the opening of the season. Collins' injury could further impact positions that already are woefully lacking in numbers, strength and size. 6-9 sophomore Philip McCandies looks like the starter at center, and his back to the basket game has improved since last year, although he still has a way to go. McCandies has earnestly worked during the off-season on jump hooks with both hands and is making progress there. He will need to stay out of foul trouble and rebound the ball better. He has a solid high post and baseline jumper, but defending the center position night in and night out will be his biggest challenge.

6-8 freshman Coleman Collins played well in both of the exhibition games, showing outstanding speed in transition, quickness inside offensively and good hands. Collins needs to play aggressively more consistently and stay focused during practices to reach his enormous potential. He has a peculiar shot release, but is a good shooter inside fifteen feet. He is playing out of position at the center position, so major minutes there will exploit his weaknesses, but Collins has been early on an impressive freshman, who just needs to find the rabid intensity and aggressiveness needed for success at the collegiate level.

6-8 sophomore Allen Calloway is the third of the trio of players who will log the majority of minutes inside, and while Calloway is an athletic freak, his offense lags severely behind, and his skill level needs improvement. Calloway is a fine shot blocker, but lacks the strength to defend in the low post, and has trouble knocking down open jumpers. His athleticism does enable him to defend reasonably well away from the basket, but adding some type of go-to offensive move would greatly assist his offensive development.

Finally, 6-7 freshman walk-on Chris Tucker will also be counted on to provide minutes inside. Tucker is probably the best face up shooter among the frontcourt players and is a sound player who can score some with his back to the basket. Tucker has been slowed by a concussion during the preseason and has missed significant practice time, at a time when he was just starting to emerge inside. Tucker isn’t as athletic as Tech’s other frontcourt players and might find himself matched up against bigger players, so that will be a challenge for him, but he will be counted on for minutes inside, where depth is almost non-existent.

Bryant Matthews will also swing down and get some minutes inside as well, especially if Collins misses any appreciable length of time, or when foul trouble plagues the team.


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