After the Florida State game, I changed my long-standing opinion on Greenberg when I tweeted and texted my friend "Fire Seth Greenberg. It's official. I'm on board now." Now just over one week later, I have done an about face. It may have been an emotional overreaction just like the "Fire Beamer" thoughts that crept into our heads after losses to JMU and ECU. Was it an inexcusable loss? Yes. Was it an unforgivable loss? Yes. But should that game, and this season determine his ultimate fate as our coach? This post originally was going to be a comment on VTCody's post last week about Greenberg on the hot seat, in which I was going to call for Greenberg's firing, but with each game, I sat on it and it just got too out of control, so now it's its own post. Whether you agree with this premise or not, please take the time to listen to the argument by continuing to read after the jump.
For a little background, I was a Seth Greenberg homer from the moment he stepped on campus. He brought all the things to the program that we lacked under Ricky Stokes: Energy, charisma, respect from the basketball community (TV/Radio broadcasters and other coaches alike), recruiting and a competent basketball mind that led to our team play exciting basketball (well, exciting compared to Ricky Stokes' brand of basketball). But, even with the program's meteoric rise to respectability, there were snags along the way. Nearly 50% of Greenberg's recruits transferred out (13 out of 26 prior to this year's freshman class which has not yet been included since some may yet transfer), some never even enrolling for a litany of issues. That can't necessarily be blamed on Greenberg, as he had to go after some questionable character kids early on that could compete with the likes of Duke and UNC. Some of the recruits he landed were good enough to play at those top-tier ACC schools, but because of academics or character issues, those schools passed on them.
There were also the unforgivable losses to lowly programs that we shouldn't have been on the same court with. Though this isn't a trademark of Greenberg as much as Stokes, there were some head-scratchers early on. Of course, the overall success of the program helped to hide those. And although realistically at that point in time we may not have been ready to compete at a level that made those losses unforgivable, they felt that way at the time. That problem has pretty much ironed itself out. Though we have some puzzling conference losses from time to time, tell me the last time you were REALLY up in arms about a team Tech lost to out of conference that didn't deserve being on the court with us? I can't think of one since the 2007-08 team lost to Richmond the same night we lost the Orange Bowl to Kansas (it was a bad night). We usually win all the games we should win out of conference, but are unable to win some of the bigger games (AHEM, football) that make our tournament résumé pop. BUT, unlike football we've been able to win an inordinate amount of games against top-ranked teams since Greenberg has taken over the program. To put this in perspective, Greenberg has already done on three occasions in nine years what the program had accomplished ONCE in the previous 93 years (Memphis 1983).
Injuries have also plagued us like, well, for lack of a better word, a plague. I've mentioned before that the only team I ever witnessed have more injuries than our 2010-11 team was the 2009 New York Mets. We seriously were down to six scholarship players at some times during the season, which equates to OVER HALF of the team's scholarship players being unavailable due to injury (or in one case suspension). There is nothing Seth Greenberg did to cause these injuries, although he doesn't get a pass for how the players that were in there played, which surprisingly, wasn't that bad. They had lapses obviously, but it is incredibly hard to stay competitive with only six scholarship players. With very few exceptions, they gave great effort every time they stepped on the floor. They were just out-manned.
Seth is also not at fault for the team's bad luck with last-second miracle shots. Sean Dockery's half-court heave that won the game for the Blue Devils was not his fault. Xavier's full-court buzzer-beater in Puerto Rico wasn't his fault. The end to end drives and off-balance shots by Travon Hughes of Wisconsin, Ish Smith of Wake Forest or M'fon Udofia of Georgia Tech aren't his fault. But just as Les Miles' continual impeccably good luck at some point has to be something he's doing right, Seth Greenberg's continual disastrous luck at some point has to be something he's doing wrong. While you can't blame last-second miracle shots on Greenberg, you can blame him for his teams' consistently putting themselves in the position to be beaten by such shots. Unfortunately, that's just kind of emblematic of how close the Hokies play their games.
As for the NCAA Tournament misses, I am starting to fear that people, especially Hokie fans are forgetting that we have missed the tournament on four consecutive occasions at the hands of a selection committee which has operated unchecked, and given free reign to choose its tournament teams without having to answer to a higher governing body on the merits of their choices. This is also amplified by the committee being made up of people whom basketball pundits refer to as "people without basketball minds." This is why competent members of the basketball community have been demanding for reform.
The uproar surrounding our exclusion by the basketball media was deafening, and included basketball big whigs Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas and Joe Lunardi. In fact, 80 of the 81 recognized bracketologists (I'm guessing this figure is referring to bracketologists affiliated with major sports networks) had the Hokies included in their NCAA Tournament field on Selection Sunday in 2011.
To say that Tech has gotten a raw deal, as Dick Vitale suggested, is a vast understatement. Granted I thought we deserved to be out of the field in 2008-09 and I could see the argument for us missing the field last year. But I couldn't argue that VCU, UAB or even USC for that reason deserved to make the tournament instead of us, because that just isn't true. As I said in my 2011-12 basketball preview, "Despite their improbable run in the NCAA Tournament, VCU was one of the many glaring inclusions over teams like Colorado and Virginia Tech. Yes, they went all the way to the Final Four, and so therefore some people think it's hard to argue against their inclusion. But I don't. Inclusion to the NCAA Tournament is based on WHAT YOU HAVE DONE UP TO THAT POINT, not how good you are. VCU had BY FAR the weakest tournament résumé of any team in history and wound up in the Final Four. Kudos to them for doing that, and I'm not taking any of that away from them, but the bottom line is they didn't deserve to be there. Perhaps the verbal onslaught launched against VCU by the ESPN pundits after the selection inspired them to go so far. VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart suggested as much would happen in his interview with said pundits."
However, that our 2007-08 and 2009-10 teams were not included in the field is an injustice to the sport of basketball and organized athletics everywhere. The omission of the 2009-10 team was the biggest snub in the history of the NCAA Tournament 64-team era.
What many people remember is how Seth Greenberg begged, pleaded and then subsequently kicked and screamed upon the Hokies' omission from the tournament. In 2011, he even brought up the Oliver Stone word: conspiracy. Granted, those moments weren't pretty, and Greenberg might regret some of those comments he made in the heat of the moment, much like some of us might regret making "Fire Greenberg" comments moments after embarrassing losses. But think about how you would react in that situation. It has to be maddening, doesn't it? The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee sets a criterion with their precedent, and then when you meet that criteria they continually reject you and admit teams in that don't meet the criteria. So when fans and writers talk about the Hokies NCAA Tournament drought, I am afraid they are forgetting the circumstances of our omissions from those tournaments and judging Seth and the program unfairly as a result. Viewing the 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons as just another year in the tournament drought is silly and unreasonable. I will not fault Seth for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's indiscretions, and I will not base my opinion on Seth's fate on their inability to competently perform THEIR jobs.
Certainly Seth is not perfect, and one can see that by just watching a possession of Hokies basketball when they are on offense. While he is a completely guard-centric coach and he struggles to design and run an offense despite a high basketball IQ, that doesn't mean he is incapable of being or undeserving of our head coaching position. While I HATE Isolation basketball, and detest watching the Hokies swing the ball from one side of the perimeter to the other and eat up shot clock, I will live with whatever works.
The true reason for my 180 on Greenberg is the last week. Whereas we were looking the same every game from the start of January to the FSU game, over the last week or so we showed improvement every game. If you don't agree with me, you need to go back and re-watch the games in order. If you still don't agree, I'm sorry, but you must not recognize what makes good basketball and what makes bad basketball. We're starting to see more passing, more sets, better ball control and better effort. Even if the results don't entirely reflect it, remember that out of the eight players we are playing right now, four are freshmen. Four very talented freshman, and four freshman who we expected to be further along right now than they are. But, we are ultimately talking about freshman. 17-19 year olds who have dominated prior to now on their athletic ability alone who are now being thrust into the nation's #3 conference (where I would rank the ACC this year). Freshmen that contribute in the ACC are few and far between, and generally, they are unprepared for the rigors of an entire conference season. Even superstar Harrison Barnes looked like a lost puppy dog until halfway through the ACC slate a year ago.
Don't assume that because I support Seth Greenberg that means I am happy with the way the Hokies have played to this point, or that I am okay with the results we are achieving now. I want Tech basketball to win just as much as any of you, and maybe more. But I don't subscribe to the idea that firing Greenberg and bringing in another coach will make us better. Very few coaches would fit that bill, and they are either 1. Too expensive for what Tech is willing to pay a basketball coach at this point or 2. Not interested in being the head coach at Virginia Tech. Greenberg is known as a program builder, and that's what he has done for us, much like Frank Beamer did for the football team. And while we haven't reached that mark quite yet in basketball, it is comparable considering where the two teams were when the coaches took over. Much like the argument is made for how far the program has come when Beamer took over whenever "Fire Beamer" sentiments are uttered, lest we forget how terrible the basketball team was before Greenberg's arrival.
While I don't know how much higher Greenberg can take us, I would much rather be where we are right now and to suffer the pain of 1,000 more buzzer beaters and wrongful omissions on Selection Sundays than to suffer another near-decade of complete and utter basketball irrelevance like we did before Greenberg's arrival and like we would risk with Greenberg's departure.