BLACKSBURG — In a preseason media poll, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team was picked to finish 10th in the ACC.
A 7-0 start which was capped by a win over nationally ranked Oklahoma State made it seem that the Hokies had been underrated. But Tech begins conference play Saturday looking very much like a team that could live down to those low expectations.
Tech (9-4) is coming off its most lopsided back-to-back defeats since former coach Ricky Stokes’ team lost by a combined 64 points to Providence and Notre Dame in February 2001.
The Hokies, who visit Maryland at noon, fell 88-52 to Colorado State in Las Vegas on Dec. 23 and lost 97-71 to Brigham Young in Salt Lake City last weekend.
“We didn’t come out to play and we got our butts whopped,” point guard Erick Green said. “We’ve got to get back to Virginia Tech basketball like we did the first seven games, where we were having fun, playing with a chip on our shoulder. I think we really lost that chip. We’re just out there [with] no energy. There’s no energy at all.
“As quick as 7-0 came, it could’ve fell apart — and it did. … Can we turn it around? I believe we’ve got the guys to do it.”
The Hokies are 1-2 since reserve Marshall Wood suffered a broken foot, leaving Tech with just seven scholarship players. Wood said Thursday that he will be sidelined “a couple more weeks.”
Tech also had just seven scholarship players for eight games in the 2010-11 season. The Hokies won three of those games, and did not suffer a loss of more than 15 points.
But in those eight games, Tech still boasted the 1-2 punch of then-senior stars Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen.
This team does feature Green, the second-leading scorer in the nation (24.4 ppg). But Tech needs more from his supporting cast.
“Green didn’t shoot the ball well [against BYU]. … When that happens, we’ve got to get some other guys stepping up,” coach James Johnson said. “We’ve got to start making shots, we’ve got to be a little bit more consistent and we’ve got to have multiple guys playing well on the same night.
“He can’t do it by himself.”
The Hokies hope to improve defensively as well.
The Colorado State and BYU games marked the most points Tech has allowed in back-to-back non-overtime games since Stokes’ squad gave up a combined 185 points to Boston College and Notre Dame in 2003.
“We’re not rotating well,” Green said. “We’ve got to make some adjustments, us players, of putting more effort in what we do.
“Guarding your man, we’re just getting blown by.”
BYU guard Tyler Haws torched Tech for 42 points, the highest total by a Division I player this season. His outburst tied for the seventh-best total by an opposing player in Tech history.
In three of their four losses, the Hokies allowed at least 10 3-pointers. BYU made seven 3-pointers, including six by Haws.
“We’ve got to stop giving up open shots,” forward Jarell Eddie said. “We’ve got to stay with our man.”
BYU’s 97 points were the most Tech has allowed in a non-OT game since a 100-65 loss at Duke in 2005.
“We’re a better defensive team when our offense is clicking, and we can’t be that way,” Johnson said. “When shots aren’t going down for us and we’re having a tough time scoring, we’ve got to get back and get stops.”
Tech has shot worse than 40 percent from the field in four of the past five games. Tech has shot worse than 30 percent from 3-point range in each of the past six games, going just 2 of 20 against BYU.
The BYU game marked the first time this season that Green did not score at least 20 points. He had 12 points and was just 4 of 17 from the field.
“It was bound to happen,” Green said. “I knew I wasn’t going to go [for] 20 all year long.”
Johnson does not intend to switch to a slow tempo while Wood is out. Johnson and Green said Tech needs to improve defensively so it can get its fast-break offense revved up again.
“The more games we play, the more we’re scouted, … and if we’ve got to grind it out in our set, they get a chance to hone in on Erick,” Johnson said. “A couple of the teams … started to do some different things to Green in the halfcourt.
“We’ve got to get back to getting stops and getting out and running so we can have a couple different guys freed up for some easier looks.”
Johnson also pointed to another reason for the recent losses.
After going 1-1 in Las Vegas, the Hokies flew back Dec. 24. Three days later, they flew west again for the BYU game.
“Going out to the West Coast back-to-back in three days is tough,” said Johnson, whose team took commercial flights on both trips. “It kind of took its toll on us.
“Going out to a new time zone, … it’s just difficult on the mind and the body.”
Virginia Tech at Maryland
Noon at Comcast Center
Records: Virginia Tech 9-4, 0-0 ACC; Maryland 12-1, 0-0.
Last meeting: Maryland won 73-59 last January at the Comcast Center.
Va. Tech probable starters: F C.J. Barksdale (5.2 ppg), F Jarell Eddie (14.8 ppg), C Cadarian Raines (6.9 ppg), G Robert Brown (10.6 ppg), G Erick Green (24.4 ppg).
Maryland probable starters: F Charles Mitchell (6.5 ppg), F Dez Wells (12.3 ppg), 7-foot-1 C Alex Len (13.2 ppg, 8 rpg), G Nick Faust (9.8 ppg), G Pe’Shon Howard (3.9 ppg, 5.8 apg).
Notes: Maryland ranks third nationally in rebounding margin (outrebounding foes by 13.5 rebounds per game), while Tech is 11th in the ACC in that category … Maryland ranks 11th in the nation in field-goal percentage (50.3 percent) — a bad sign for a Tech team that ranks last in the ACC in scoring defense (73.1 ppg) and 10th in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense (40.7 percent). … Maryland ranks third nationally in field-goal percentage defense (35.1). … Maryland, which has a 10-man rotation, has won 12 straight games since opening with a loss to Kentucky. … Brown was 5 of 12 from the field against BYU, breaking out of a shooting slump.