Gillen's crew overcoming tough slate
By Jerry Ratcliffe / Daily Progress sports editor
December 11, 2004
If you had told Pete Gillen a month ago that his basketball team would enter Virginiaís exam break with a 7-1 record, he probably would have kissed you.
ďI would have been very surprised,Ē Gillen said the other night of his teamís record.
His Cavaliers had just survived a 79-67 test from upset-minded Furman, a team loaded with 3-point shooters, and a team that should do well in the Southern Conference this season.
Whoever assembled UVaís early season schedule didnít do the Cavaliers any favors. The conspiracy theorists will tell you it was intentional, so that those bent on getting rid of Gillen will have a better case to present at the end of this season than they did at the end of the last one.
If that is the case, then the stratagem blew up in someoneís face like one of those exploding cigars.
Whoever scheduled this November/December lineup is either stupid, doesnít know anything about basketball or sports in general, or had a hidden agenda. Letís hope itís not the latter. At least stupidity is a valid excuse.
Throw another log on the fire and letís examine the gauntlet that Gillenís Cavaliers have had to run through over a 20-day period.
Letís see, thatís eight games in 20 days, almost one every two days. Five of those came in an 11-day stretch, four in eight days, with all four of those coming in different cities. One of those was in Chicago, one in Richmond, and yet another in Ames, Iowa.
In basketballís version of the reality show Survivor, Peteís team did about as good as any team in the nation could have under those conditions.
The first real test was Arizona, ranked 10th in the nation at the time. Coach Lute Olsonís Wildcats have been one of the winningest programs in the nation over the last 10 years and one of the highest scoring. Somehow, the Cavaliers manhandled the ĎCats in a stunning upset that raised eyebrows all across the hoops world.
A week later, Richmond came to town. The Spiders always put a quality team on the floor and it has traditionally been a real donnybrook when UR faces the Cavs.
As Gillen has pointed out several times over the years, playing an ACC team is like the Super Bowl to Richmond. But again, the Cavs breezed through the Spiders with unexpected ease.
Then came the brutal part of the schedule: at Northwestern in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge; then Auburn on a neutral floor in Richmond; then a trip to Iowa State, an upset waiting to
Gillen described the 48-44 win over Northwestern as ďwater torture.Ē The Big Ten team, playing at its bandbox of a home court, had another advantage. The Wildcats play Princeton-style basketball, a slow-motion offense based on spreading the floor and outsmarting defenses. Itís premise
is to get easy, back-door layups.
Well, thatís the way they did it at Princeton. Northwestern has tinkered with the philosophy so that it also features strong 3-point shooting.
The Cavs fell behind, but played strong defense and denied Northwesternís strategy to flow, and pulled out the win. A lot of teams would have lost this game, particularly a couple of Gillenís previous teams, which were known for folding under pressure on the road.
From a snailís pace to a greyhoundís pace, the Cavaliers had to put it in fast-forward to keep up with Auburnís run-and-gun style. The Tigers, coached by former North Carolina player Jeff Lebo, brought a unique attack to VCUís Siegel Center.
Auburn didnít have size. What the Tigers did have was five guys who could all handle the ball, could all shoot the 3 and all could run.
While Virginia prefers that helter-skelter tempo, it wasnít easy to put the Northwestern thing behind them and play at break neck speed with the Tigers in a matter of two days.
Virginia jumped ahead, fell behind and then played leapfrog with the score until taking control at the very end, winning 89-87.
Then came the trip to Iowa.
To Chicago, back to Charlottesville, on to Richmond, back to Charlottesville, out to Iowa, all in six days. The two sportswriters who made these trips, beat writer Andrew Joyner and yourís truly, were exhausted from all the travel. So, the team had to be tired.
Iowa State was nothing but a trap. The Big 12 team has hungy to get an ACC team in its place, which I might add is a tough place to play. Only a few times in my career have I had to cover my ears because of the crowd noise. Up until the trip to Ames, all those venues had been in ACC arenas.
The Cyclones knew that beating Virginia would do the same thing for them that Virginia got out of beating Arizona.
Still, the Cavs almost pulled it out and didnít even play their best game.
ďWe almost stole that one,Ē Gillen said. ďThen again, I almost married Demi Moore.Ē
Well, not really. He came a lot closer to beating the Cyclones.
No wonder that when Furman came to town Wednesday night that coach Larry Davis smelled an upset. The coach sensed Virginia was tired and flat.
ďPlayers are human,Ē Davis said. ďIím sure they looked out there and said, ĎItís Furman,í and expected to roll over us. Virginia had played a tough schedule and to lose a heartbreaker at Iowa State and come back wasnít an easy thing to do.Ē
Davis believed that the way to upset an ACC team, particularly on that teamís home court, was to play just well enough to hang around. And if itís still close at the end, then he believed he had just enough guys who could light it up from 3-point land, to get the job done.
Furman did hit 11 treys, but thanks to Virginiaís defense, only four of them came in the second half as the Cavs erased any chance of Furman cheating the reaper on this evening.
To make matters worse, Virginiaís star scoring machine Devin Smith, who had drilled in 40 points at Iowa State, didnít practice in the day between games. The morning of the game, he was in the hot tub, getting treatments on his stiff back.
After drilling in 11 of 18 shots, including four treys out in the cornfields of Iowa, Smith was a mere 4 of 14 (0-5 from bonusphere) at home against Furman. It didnít take Dick Tracy to figure that one out.
So, as Davis and other coaches have said this season, give Gillen credit for being the survivor. A coach who could have been fired at the end of last season, he has his team, picked eighth in the ACC preseason poll, ranked in the top 25.
Yeah, itís only eight games into the schedule, but who would have guessed 7-1?
And, by the way, the guy who is responsible for that poorly put together early schedule, botched it again. The Cavaliers play only one game in a 25-day period between beating Furman and hosting No. 6 Wake Forest at University Hall on Jan. 2.
With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Roth Report juices Hokies, riles Cavaliers
Powell Valley QB worth a I-AA look at least
By Doug Doughty
THE ROANOKE TIMES
VIRGINIA TECH radio voice Bill Roth may have subconsciously fanned the flames of the Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry with something he has written.
In the Kroger Roth Report that appeared on hokiesports.com, Roth wrote, ďThe Hokies won an outright ACC championship during their first year in the conference. That's a feat Tech's in-state neighbor to the north has never accomplished in 52 seasons. For the record, it took Tech 12 weeks.Ē
Those two sentences, appearing in the 15th paragraph of Rothís column, suddenly were being used in e-mail messages by Tech students and other Hokie supporters.
This, of course, infuriated UVa fans who felt it was a cheap shot for Roth to glorify Tech by demeaning the Cavaliers, particularly since it was the support of UVa president John Casteen that got them into the ACC.
Roth, eager for the mention in Notebook Plus, indicated that his greatest concern was that his sponsor be mentioned.
ďMake sure you get it right, K-R-O-G-E-R,Ē Roth wrote in an e-mail. ďAlways good, always fresh, always Kroger ... your total value leader!Ē
IF ROTH WAS public enemy No. 1 in Charlottesville this week, former Roanoke Times sports editor Bill Brill continues to fill that role in Blacksburg.
Brill said he was not at home Saturday following the Tech-Miami game, when calls started coming in from Tech fans. His biggest regret was the uglingess that callers showered on Brillís wife, never a party to the Tech-UVa rivalry, who had just come home from a visit to an elderly aunt.
Not surprisingly, Brill isnít too happy with me for bringing to light his ďTech wonít win an ACC championshiop in my lifetimeĒ comment.
AMONG THE FIVE players taking official visits to Virginia Tech this weekend are two who already have committed, tight end Ed Wang from Stone Bridge in Loudoun County and quarterback Ike Whitaker from Northwest High School in Germantown, Md.
Uncommitted players who will be in Blacksburg are running back-defensive back Victor ďMachoĒ Harris from Highland Springs, quarterback Greg Boone from Oscar Smith in Chesapeake and defensive tackle Jeff Owens (6-2, 270) from Plantation, Fla.
Owens was rated the No. 17 prospect in Florida before the season, earning him SuperPrep preseason All-America recognition, the same as Harris and Boone. Harris is rated the No. 1 prospect in Virginia and Tech is considered his prohibitive favorite.
Harris was the only uncommitted prospect to visit Virginia last week, not surprising considering the Cavaliers have received 24 commitments -- one under the NCAA limit. However, it appears that UVa has changed its strategy from 2003, when most of its top uncommitted prospects had visits coinciding with the team banquet in early December.
Now, it appears than Jan. 21 will mark the Cavaliersí biggest recruiting weekend. Thatís the weekend when five committed players from New Jersey will be on campus, where they tentatively will be joined by uncommitted Bergen Catholic linebacker Brian Cushing.
Several Internet sites are reporting that new South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is making a push for Southern Durham, N.C., wide receiver Brandon Woods, who committed to UVa this summer. Hampton coach Mike Smith said another UVa receiver target, Todd Nolen, plans to visit Tech, Penn State, North Carolina and Virginia.
IT WAS INTERESTING to read a news release from HeismanProjection.com, which, by Wednesday, had ballot information from 154 voters, or roughly 17 percent of the eligible voters.
Southern Cal quarterback Matt Leinart had received 25.1 percent of the vote and HeismanProjection.com was close to projecting him as the winner.
Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson was next at 21.6, followed by Sooners quarterback and reigning Heisman winner Jason White at 15.1, Southern Cal running back Reggie Bush at 14.5 and Utah quarterback Alex Smith at 13.4.
Among the voters is 2002 Heisman winner and Southern Cal alumnus Carson Palmer, now quarterbacking the Cincinnati Bengals, who said he voted Leinart first, Bush second and Southern Cal wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett third.
What the online service found is that Palmer was the exception, not the rule. Of the first 30 ballots that had Leinart, first, 21 had either Peterson or White second. Players were paired more commonly by position (Leinart-White or Peterson-Bush) than by school.
IN THE MEDIA: During the same five-day period in which I visited my 40th state, Iowa, (by plane, no less) I experienced another milestone when I made the acquaintance of Coalfield Progress sportswriter Coy Bays.
Bays was a longtime runningmate of Roanoke sportswriter Nappy King on the NASCAR circuit (ďclosed many a hospitality room with him,Ē Bays said) and was at the Bristol Herald-Courier in its golden era, when he teamed with current Roanoke prep editor Robert Anderson and Gannett chain heavyweight Bill Vilona, now in Pensacola, Fla.
Throw in Bucky Dent, who later joined the Bristol staff by way of Richlands, and thatís a lot of journalistic firepower at one paper. If Iím not mistaken, would-be congressman Kevin Triplett once served on that staff, although Iím much more partial to Andersonís politics than Triplettís.
IN ACCEPTING an assignment to cover the Group A Division 2 semifinal between Giles and Powell Valley, the setting for my meeting with Bays, I was eager to get a look at Powell Valley quarterback Brad Robbins, son of illustrious Powell Valley coach Phil Robbins.
Robbins, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound left-hander, had passed for 2,500 yards and 33 touchdowns through 12 games, but his only offer, from Coastal Carolina, had been for baseball. Phil Robbins said after the game, however, that his son was interested by the possibility of playing college football.
Apparently, Brad Robbins battled a weight problem when he was younger and some might question his speed, but donít say he canít run the ball. Robbins frequently took off upfield against Giles and, while he didnít pull away from anybody, he didnít mind running them over. He finished with 356 yards (250 passing, 106 rushing).
Phil Robbins said that VMI is interested in Vikingsí running back and linebacker Patrick McKinney (6-3, 210) and that the interest is mutual. To me, Robbins is capable of playing quarterback in a Division I-AA offense tailored to his strengths; he certainly has the arm strength and the smarts to get the job done.
VIRGINIA STUDENT BOWL TRIP PACKAGE
Bogus Basin Ski Resort Info Bogus Basin Ski Resort Rules & Tips
Virginia students looking to attend the MPC Computers Bowl in Boise, Idaho now have another option available to them with a bus trip offered by the Virginia Department of Athletics.
Abbott Trailways is holding a 54 passenger bus for a departure on December 23, time TBD. Charlottesville to Boise, ID is approximately 2,400 miles and they estimate a 45 hour trip driving straight through. Depending on road conditions, this should put the group in Boise sometime on the 25th. Abbott will provide a transfer to the game, and is scheduled to depart Boise immediately after the game on Dec. 27. The bus will return straight through to Charlottesville to arrive back late afternoon or early evening on the 29th (depending on road conditions). The driver will stop every two to three hours for meals and to stretch.
Ruling could allow ACC replay
Swofford wants schools ready to consider it for football
Commissioner John Swofford hopes the ACC will have an opportunity to seriously consider using instant replay to aid its game officials in football.
The ACC must wait for a ruling from the NCAA football rules committee, which gave the Big Ten permission to experiment with replay in 2004.
Swofford said the committee could approve replay for any conference that chooses to use it, or allow for more experimentation. That ruling could come from the committee's meeting in February, and Swofford wants ACC coaches and administrators to be ready to consider replay.
He will mention replay next week at a meeting of ACC administrators in Greensboro, Swofford told the Observer Friday.
"I'm sure we'll have a serious discussion about it in February when we meet with our athletics directors and faculty representatives," Swofford said. "I'll be asking our ADs to have conversations with their individual coaches prior to that meeting."
ACC officiating coordinator Tommy Hunt said in late October that he is in favor of replay. He said ACC officials are experienced and competent, but acknowledged that perfection is virtually impossible.
"If we make a mistake, nobody wants to see it corrected any more than us," Hunt said.
N.C. State athletics director Lee Fowler said cost could be an issue because cameras would have to be put in place for games that aren't televised. Some schools already have cameras for their live video boards, but Fowler said those might not be sufficient for use by game officials.
Swofford said it cost the Big Ten about $250,000 to get replay set up.
"I don't think that's cost prohibitive by any means," he said.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said during the season that he would favor quick checks to get calls correct, but didn't want to ruin the game's flow.
Fowler wants to review the results of the Big Ten's replay experiment before forming an opinion. Clemson athletics director Terry Don Phillips said there are plusses and minuses to replay, and he is concerned about lengthening games.
"To incorporate something like that, understanding that it can lengthen the game, there has to be a significant upside to it and not just a marginal upside," Phillips said.
Swofford said Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and the Big Ten's coaches and athletics directors were pleased with replay.
In 57 games with replay, there were 44 stoppages for review and 21 calls overturned. The average length of a replay game was 3 hours, 16 minutes. The average length of games in 2003 before replay was 3:12.
Big Ten director of communications Scott Chipman said Friday the conference won't have any official comment on replay for another week or two. But reactions from Big Ten coaches generally have been positive.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr called replay an "unqualified success" last month and predicted that replay is here to stay. Michigan State coach John L. Smith predicted that other leagues would begin using replay.
"I think the game is moving so darn fast that I think the officials want it," Smith said, "and I think it's been good."
In the Big Ten's version of replay, a "technical adviser" in a replay booth was responsible for stopping games to review plays and had sole authority to change a call.
Replay could overturn plays governed by the sideline, goal line, end zone and end line; various elements of the passing game (complete, incomplete, etc.), and other elements, such as forward progress with regard to a first down and the number of players on the field.
"What the Big Ten did was not like the NFL," Swofford said. "It was much less intrusive and obviously considerably less expensive, but it does give you the opportunity to take a second look at plays that might be questionable."
Virginia coach Al Groh, formerly the New York Jets' coach, said during the season that he favored replay in the NFL and favors it in college, at least to help determine possession of the ball and whether a score occurred.
"There's so many people who put so much into determining those two things, that for that to be distorted through understandable human error that is correctable is kind of a shame," Groh said.