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Virginia Tech men's basketball girds for 1st game after long layoff

Virginia Tech men's basketball girds for 1st game after long layoff

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After going 16 days without playing a game, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team will be back in action Tuesday.

How sharp the Hokies will be in their return remains to be seen.

Virginia Tech, which had to postpone last week’s games against North Carolina and Florida State because of COVID-19 issues in the Hokies’ program, will host Georgia Tech at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s nice to have everyone back in uniform and participating,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said Monday on the ACC coaches’ weekly video conference.

It will be the 16th-ranked Hokies’ first game since a Feb. 6 win at Miami.

“We’ve passed all of our tests and we’re ready to go,” Young said.

The Hokies (14-4, 8-3 ACC) were short-handed at some of their practices the past two weeks.

“Unlike some [teams], we always had four or five that we could work out,” Young said. “I talked to some friends that have had one or two guys that they could work out individually. … We had as few as four, sometimes five [at practice].

“We’ve had a couple of days [to practice for Georgia Tech]. We’re not going to have an extended opportunity to practice, but we have had a couple of days. How much difference will that make? Time will tell.”

Young said that “for the most part,” the regulars in his playing rotation will be available Tuesday.

“They’re all doing fine,” Young said.

But Young said he is concerned about the Hokies’ conditioning on Tuesday.

“We probably scrimmaged three four-minute games … just to get them up and down [the court],” Young said. “We’ve got to get back on the floor.

“I’ve talked to so many colleagues that have gone through it. … We’ve navigated it as best we can.

“We had such great momentum after the Miami game. I thought we were playing good basketball, and we get paused.

“But … we’ve got ample time to get this thing back to a high level.”

The Hokies’ past four games were postponed.

Virginia Tech was supposed to host FSU on Feb. 9, but that game was postponed on Feb. 1 because of FSU’s COVID-19 issues. The Hokies were supposed to host Louisville on Feb. 13, but that game was postponed Feb. 10 because of Louisville’s COVID-19 issues.

As it turned out, COVID-19 woes also surfaced in the Virginia Tech program on Feb. 9 or Feb. 10, Young has said, forcing the program to “shut down for a bit.”

Young said last week that a couple of non-players in his program had tested positive for COVID-19 and that “too many” players were in quarantine and unable to practice because of contact tracing.

A Feb. 16 visit to UNC was postponed on Feb. 13, and last weekend’s visit to FSU was postponed last Wednesday.

Teams have often struggled in their first game back from a layoff.

Florida State, for example, needed overtime to beat ACC lightweight Wake Forest on Feb. 13. The Seminoles had not played since Jan. 30 because of FSU’s COVID-19 pause.

Clemson suffered three straight lopsided losses after the Tigers paused team activities last month. In their first game since Jan. 5, the Tigers fell 85-50 to Virginia on Jan. 16.

“Your guys’ conditioning goes quicker than you think,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “You’re not going to come back with the same juice and energy and legs.

“[And] you need to remind them of all the fundamentals.”

After another pause resulted in the Tigers’ past two games being postponed, Clemson hopes to return to action Wednesday against Wake Forest.

“Four or five days off really affects kids,” Brownell said. “You start doing some work with a guy and he hasn’t been in a defensive stance in six days, … and you’ve got four guys on your team dropping out because their backs are all tightened up.”

Louisville lost 85-48 at Wisconsin on Dec. 19. It was the Cardinals’ first game since Dec. 1 because of a pause.

The Cardinals fell 99-54 at UNC last weekend. It was Louisville’s first game since Feb. 1 because of another pause.

“You have guys that are actually coming back from having COVID, and then you have guys that just aren’t able to get in the gym with their teammates to be able to continue to practice because of the hypersensitivity of making sure the virus doesn’t spread,” Louisville coach Chris Mack said.

“There’s no substitute when you have to actually be on a basketball court reacting, catching your breath, changing ends of the floor. … You also have the challenge of just the lack of repetitions and the lack of continuity from practice to practice.

“You take one step forward and you take two steps back when you go through a pause, even it’s for a few days.”

Wake Forest beat Division II member Catawba 70-62 on Dec. 31 after not having played a game since Nov. 27 because of a pause. Six straight Wake losses followed the Catawba game.

Young gave Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes a call last week.

“Our team [pause] was 33 days having zero activity,” Forbes said. “That first game back is tough. And it’s tough for a week or so or two weeks, to get those guys back in shape.

“[The problems are] the mental fatigue, the physical fatigue of the game—you’re playing probably at a faster pace. The rhythm you have on offense and defense. … Basketball’s such a timing sport.”

Two Virginia Tech players’ status for Tuesday is uncertain, but not because of COVID-19.

Jalen Cone suffered an ankle injury in the Hokies’ win at Miami.

“He’s in a splint, more for support than anything,” Young said. “He’s doing fine. I’m waiting to hear … from our medical staff to see where we are.”

Young said it remains to be seen if Tyrece Radford will return to action Tuesday. Radford was indefinitely suspended from the Hokies on Jan. 25 after being arrested by Blacksburg police a day earlier.

“That situation is still unfolding. We’ll see how it plays out,” Young said.

Radford was found guilty Feb. 6 in Montgomery County General District Court of first-offense driving under the influence.

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