The Virginia Tech coach can't stop thinking about how the latest frontcourt setback is going to change the Hokies this season.
Virginia Tech was a popular pick behind Duke in the ACC heading into the season. The Hokies return a 20-point scorer in Malcolm Delaney, a legit ACC player of the year candidate. The rest of the starting five is intact with guard Dorenzo Hudson and a frontcourt of Jeff Allen, Terrell Bell and Victor Davila.
But the plan was for a rugged, deep frontcourt with reserves Thompson, Florida transfer Allan Chaney and returning forward Cadarian Raines.
No more. Thompson is gone. Chaney is going through a life-changing event after getting a virus around his heart, meaning he's done for the season. And now Raines is out with a fractured left foot.
"If Raines comes back, then I won't have to change much,'' Greenberg said. "But we have to find out who will bring that energy and mentality that J.T. brought. I initially thought with Allen Chaney, J.T. and Raines that we were going to have the deepest frontcourt we've had since I've been here.''
Greenberg has time to figure it out, with practice starting Oct. 15. Not having Allen in workouts hasn't helped, though, as he recovers from having four wisdom teeth pulled.
The rotation for the Hokies is the main issue that Greenberg struggles with during his idle time. He said he isn't one to scribble down the formations, but rather is intent on thinking deeply about various combinations and how the Hokies can keep Allen out of foul trouble now that the backups have been thinned out. Raines had a pin put in his fracture last week and Greenberg said he's seeing another specialist next week to see what the plan will be going forward.
"Our perimeter won't change, we've got the perimeter depth and toughness,'' Greenberg said. "But will we go smaller now? Who will we put in if we go with Malcolm and another guard and move Dorenzo to small forward? I'd be lying to you if I didn't say I had a certain vision of how this would work [before the injuries and illnesses].''
Greenberg said that Thompson, the team's top reserve last season at 7.3 ppg and 4.6 rpg, offered up a security blanket in the frontcourt.
"We had great expectations for it,'' Greenberg said. "Now how do we adjust? I've spent a lot of time thinking about this.''
Greenberg said the Hokies players have been down about the losses of Thompson, Chaney and now Raines. Hudson has taken it harder, Greenberg said, because he and Thompson are cousins.
"This group is close,'' Greenberg said. "So it affects all of them. Again, I love my team. And we spent the whole summer looking at one game plan and now we've got to reinvent ourselves. But we have time to readjust to it. I thought I had great depth.''
The Hokies are trying to snap a three-year hiatus from the NCAA tournament. The expanded field from 68, which includes 34 to 37 at-large berths, certainly helps teams like Virginia Tech. But the difference between Tech and others in the ACC is minimal.
Maryland may not have a player like Delaney, but the Terps now have more depth. NC State may have the top freshman class outside of Duke and North Carolina, but the Wolfpack will be one of the younger teams in the league. Miami has the potential to rise up into this group. How Virginia Tech separates itself will largely depend on how it does in the nonconference schedule, which certainly got harder with the thinning of the depth.
Playing at Kansas State on Nov. 16 will be an expected loss. Going to the 76 Classic, where sleeper Murray State looms large as a spoiler, won't be an easy task, let alone getting to that game with a win over Oklahoma State. And then having to play Purdue in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge helps the schedule, but is a heck of a challenge.
Games against Virginia and Penn State, and at UNC Greensboro, USC Upstate, St. Bonaventure and Mount Saint Mary's are must-wins since there is little room for error in the rest of the slate. The wild-card game could end up being against Mississippi State on Paradise Island at the Atlantis Hotel. The Bulldogs were a fellow bubble team last season.
All of these games are fast and furious from Nov. 16 to Jan. 2, making depth an issue early. But Virginia Tech can ill afford to be weakened going into the ACC if it wants to end the tourney drought. Greenberg has time to figure this out before the season starts, and doing so now is a must if he's to successfully navigate the first two months.