Enduring a prolonged shooting slump and off to its worst ACC start in six years, Virginia Tech faces the conference's most talented team Thursday night at Cassell Coliseum.
Not what you would call ideal timing.
But this game against eighth-ranked North Carolina is an opportunity for the Hokies and their fans. An opportunity for players and coaches to proclaim their season is not toast, and for the faithful to show they have not abandoned the team.
Some believe the season is unsalvageable. They cite Tech's first 0-3 ACC record since 2006, which includes defeats at purported weaklings Wake Forest and Boston College — they graciously excuse a loss to No. 1 and undefeated Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, the Orange's second home.
And some contend support for the program has ebbed. Indeed, the announced crowd of 7,256 for Tech's ACC home opener, against Florida State and before second-semester classes started, was the smallest for any conference game at Cassell Coliseum since the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004.
But students are back, and North Carolina (15-3, 2-1) is a draw rivaled only by Duke and Virginia. The 9,847-seat arena needs to be electric, and not because thousands of Tar Heels found tickets.
Most important, Tech needs to shoot better. Hokies coach Seth Greenberg is fond of saying basketball "is a make-and-miss game," and lately his team has been missing at alarming rates.
In its last three games, losses to Wake Forest, Florida State and Boston College, Tech (11-6, 0-3) has shot less than 40 percent. The last time the Hokies failed to crack 40 percent in three consecutive games was against Georgia Tech, Temple and Memphis to close the 2005 season, their first in the ACC.
"The reality is that we're playing young right now," Greenberg said. "Not only do we have young players, but we're playing young. We haven't been able to finish out games."
Indeed, the Hokies' most one-sided defeat was by 11 points to Syracuse. Their three ACC losses were by a combined nine points.
Greenberg said his players are still learning what is required to compete at the ACC level.
"This is the team we have," he said. "We're not going to make excuses. We've never made excuses before. It's our job to get these guys at a little bit higher level."
Correct. Youth absolutely is not an excuse for Tech's disappointing ACC start.
In Victor Davila, Dorenzo Hudson and Erick Green, the Hokies have established players who before this season had started 171 games at Virginia Tech. That's more starts than the rosters of Duke, Boston College, North Carolina State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida State and Maryland.
Boston College, for example, has alternated between starting four and five freshmen, and newcomers scored 43 of the Eagles' 61 points Saturday against the Hokies. Yes, Green was shelved by a cranky knee, but that's still a game Tech should have won — Boston College is 7-10 overall.
The Hokies' four-point loss to Florida State seems tame after the Seminoles' 33-point shellacking of North Carolina on Saturday, the Tar Heels' worst ACC defeat in 49 years. But Tech's three-point setback at Wake Forest grew fangs a week later when the Deacons lost at home to N.C. State by 36.
Greenberg's mission now is to get Green healthy — here's betting he plays Thursday — and convince his players they can compete with Carolina. Such confidence will be paramount in subsequent games against Virginia, Brigham Young, Maryland and Duke.
"It's not doom and gloom around here," Greenberg said. "Because if we're getting whacked by 30 and 40, no matter who we were playing, I could see that. But we also have a lot of positive things going on."
The Hokies need to prove their coach right — soon.