WASHINGTON, D.C. — Before we talk about Virginia Tech’s season-ending, 88-82 loss to Miami in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, before we talk about their 19-14 season and the possibility of a trip to the NIT, you first need to understand where this team was as recently as November.
The Hokies lost their season-opener this year. At home. To Alabama State.
To put that loss in perspective, Alabama State finished the season at .500 in the SWAC, which included a loss to Grambling. There’s no other way to put it: That may very well be the worst loss that any power conference team took this season.
And that loss came on the heels of a 2-16 ACC mark in Buzz Williams’ first season in Blacksburg.
So it’s not like there were any signs that the Hokies were going to take a major step forward this season. In fact, for a time, it seemed like Virginia Tech was a year away from being a year away.
Which is why Hokie fans should be so excited about their team’s 19-14 season. It’s why a 10-8 record in the ACC is something to be proud of, and why those wins over Virginia and Miami are important, confidence-building wins, and knowing that you can beat anyone in the ACC — and thus, anyone in the country — is almost as important as having the talent to be able to do it.
“I think a lot of people will be happy, but personally, I’m disappointed,” Seth Allen said. “When you set a goal you don’t want to come up short, so it’s frustrating.”
“We’re definitely excited [for the future], but we just have to keep working hard every day. Throughout the whole season, we’ve been getting better. We’ve got guys that work every day. That’s the kind of stuff you want in your culture and your program. Starting the season like we did and ending it like we did, it shows the culture of the guys in the locker room.”
Allen is right to be excited about the future. Because Virginia Tech is going to be a problem next season.
The Hokies return essentially everyone from this team. Leading scorer Zach Leday is a redshirt junior, as is point guard Seth Allen. Justin Bibbs and Jalen Hudson are sophomores. Chris Clarke, Justin Robinson and Kerry Blackshear are freshmen.
And should I mention that Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw will be returning from injury next year?
This is what Buzz Williams does. He identifies talent among the overlooked or under-recruited, he coaches them up and he gets them to feel the weight of the chip on their shoulder, and the end product is a team where the whole is better than the sum of the parts. Remember, this is the coach that shuttled Wes Matthews, Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler from relative obscurity through Marquette and on to the NBA.
“They’ve got a way they want to play,” an ACC coach told NBCSports.com of the Hokies. “They’re the best team in the country at getting fouled. The paint touches, relentlessly driving the ball. Typical Buzz. He’s a great coach, and credit to him because he can look at his team and figure out how he can have success with this group.”
If there’s a surprise here, it’s that the Hokies are having this much success this early, because no one should be surprised that Williams was able to get the Hokies rolling. That was always going to happen, but in year two? I don’t know how many people would have predicted that, by 2016, Virginia Tech would be on the brink of national relevance for the first time since … 2007, their last tournament appearance?
Or maybe 1996, the last time they won a regular season conference title?
The Dell Curry era?
Remember, this is a program that hasn’t made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament 1967.
That’s a barrier that Buzz will break down sooner rather than later.