One week ago, we all woke up to a glorious Sunday. The Hokies had won the ACC Tournament, an NCAA bid was coming later in the day, and hope was springing eternal.
Then Friday happened.
To say it was disappointing is to put it mildly. “I get so tired of us always losing these big games” said one of my young friends, who is all of 27 years old.
Imagine how I feel, I countered, as I’m close to 40 years older.
“Yeah, but you should be used to it by now,” he replied.
Nobody ever gets used to losing, I answered, and truth is, every team breaks their fans’ hearts. Some just do it slower than others.
I knew how my young friend felt. Heck, we’ve all felt that way one time or another. And yes, the Hokies could have played better Friday, as Texas manhandled them the same way Memphis and Xavier did in earlier losses. The strength of Mike Young’s offense requires an inside presence to draw the defense inward so the ball can be kicked back out and find the open man for a 3-pointer. Teams that play assault and battery defense down low against the Hokies seem to negate the inside threat, so the ball doesn’t come out to wide open players at the 3-point line.
The only two ways I know to combat that is either have an officiating crew who calls a tight game, or have players on your roster just as comfortable hacking and pushing underneath. The first is the luck of the draw. The second is directly related to recruiting a certain type of player Virginia Tech currently doesn’t have.
This is where I think Young’s early success has caused a few people to forget a few things. At one point I listened to TV announcers talking about how Young had continued Buzz Williams’ success as if Buzz left Mike a full pantry of talent, and he just kept the success going. That wasn’t the case at all as at one point after Buzz left, Young had only 4 scholarship players on the roster.
To his credit, he begged, borrowed and stole from the transfer market to miraculously not have a losing season that first year. Last year, again using the transfer market to fill in obvious holes, he got the team to the NCAAs. This is the first year you’re really seeing players he recruited out of high school like Sean Pedulla, Darrius Maddox, and David N’Guessan, and this team made it to the NCAAs and won the ACC Tournament.
You can’t fill all the holes in just two years, however. Next year, highly coveted Rodney Rice out of Dematha will be joining the team. So will 7-foot, 255-pounder Patrick Wessler. And as the staff heads out on the recruiting trail, this past week should prove invaluable. You’ve just won the ACC Tournament, been to 5 straight NCAA Tournaments, and if you’re a big physical player, all you have to do is point to Friday’s game to show the opportunity that exists.
Young impresses me in so many ways, but the biggest is he clearly has a plan that at least I can understand. With Justin Fuente in football, I used to say frequently I don’t know what his strategy really is, but with Young it’s just the opposite. He has recruited players to specific needs (vs. best available) and I think the reason he wanted and played Storm Murphy so much wasn’t about his scoring and assists as much as having someone who could teach his offense and culture on the floor. Pedulla and Maddox, I believe, now have a much better understanding of his offense having seen Murphy run it in all sorts of conditions.
Young certainly knows the problem with physical teams, and now he has to go fix it, which I believe he will.
None of that makes Friday’s loss sting any less. But as I reminded my young friend, the team probably started the year with the same two goals they always do: Win the ACC and make the NCAA Tournament.
They did. Almost miraculously, in fact, after a 2-7 start in the ACC.
One season-ending loss should not overshadow that.