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Today is not the regular-season finale kind of day I thought it would be for Virginia Tech’s basketball team.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s been an incredible and surprising season. Remember that feeling after upsetting No. 3 Villanova right after Thanksgiving? And wondering who this Keve Aluma guy was? Or beating Duke AND Virginia at Cassell? Or being ranked every week of the regular season like a big dog with the exception of one week, where pollsters punished the Hokies for losing to lowly Penn State?
I expected few to none of those things to happen in November, so no matter how the season finishes, it’s already been a great one. But with such flashes of potential during the season, today was suppose to be the day we all were locked in our chairs, watching every other ACC game to determine tournament possibilities, and hopefully ending the regular season on a high note.
Instead, it’s kind of lonely. The regular season ended with whimper, not a bang. Finishing in the top 4 and getting a double bye into the ACC Tournament should have been cause for celebration. Now it’s cause for concern.
We all know the story about how sitting on the sidelines affects a team, because we heard it often enough back on Feb. 23, when the Hokies played their first game after 3 postponements and 17 days of inactivity. The Hokies not only know the story, they lived it, showing the same rust everyone else did in losing 69-53 to Georgia Tech.
Now it’s the sequel. After curb-stomping Wake Forest 84-46 on Feb. 27, their next game will come 12 days later on March 11 at either 2:30 PM or 9 PM. Virginia Tech will be either a 3 seed (the 2:30 game) or the 4 seed (9 PM game) depending on what happens today among the teams who are actually playing a game.
How the Hokies will react when they finally do play is anyone’s guess, but my guess is not very well. During the layoff before the Georgia Tech game, maybe half the people who follow the team worried about its effects. After the loss to Georgia Tech, everybody is talking about it. The team probably can’t even get off the bus without someone mentioning how rusty they’re going to be.
It’s going to be in their heads whether they want it to be or not.
Two weeks later, you still can’t deny the layoff did have negative effects on the team and the Hokies didn’t play very well in the second half. But what isn’t being mentioned is how good Georgia Tech has become since that game. It wasn’t like Virginia Tech dropped a game to a C-minus team.
To see which teams to be concerned about going into the tournament, I went back and looked at the last 7 games every team has had on the schedule, believing that is a good indicator of who is playing well, who is battling to stay alive and who is mailing it in. For some, those seven games are their final contests of the season, while for others, they still have one last game to play today.
As it turns out, only two teams have actually played all seven games. One is Wake Forest – which has lost all seven and are playing in the tournament more for exercise than anything else – and Duke. The Blue Devils are 4-3 over that span and play UNC tonight.
The hottest team you want no part of? Georgia Tech. In the last 7 games scheduled, one was postponed (a Feb. 17 game with Boston College) and they won the other 6 in a row. Their winning streak would probably be 8 in a row had that game been played, since BC is in dead last in the conference and has won only two games in the calendar year 2021.
So maybe that loss to Georgia Tech wasn’t as surprising as everyone made it out to be at the time. Virginia Tech just ended up playing a team that finally found its rhythm and has been mowing down everyone in the conference ever since. That doesn’t really matter, however, as basketball is as much mental as it is physical, and they’re going to have to battle this “because you haven’t played in two weeks you have no chance” mantra all of us have been and will be writing until next Thursday.
Among the other teams you want no part of in the tournament are Florida State (5 wins, 1 loss, 1 cancellation before playing Notre Dame today) and N.C. State (5 wins, 1 loss, 1 cancellation, including 5 in a row). N.C. State would have finished its season today against Virginia Tech, and seeing those numbers on the Wolfpack suggest it may be a blessing in disguise.
The 4 losses the Hokies currently have keeps them in the top 4. A fifth loss - which would have been highly probable on the road against an NC State team on a 5-game winning streak - would have knocked them much further back in the standings.
Clemson (4 wins, 1 loss, 2 cancellations before playing Pitt today) and Syracuse (4 wins, 2 losses, 1 cancellation to finish the season) are the other two playing well at the end. But the rest hover near .500 or worse, with Virginia Tech and Louisville the two teams suffering from inactivity the most. The Hokies have 1 win, 1 loss and 5 cancellations in their last 7, while the Cardinals have 2 wins, 1 loss and 4 cancellations before playing Virginia today.
So as I look at all the scenarios of what team Virginia Tech could play, the only thing that now matters to me is what seed the Hokies end up at. A No. 4 seed is generally not good, since it puts you in the same bracket as the top seed. If that’s Florida State, that’s definitely not good. I’d rather play Virginia or Louisville.
But that game is at 2:30 PM, a reasonable time that’s not too early and not too late. If you are the No. 3 seed, you may get a somewhat easier draw, but that game is at 9 PM. If you’ve ever been to an ACC Tournament, you know that 9 PM game is even hard to focus on as a fan, as you’ve sat around all day long watching the other games, what few fans who were allowed to attend have left to go home, and the Greensboro Coliseum has the energy of a 10-watt bulb with a general vibe of “let’s get this over with.”
Under normal circumstances, that’s a tough situation to deal with. After a 12-day layoff against a team that has played at least one game and maybe two in the last two nights? That wouldn’t be my first preference.
So today, the Hokies sit. And watch others. And wait. And hope for the best.
Just like it seems they’ve been doing every day....for the last two months of the season.