Good morning, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) fans. It’s a great snow day here in the DMV – and I still have power. That’s a good thing
Let’s talk about Virginia Tech men’s basketball – there are a handful of job in the ACC that the media, analysts, fans of the sport, and others know are very tough coaching jobs. The ACC has a few of those, including Clemson, Miami, Florida State, and Virginia Tech – and it is no coincidence that these schools are football-first in their perspective. As such, it is imperative that these football-first schools increase their investment in basketball with first-rate coaches and facilities so that they can keep pace (not even, but not fall too far behind) those schools like Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State, and others were basketball is a top priority. Miami with Jim Larranaga and the Bank United Center, Florida State with Leonard Hamilton and increased investment in the Tuck, and Clemson with Brad Brownell (although, I don’t think Brad Brownell is a long-term solution at coach – but he has done very well this year) and it’s major renovation to Littlejohn Coliseum.
Enter Buzz Williams at Virginia Tech.
The Hokies were coming off a 2013-2014 season with an ACC record at 2-16. 2014-2015 was Buzz Williams’ first season at Virginia Tech – and the Hokies were picked dead last by the media. Williams basically inherited James Johnson’s roster (with a few additions in Ahmed Hill, Jalen Hudson, Shane Henry, and Satchel Pierce – heck, Williams played two walk ons with major minutes, including Will Johnston and Christian Beyer) and again went 2-16 in the ACC. However, you could see the improvement in the Hokies – Virginia Tech lost a game to #2 Virginia at home by 3 points – a game in which Virginia essentially used the Lufthansa Heist to steal in Blacksburg, VA. In fact, if you look at this 2014-15 schedule, the Hokies were competitive in many of their games. The Hokies lost close games to Virginia, twice to Syracuse, Wake Forest, and were within single digits in most of their ACC losses. Here’s the Buzz Williams effect, though: The Hokies had a chance on their last possession to defeat Duke, the eventual national champion, at home (this is a team with a roster of two walk-ons) – this is all Buzz – his players will run through a wall for him – they play hard on every single possession.
2015-2016 has been a much different story for Virginia Tech in the ACC. Once again, Virginia Tech was picked towards the bottom of the ACC media poll at #14. However, the Hokies already have as many ACC wins this year (four) was they did in the last two seasons combined. (h/t @DavidTeelatDP for that article) Virginia Tech started out 4-1 in ACC play – and I think much of it has to do with the leader at the top in Williams. On December 30, 2015, Virginia Tech took an absolute 25-point drubbing from West Virginia – and it took Buzz Williams almost two hours to get to his post-media conference (Williams was “lecturing his team” on their performance in that game for two hours - I’m sure the team decided that they didn’t want to get “lectured” again – e.g. going into a chamber and getting yelled for two hours can’t be fun for anyone). Here’s the kicker, though, for fans – the Hokies defeated #4 University of Virginia at home – it was huge. And under Buzz Williams’ tenure, the Commonwealth game is now a rivalry. I don’t think this is true (way to early to say anything like this), but some people think that Buzz Williams might have Tony Bennett’s number right now. Unlike football, however, this basketball game is now a rivalry. Virginia Tech was leading every step of the way on the road at Notre Dame this week on Wednesday, but just came up short by the score of 83-81 – and you can tell now that fans are invested in Hokies men’s basketball because people were really disappointed in taking the loss (the passion for Virginia Tech men’s basketball is back from the fanbase) – even though losing to Notre Dame on the road isn’t a bad thing for Virginia Tech. To be fair, the defense needs to improve – but Virginia Tech is an aggressive team who drives the hoop – and I love seeing this.
The other thing I wanted to talk about here is the difference between the two coaches at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech (because you could see the obvious difference in coaches here – this is a case study here on the difference a coaching change makes) – @TalkinACCSports (Jeff) and I were having an interesting conversation about this very subject (Jeff blogged about Georgia Tech here). On Saturday, January 16, 2016, Williams got his first ACC road win in Atlanta – and you never saw the Hokies quit. The Hokies were down by 10 points with about 4:29 to go in the game – and made some quick steals for easy layups – and ended up winning on the road. Brian Gregory, on the other hand, decided it was a good idea for this team to make several offensive trips down the court in that last 4:29 – and not throw the ball into the post to Nick Jacobs or Charles Mitchell (who were roasting the Hokies for most of the game) – it was absolutely inexplicable for me to see this – to go away from what was working the entire game.
Based on Virginia Tech’s play, I do think now that the expectations can be reset for the Hokies the rest of the year – it is entirely possible that Virginia Tech goes 8-10 or 9-9 in the ACC with an NIT bid in the picture (if you told me this before the year started, I’d run to the bank and cash the check) – this would likely put Buzz Williams in the ACC Coach of the Year picture. While Brad Brownell is doing a great job at Clemson this year, he’s been there since 2010 – so I think Williams would have the edge for the ACC Coach of the Year.