Once upon a time, Virginia Tech had a certain place in college basketball. They were the team that was always right there on the bubble and never quite seemed to have enough on their resume to get over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament. You could count on them being right there every year as if it had joined death and taxes among life’s certainties.
When Seth Allen put up a short left-handed shot that dropped with 3.1 seconds left in double overtime on Sunday night, he just might have put the Hokies into the NCAA Tournament.
There may not be a coach or program more readily identified with the NCAA Tournament bubble than Seth Greenberg at Virginia Tech. In his nine years at the school, about the only thing more constant than the Hokies being on the bubble was the team being injury-riddled. In 2006-07, his third season at the school, they reached the NCAA Tournament and got to the second round. For the next four years, the Hokies were a close call, reaching the NIT each time, before the injuries were truly out of hand in 2011-12 and they went 16-17. Whether or not any of those teams truly deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament is another conversation for another time, but it underscores what the program went through.
And that is before we even get to the shooting on the campus in 2007, which rocked the entire campus community and, indeed, anyone with a pulse. It led to wonderful showings of support like Penn State having their students decked out in maroon and burnt orange, Virginia Tech’s colors, at their spring football game just days later.
James Johnson followed Greenberg in a difficult situation, as Greenberg’s firing was a surprise and also did not appear to be very well-handled. Now Buzz Williams is leading the program, and he has them on the verge of the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies have wins over Duke and now arch-rival Virginia, along with good-not-great wins over fellow bubble teams Michigan, Syracuse and Georgia Tech, and their worst losses are to Texas A&M (neutral) and at NC State.
It’s been easy to lose sight of how good Virginia has been. With a win, the Cavaliers would have tied North Carolina for the lead in the ACC, even though Virginia has basically not been talked about at all, even in the context of the ACC. So much talk has been about Duke’s adversity, Florida State’s emergence and the many bubble teams that could get the ACC’s NCAA Tournament team count as high as 11, and all the while a good, steady team like Virginia that hasn’t had a lot of big news barely registers.
Sunday night’s win in a big rivalry game could be the biggest for the program in a long time. The bubble this year will be as big as it has been in a long time, and already there were factors in the Hokies’ favor – down years in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West, as well as a dearth of mid-major candidates chief among them. They have the resume wins now that may well put them over the top no matter what. Their place in college basketball this season looks like it will be the NCAA Tournament.
Another team that looks to be on their way to the NCAA Tournament at last, though in a markedly different story, is Northwestern, and the Wildcats scored their latest win that should put them into lock status, or very close to it. Their first win over a top 10 team since 2012 came in the form of a 66-59 win at Wisconsin on Sunday, with Bryant McIntosh the catalyst once again as he had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Other scores of note on Sunday: SMU beat Cincinnati 60-51, so they split their season series and are even in the loss column in American Athletic Conference play, and San Diego State knocked Nevada out of first place in the Mountain West with a 70-56 win over the visiting Wolfpack. That leaves Boise State alone at the top.
A scary story out of Philadelphia is the news that Towson senior forward John Davis was shot in the leg on Saturday night in an apparent drive-by shooting. The team was in Philadelphia to play at Drexel on Saturday, and Davis remained so that he could attend a dedication ceremony for his infant son. He received more medical care after that, and as of Sunday afternoon had not had the bullet removed from his leg. Towson isn’t worried about a return to the court, but like us they are happy that his long-term health is not a concern.
A difficult rebuilding year for Oklahoma just got tougher, as senior guard Jordan Woodard’s career is now over as he has a torn ACL in his knee. A key starter on their Final Four team a year ago, Woodard and Khadeem Lattin were the big holdovers on this year’s team, and he led them in scoring this season. He suffered the injury in the second half of the Sooners’ 80-64 loss at Iowa State on Saturday.
Kentucky freshmen De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo were fortunately not injured when a car they were riding back to campus in was in an accident Sunday afternoon. The pair were passengers in the car, which rear-ended another vehicle, and because neither was driving, they picked up another ride to get to a team meeting. A passenger in the struck vehicle went to the hospital with minor injuries.
The slate isn’t quite as light as usual, and as is typical of this time of the year, a few games have a good deal of meaning.
- The most significant game of the night is on the women’s side, as Storrs, CT is home to UConn hosting South Carolina at 9 p.m. with the Lady Huskies trying to win their 100th consecutive game.
- Syracuse hosts Louisville in a battle of teams just a half game apart in the ACC standings (7 p.m.)
- In Big 12 play, Texas Tech just lost a tough one to Kansas and now has to bounce back against Baylor (7 p.m.), then West Virginia visits Kansas for a rematch of a game the Mountaineers won earlier (9 p.m.)
- A full Sun Belt slate features Georgia State at Coastal Carolina (7 p.m.) and Arkansas State at Texas State (8 p.m.)
- There is also a Big East game on the slate as DePaul hosts Villanova (9 p.m.)