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The Morning Dish – Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February 15, 2017 The Morning Dish No Comments

Virginia Tech had just about every excuse imaginable to lose a game Tuesday night against one of the ACC’s lowest-rated teams. That the Hokies didn’t is almost certainly the sign of a program ready to take the step of making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 10 years.

The Hokies fought back from an 11-point halftime deficit on the road to defeat Pittsburgh 66-63 Tuesday. It was Tech’s 18th win of the season, and with the bar to enter this year’s NCAA Tournament lower than limbo in a kindergarten class, it appears only a complete collapse the rest of the way could keep VT from heading to the NCAAs for the first time since 2007 and just the second time in 21 years.

While a win over Pitt this year is hardly one to send hearts aflutter-even on Valentine’s Day-the circumstances surrounding this one make it special for the winners. Virginia Tech was playing less than 48 hours after a satisfying, signature-yet undoubtedly draining-double-overtime win Sunday night at home against rival Virginia. That turnaround and the travel alone were enough to make any game tricky on Tuesday, but add in the energy expended Sunday, plus this being an opponent undoubtedly at least a little bit better than its record, and this was no easy trip.

Then add in the fact that, in that win over Virginia on Sunday, the Hokies lost starting forward Chris Clarke to an injury that was later revealed to be a torn ACL that will end his season. Clarke was the team’s leader in rebounds and steals and was second in assists and fourth in scoring. Undoubtedly a valuable player in the lineup, he leaves a void on a team that hasn’t gone particularly deep this year.

Clarke’s loss could’ve easily been an excuse for Virginia Tech. If that all wasn’t enough, a 13-point halftime deficit on Tuesday could’ve been too. Yet the Hokies still came back, with Justin Robinson filling the shoes of Clarke with 15 points and eight rebounds, and reserve Seth Allen hit a three-pointer 1:08 left in the game for the winning points.

Buzz Williams has unmistakably put his signature on the Tech program, and he has built a program on toughness, unselfishness, and a bunch of names that may not be all well known, but together are making a quality group. The Hokies almost certainly will be in the NCAAs next month, and they’ll be a tough out when they get there, too.

Side Dishes:

  • Strange to say, but Clemson’s 95-83 win over Wake Forest was one of the most important games of the night, even as it involved two teams with deeply flawed (yet intriguing to bracketologists) resumes. The Tigers overcame a slow start at the beginning to complete a season sweep of the Demon Deacons, a key chip if they are close to the field next month.
  • Michigan State won for the fourth time in five games, topping Ohio State at home 74-66. Miles Bridges keeps improving, and had 17 points and 11 boards here.
  • Florida just keeps winning. The Gators pulled away from a 50-50 halftime tie to defeat Auburn 114-95 on the road. Canyon Barry scored 30.
  • Colorado State, come on down. You’re the next contestant as the leader in the Mountain West. A mantle that has been held by seemingly ever league team at some point or another this year, the Rams’ 78-73 win over bitter rival Wyoming plus New Mexico’s 78-73 win over Boise State puts CSU alone in first place…and also a total of four teams (BSU, Nevada, UNM) within one game of the top spot. As Tony Patelis says so often on his always entertaining college hoops Twitter feed, that’s so Mountain West.

Tonight’s Menu:

  • The night begins with the Battle of Brooklyn, as LIU goes down the street to take on St. Francis (N.Y.) on CBS Sports Network (6 p.m. Eastern).
  • Arkansas is still hanging onto NCAA Tournament hopes (surprisingly). The Razorbacks can really help their cause if they can win at South Carolina.
  • Likewise, Providence has a golden opportunity to get into the NCAA discussion with a home date with Xavier (6:30 p.m., FS1).
  • After its huge win at Wisconsin, Northwestern couldn’t be set up better for a huge home boost, with the Wildcats welcoming Maryland (7 p.m., Big Ten Network).
  • Two Big 12 teams that look poised to be in 8/9 games in the NCAA Tournament meet when Iowa State is at Kansas State (7 p.m., ESPN2). Two more that might be ticketed for 7/10 games square off later with Oklahoma State at TCU (9 p.m., ESPNU).
  • Rams meet Rams in the Atlantic 10 when Fordham goes to Rhode Island.
  • Navy has quietly moved into a tie for second in the Patriot League, and the Midshipmen have an important one at fourth-place Lehigh.
  • Georgia Tech has been feasting on the ACC at home; now the Yellow Jackets have to show something on the road against a team like Miami (Fla.). Also in the ACC, old rivals North Carolina and North Carolina State get together, and later in the evening Duke is at Virginia for a big one between top 15 teams (9 p.m., ESPN2).
  • Once seemingly a near-lock for the NCAAs, Seton Hall has some work to do. The Pirates have a chance for a valuable win when they host Creighton (8 p.m., CBSSN). Enjoy the matchup in the middle between the Jays’ Justin Patton and SHU’s Angel Delgado.
  • If Indiana is going to make a last stand, it has to start at Minnesota (9 p.m., Big Ten Network).
  • Illinois State has a test in the MVC, traveling to face sliding but dangerous Missouri State.
  • Finally, suddenly surging San Jose State takes on rival Fresno State, with the Spartans looking for their fifth straight win.

Enjoy your Wednesday.

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