The vibe around Virginia Tech as it prepares for the start of ACC tournament is much different than Hokies teams of the recent past. Gone is the ambiguity of the bubble and the speculation about what Virginia Tech must do to impress the NCAA selection committee.
Instead, as No. 10 seed Virginia Tech set off for Atlanta on Tuesday, its only focus is on winning four games in four days. Because after finishing the regular season with an sub-.500 record for just the second time in nine seasons under Coach Seth Greenberg, taking home the ACC tournament title is likely the only way these Hokies can keep their season going.
“We’re in a one-bid league this weekend,” Greenberg said when he met with reporters in Blacksburg to discuss the Hokies’ first-round matchup against No. 7 seed Clemson on Thursday night.
With that has come a clean slate, especially after Virginia Tech ended the regular season with four straight losses, including a 70-58 defeat to North Carolina State on senior night Sunday that left Greenberg to wonder whether his team’s “emotional gas tank was on empty” following an unprecedented streak of six straight games decided in overtime or by two points or less.
Greenberg reflected this week that by playing 15 games decided by five points or less, “it’s almost staggering to think about what these guys have been through, especially with so many young players.” He also described himself as both “extremely disappointed” and “as frustrated as anybody” with how this regular season has gone. But he’s emphasizing to the team that in the postseason, “We’ve got the same record as everyone else.”
Point guard Erick Green said his teammates aren’t going into this tournament thinking, “Let’s get the season over with.” Focus this week has been on how nicely the bracket sets up for a Hokies team that, despite its 4-12 league record, lost only four conference games by double digits.
“We just got to let everything go. There’s nothing you can do. It’s a new start and our one goal is to win the whole thing,” Green said. “I think [the gas tank is] going to be back on full just because we stepped aside from everything that happened this season and just go back to a fresh, clean start.”
If Virginia Tech can get past Clemson – a team the Hokies played twice this year, winning by two points in Blacksburg before losing by two in the rematch last week – it would face No. 2 seed Duke in the quarterfinals on Friday. Back on Feb. 25, the Hokies had a chance to defeat the Blue Devils on the final possession of regulation at Cameron Indoor Stadium, only to lose in overtime.
“I feel like going into this as a lower-seeded team, people are probably going to take us a little for granted, so I think the guys need to go out and play as hard as we can and try to win the game,” senior Dorenzo Hudson said. “Gotta win the whole thing, and that’s what our mind-set is right now. We can’t look over any team that we’re playing against.”
“It’s about getting hot at the right time,” he added. “If we go out there and get on a good run against Clemson and get some motivation, anything can happen. I’m not doubting me or my teammates. We can get hot at any time.”
Greenberg agrees that having a player catch fire is the key to a lower-seeded team making a run through a conference tournament. The coach also believes getting through the first game is perhaps more important than anything else, which is why he’s especially grateful the Hokies will play at 7 Thursday night instead of the noon game to kick off the tournament.
“I think our guys are excited about the ACC tournament,” Greenberg said. “If they didn’t grow up with it, their parents grew up with it or their grand-parents grew up with it. If you look at our roster, we surely fit the geographic footprint of our league and they’re excited about the opportunity to play themselves into some sort of a postseason.”
On a programming note, I will not be at this year's ACC tournament but The Post's Steve Yanda will be covering the Hokies this week. Check back here later today and tomorrow for updates from Atlanta, including forward Victor Davila’s status and a preview of the Clemson game.