Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech athletics

Can we cue “Goin’ Back To Indiana” by The Jackson 5?

Virginia Tech basketball (15-6, 9-4 ACC) is headed to the NCAA Tournament for a program record fourth straight time. 

Mike Young and his Hokies defied the odds. Virginia Tech was picked to finish 11th in the ACC in the league’s preseason poll. Virginia Tech would prove the doubters wrong. The Hokies ended up finishing third while earning a double-bye in this last week’s ACC Tournament.

Oh, and Young won ACC Coach of the Year. It marks the first time a Hokie coach had done so since Seth Greenberg took home the hardware back in 2007. 

It’s starting to become a staple to see Virginia Tech’s name called on Selection Sunday. This past Sunday’s show revealed that the 10th-seeded Hokies will head to Indianapolis to take on the seventh-seeded Florida Gators, out of the SEC, in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. 

Hokies in Hinkle

The game will tip off the round of 64 at 12:15 p.m. ET from Historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday. It will be televised by CBS. Sorry, “The Young and the Restless” fans; it’s March Madness time. 

For those unfamiliar, Hinkle Fieldhouse is home to the Big East’s Butler Bulldogs, and is one of the ultimate cathedral’s of college basketball — if not just the game of basketball itself. The fieldhouse was built all the way back in 1928, and was used for a few scenes in the 1986 film, “Hoosiers”.

The No. 10 seed is also more than fair for Virginia Tech. The fact they were unable to play some higher-profile ACC teams combined with a couple bad losses mixed in made it the the right landing place for the Hokies. 

It actually may be better that Virginia Tech dropped to the 10-line. The Hokies avoid the dreaded 8-9 game and have a favorable match-up set up with the Gators. 

A Hot Start

It was no accident that Virginia Tech got here. 

When the Hokies took off for the “Crossroads of America” this week from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, there was a sense of confidence. Forward Justyn Mutts tweeted following the conclusion of the selection show that “Your bracket’s already busted if you don’t got the Hokies picked.”

Virginia Tech put the nation on notice early on with an upset of then-No. 3 Villanova — with a healthy Collin Gillespie — 81-73 in overtime. 

It didn’t stop there. The Hokies then rattled off seven wins in their next nine games, culminating into an 11-2 start to a season many thought could’ve gone downhill quickly. 

That streak included wins over then-No. 24 Clemson, and then-No. 19 Duke. 

On-Again, Off-Again

Just a few weeks later after losing a head-scratcher to Syracuse, Virginia Tech knocked off in-state rival and then-No 8 Virginia in dominating fashion. The Hokies suffocated the Virginia offense in the second half and left with an impressive 65-51 victory. 

This turned out to be the best conference win of the season for this Virginia Tech team. It was even more impressive considering the Hokies were without second-leading scorer Tyrece Radford. Radford had recently been suspended following a DUI arrest. 

The Hokies however, missed him when they followed up the emotional win with a loss at Pittsburgh, and a near loss to Miami. Against the Hurricanes, Hunter Cattoor hit the shot of the season to send the game into overtime and eventually win it for Virginia Tech. 

That’s when the inevitable hit. 

Contact tracing put the Hokies on a 2 1/2-week hiatus. After falling to eventual league champion Georgia Tech and annihilating Wake Forest, 84-46, for the program’s largest margin of victory against an ACC opponent, Virginia Tech was contact-traced once again out of games with Louisville and at NC State. 

In Greensboro, Virginia Tech then dropped its ACC Tournament quarterfinal match-up to North Carolina. The Tar Heels were able to overmatch the Hokies with their size down low. 

The sour taste of defeat however, would be short-lived. As Coach Young put it, the disappointment from last Thursday’s loss was replaced by “shear joy” when Virginia Tech heard its name called on Sunday evening. 

Season Stats

In a year where no one really knew what to expect, Wofford transfer Keve Aluma stole the show. Aluma made leaps and bounds since arriving in Blacksburg, ultimately earning second-team All-ACC honors.

The Berlin, Mary. native led the Hokies in the two biggest categories at 16.8 points per game and eight boards per contest.

Radford came to play as well. Upon returning from his suspension against Georgia Tech, he performed admirably. As a threat from anywhere on the floor, Radford averaged nearly 12 points and six rebounds per game.

The same can be said for Mutts. The Delaware transfer has been a fantastic addition to the program this season, averaging 9.6 points per game while driving, being physically tougher, and hitting threes — something he’s added to his game since arriving in Blacksburg. 

Naheim Alleyne, Cattoor, and Jalen Cone, when healthy, also provide scoring threats on the perimeter for Virginia Tech. Don’t forget about Wabissa Bede either. The senior from Massachusetts doesn’t score a whole lot, but is elite defensively, and dishes out a little over three assists per game. 

Bede doesn’t always get the credit he deserves, but has provided leadership on and off the court.

Ready To Start Dancing

Virginia Tech will now try to avoid becoming gator prey when it meets Florida on Friday afternoon in Indianapolis. We like the Hokies’ chances in this match-up, but we won’t give away our pick just yet. 

Stay tuned for our regular game day pick and preview coming later this week.