BUFFALO, N.Y. – Buzz Williams has been trying to find the right balance this week.
The Virginia Tech head coach wants his players to enjoy every second of their first NCAA Tournament experience, while at the same time preparing the best way possible for what will be the biggest game of their lives Thursday night against Wisconsin.
“I think their concentration level has been superb,” Williams said Wednesday inside KeyBank Center, where the Hokies practiced. “I don’t want to be a task master as a coach, relative to not being satisfied, while at the same time, this is a memory of a lifetime for them.
“But I also think that it is part of my job, part of my role, to push them to be their absolute best. And that doesn’t mean that we’re going to win every game.”
Since finding out they’d be headed north, the Hokies have had to change their travel plans because of a snowstorm that hit much of the East Coast, western New York included.
“I thought they handled that well,” Williams said. “We’ve become the most diverse program ever, relative to altered travel plans, so they kind of thought it was normal. But our two practices here, and our three film sessions thus far have been outstanding. And I think that things change when you’re playing games after spring break, because guys understand the magnitude of what it is, even if they haven’t done it. As best they can, they understand that something about this is different, and I think our guys have been really good.”
Of course, that preparation won’t truly be put to the test until the ball goes up for the opening tip late Thursday night. When it does, the magnitude of playing in the NCAA Tournament will truly set in. The Hokies are new to this, while their opponents are as experienced as a tournament team can be.
“I don’t think it’s overblown at all,” Williams said of Wisconsin’s edge in experience. “Four of five starters in some capacity or another, have played in a Final Four, played in a national championship game, played in a Sweet 16. We have a roster full of guys who, tomorrow night, that will be their first time ever playing on a court that has an NCAA blue sticker on it.”
Williams has made tournament runs before at his previous stop at Marquette, so he knows what it takes to get hot in March. And in seniors Zach LeDay and Seth Allen, he’s got the type of players needed to carry a team at this time of year.
“Two red-shirt seniors, the two oldest kids on the team, you can argue the two most productive players on the team, the only guys that would be considered in some sort of stretch to get an All Conference vote of some sort, and they’re both coming off the bench,” Williams said. “I think it speaks to the fabric of what we want to be about.”
LeDay, who leads the Hokies in scoring at 16.3 points per game, has definitely made some lasting memories so far.
“Everybody was very happy when we got in. We wanted to see where we were going,” he said. “We saw we was going to Buffalo and it was snowing and stuff. That was cool. I’m from Texas, so I don’t really see no snow like that.
“After we found out where we got in, everybody was all business then. Everybody’s been watching film. Even the young boys been watching film, just watching how Wisconsin plays. I think I watched six or seven other games. I watched the Michigan game, like, three times in, like, the past two days. So, I mean everybody is just watching film and just getting ready for the match up and just trying to get used to tendencies and stuff like that and trying to get an advantage.”
In addition to experience, the Hokies will give up an edge in size and depth to the Badgers. That, unlike their participation in the tournament, is nothing new.
So what would a win mean?
“I think it would be huge, just for everybody just to keep this run going,” LeDay said. “It’s been a special story. We don’t play that many guys. We’re small. All of this stuff that’s been rumored about us. It’s really special, and we just want to keep it going. We just want to play together as long as possible and play as hard as possible for each other, and just be there for one another.”