Hokies Hope to Break Cycle of Conference Tournament Futility

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Virginia
Tech will take part in their third ACC tournament beginning on Friday night,
when they take on the winner of Thursday’s Georgia Tech-Wake Forest game. The
Hokies are hoping it goes better than their first two ACC tournaments. It
certainly can’t go any worse. The Hokies have been bounced in their first game
the past two seasons, and their conference tournament performance has been poor
for over 20 years.

Back in 1978-79, Virginia Tech won the Metro Conference Tournament, in the
Hokies’ first season of Metro membership. They knocked off Cincinnati,
Louisville and Florida State, winning the conference crown and earning the
automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, where they went on to lose to Indiana
State and Larry Bird in the second round. (Tech defeated Jacksonville in the
first round.)

Five years later, in 1983-84, Dell Curry led Virginia Tech to the Metro
Conference tournament finals, where the Hokies fell to Memphis State. The Hokies
beat Tulane and Louisville in their first two games of that tournament, and
believe it or not, that’s the last time Virginia Tech won more than one game in
a conference tournament.

Every year since 1984 the Hokies have been bounced from their conference
tournament, whatever conference they happened to be in at the time, in either
their first or second game. If you’ve been thinking that the Hokies don’t have
much history in March, then you’re right. Tech is a historically poor conference
tournament team.

From 1997 through 2006, Virginia Tech has won exactly four tournament games.
In three of those years, 2001, 2002 and 2003, they didn’t even qualify for the
Big East tournament. Three of their tournament wins in that span came against
one team – Fordham – back when the Hokies were in the Atlantic 10. But each time
Tech knocked off Fordham, they were quickly bounced in the second round, once by
Rhode Island and twice by Temple.

Even some of Virginia Tech’s best teams since 1984 have been knocked out of
their conference tournament early. In 1985, the Hokies were 20-7 and set to face
Florida State in the first round of the Metro tournament. Things were looking
good at that point in the season for Tech. Despite losing the final game of the
regular season, they were still in very good shape. Until they faced Florida
State.

The Seminoles beat the Hokies 97-93 in the first round of the Metro
tournament, and the Hokies promptly lost to Temple 60-57 in the first round of
the NCAA tournament, ending the season with a bitter taste in their mouths.

The next season, Dell Curry’s senior year, was more of the same. Virginia
Tech entered the Metro tournament with a 22-7 record. They were a very good
team. Two of their losses had come by one point, and two others by three points.
They had won four out of five games heading into the tournament. They were
facing Florida State again in their first game.

Yet again, Florida State defeated the Hokies in a nail-biter, 77-76. And yet
again, the Hokies followed that up by losing in the first round of the NCAA
tournament, this time to Villanova 71-62. Another good season, another bad
ending.

During the 1987-88 season, the Hokies were 19-9 heading into the Metro
tournament. They had lost three games in a row, but that included a close home
loss to Louisville, a road loss to Florida State, and a close road loss to
Memphis State. There was no shame in dropping those three games, and Tech had a
chance to make amends and help their postseason resume by beating South Carolina
in the first round of the Metro tournament.

What happened? The Hokies lost to the Gamecocks 92-81. And that loss really
stung, because the Hokies were on probation and couldn’t participate in the NCAA
tournament or the NIT. The Metro tournament was their last chance to play, and
they lost in the first round.

Everybody remembers the 1994-95 season. The Hokies won the NIT, playing a
couple of nail-biters against New Mexico State and Marquette. It was a great
season. Tech was 20-9 following the regular season, and they finished 25-10. But
what happened in the first round of the Metro tournament? Another loss.

The Hokies were 20-9 after playing a full season in the Metro. With a win or
two in the conference tournament, they would have had to have been considered
for an NCAA at-large bid. But the Hokies gave the selection committee a reason
to thumb their noses at Tech, getting bombed by Southern Miss 82-66 in their
first game of the Metro tournament.

The worst thing about that Southern Miss loss? The Golden Eagles blew out the
Hokies after getting whipped by Tech twice during the regular season. VT beat
USM 87-72 on the road and 76-61 in Blacksburg. But in the conference tourney it
was a different story, as Southern Miss pulled a 31-point turnaround and knocked
Tech out of NCAA tournament consideration.

The 1995-96 team returned all five starters from the NIT Championship team,
and they moved to the Atlantic 10. The Hokies were ranked as high as #8 in the
nation that year and stayed in the rankings all season. Tech finished the
regular season 22-4, winning the Atlantic 10 Western Division Title. The Hokies
looked good heading into the postseason.

Unfortunately, they had to play in the A-10 tournament. Tech faced Rhode
Island in their first game in Philadelphia and lost 77-71 after defeating the
Rams 72-66 in overtime on the road during the regular season.

The selection committee, which has never been kind to Tech, now had a reason
to drop the Hokies to a #9 seed, despite their 22-5 overall record. And to make
matters worse, they matched Tech up with #8 seed Wisconsin-Green Bay in the
first round, a complete yawner of a matchup that even if the Hokies won, they
would get the pleasure of losing to eventual National Champion Kentucky in the
second round. Tech smacked Wisconsin-Green Bay 61-48, and then lost to Kentucky
84-60 as expected.

The last conference tournament game the Hokies won was back in 2003-04, Seth
Greenberg’s first year in Blacksburg. Tech finally made the Big East tournament
in their last season in the conference and got to face Rutgers in the first
round. The Hokies pulled off a gutty 61-58 victory down the stretch for their
first win in a conference tournament since they knocked off Fordham back in
2000.

Speaking of Fordham, if there is one team the Hokies absolutely owned back in
their A-10 days, it was the Rams. The Hokies beat them in the first round of the
A-10 tournament three times. The poor Rams apparently are about the only team
the Hokies can consistently defeat in the postseason.

From the 1983-84 team through today, Virginia Tech is 9-19 in the first round
of conference tournament games. A full one-third of those wins have come against
Fordham. Another was against VCU, and two more were against Tulane.

The last time the Hokies beat a team not named Rutgers from a major (BCS
football) conference was way back in 1991 when they knocked off Cincinnati.
Before that, it was Louisville in 1983. No Duke, no UNC, no Pitt, no UConn, or
Syracuse. And amongst the non-football schools, no St. John’s, Villanova, etc.
The Hokies have had poor results in conference tournaments for 2+ decades.

This year, the Hokies have a bye in the ACC tournament. They will take on
either Georgia Tech or Wake Forest on Friday at 9 pm. They’ll be well-rested,
while their opponent will be playing on 22 hours of rest, or less if the game
goes to overtime. From a rest standpoint they’ll have an advantage, and they’ll
be favored. They’ve defeated Wake Forest this season, and they were also the
only team to win at Georgia Tech. Putting matchups and recent streaks aside,
this year should be different.

But will it? Tune in Friday night to find out.

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