Virginia Tech is heading to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season, the first time that has happened since 1985 and 1986. The Hokies are a No. 8 seed, and they’ll face No. 9 seed Alabama in Pittsburgh on Thursday night at approximately 9:20pm. The game will be televised by TNT.
Tech managed this achievement with a much different roster than was available a year ago. Of the players on this year’s team, only Justin Bibbs, Justin Robinson and Ahmed Hill played in last year’s NCAA Tournament loss to Wisconsin.
“Only three guys that played last year will play this year,” Buzz Williams said. “I think that’s just as big a story as any…that’s a lot more turnover than I think has probably been written about throughout the season.”
Zach LeDay and Seth Allen graduated, Khadim Sy is redshirting, and Ty Outlaw is redshirting after a torn ACL. Those were the other four players who joined Bibbs, Robinson and Hill on the court against the Badgers last March.
“I’m thankful for the experience of playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Williams said. “Not for me, but for the lifetime memory our kids will have.”
It will certainly be a great memory for Virginia Tech senior guard Devin Wilson. Wilson is from McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, which is just a 12 minute car ride from the city of Pittsburgh. He’s thrilled that he’ll be able to play in the NCAA Tournament in front of his family and friends.
“It means everything,” Wilson said. “[My career] didn’t start off too well, but it’s starting to finish off very, very well.”
Wilson was part of a team that finished dead last in the ACC under head coach James Johnson, and he also finished dead last again in the first year of the tenure of Buzz Williams. Justin Bibbs was also on the team for that first year of the Williams era. Both players went through some hard times at Virginia Tech before they came to know what it was like to be successful.
“It’s a blessing just to be in this position,” Bibbs said. “You dream about being a team that gets to the tournament, but now that it’s actually happened…I just can’t wait to get to practice and be around my guys.”
Virginia Tech’s opening round opponent will be the Alabama Crimson Tide. Alabama wasn’t likely to be selected to the NCAA Tournament until they made a run in the SEC Tournament. They defeated Texas A&M on a buzzer beater, and then upset Auburn before finally falling to Kentucky in the semifinals.
Alabama features star freshman point guard Collin Sexton, who is projected to be a lottery pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. In fact, potentially 40% of the top 10 picks in this year’s draft will be in Pittsburgh for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament: Alabama’s Sexton, Oklahoma’s Trae Young, and Duke’s Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter.
“I would say they arguably have the No. 1 point guard in the draft,” Buzz Williams said of Sexton.
Despite their lack of an impressive record (19-15 overall, 8-10 SEC), and their losing record in their conference, Alabama made the tournament as a result of their high number of quality wins. They had seven Quadrant One victories this season: Texas A&M (twice), Auburn (twice), Florida, Rhode Island and Tennessee. Those quality wins also helped offset the Crimson Tide’s bad losses – they went just 6-3 against Quadrant Three opponents, losing to Ole Miss, Minnesota and UCF.
Avery Johnson is Alabama’s head coach, and he is in his third season. This is his first trip to the NCAA Tournament. He is the former head coach of the Dallas Mavericks and the Brooklyn Nets. Buzz Williams knows him well.
“I think Coach [Johnson] has done a fabulous job,” Williams said.
Whatever happens in the NCAA Tournament, Devin Wilson is proud to be part of the group that turned Virginia Tech basketball around.
“You come into a team that finished in last place, you want to take it up to the highest show in college basketball,” Wilson said. “That’s what you come to Virginia Tech for. It’s different than the Dukes and the UNCs, where they’re routinely in the NCAA Tournament…that’s what you work for, to get to this moment.”