When Mike Young was hired in April of 2019, not many people would have thought that he would lead Virginia Tech to the next NCAA Tournament, but here the Hokie are two years later ready to tip off the round of 64 on Friday.
“I have a tremendous amount of pride that we have the Hokies here in this great tournament in year two,” Young said. “It speaks to the quality of my staff and it speaks to the character and just how wonderful the kids in this program are. They’re about the team, and it’s been a magic carpet ride. I have so thoroughly enjoyed coaching this team, and I hope we can continue for a while longer.”
Tech will lead off the action on Friday afternoon, tipping off at 12:15 p.m. against seven-seed Florida. Two months ago, it may have seemed impossible that the Hokies would be the lower seed entering their first-round matchup. However, the lack of quality victories down the stretch led to Tech slipping down to the ten-line on Selection Sunday.
“The seed is immaterial. The match-up is what is most important. I’ve been lucky as all get out; we’ve played some really good teams, but I’ve had some good match-ups,” Young said. “The match-up is most important. Is this match-up ideal? No, they’ve got good players, but I’ve always felt that way.”
The Hokies’ slide over the last month has mostly been due to their inability to get on the court. Since beating Miami on Feb. 6, Tech has played just three games due to two separate COVID-19 pauses spanning a combined 27 days.
With eight days between last week’s loss to North Carolina and the first-round game with Florida, Tech will have gone a month-and-a-half having just once played two games within a week.
“I believe it’s not about the conditioning, it’s the contact and the physicality that you lose sight of. That game experience, when you’re off ten days or two weeks, it does take its toll. I do feel a lot better coming into the NCAA Tournament,” Young said. “We gave them a day off after Greensboro, but we’ve practiced really well. We had to take yesterday off for obvious reasons, due to travel and testing. Here we are, and we’re going to play a good ball game.”
The hope is that all of the COVID issues are behind Tech’s program entering the Big Dance. The Hokies entered the bubble in Indianapolis on Monday and now await clearance to begin preparation for the Gators.
“We got here yesterday and went straight to our hotel to get tested. We got that test back, all negative, last night around 11,” Young said. “We tested again this morning at seven and are awaiting those results, and if we get the all clear, then we can practice later today. It’ll be nice to get the heck off of this floor.”
The situation in Indianapolis is similar to what Tech went through when they played in Uncasville, CT at the beginning of the season. Teams aren’t allowed to leave their floor unless they have a scheduled practice or game with everything else being done from their respective hotel rooms.
“They don’t want us in the same room, and we can’t be in the same room. If we’re in the same room and someone tests positive, we get hit with the contact tracing,” Young said. “I’ve been beaten to death with that contact tracing over the last month. We’ve got 72 hours or more before we play Florida. I’m checking in with them and texting them, they’re right down the hall and we’re all on the same floor.”
If tests come back negative, the Hokies will get their first chance to practice on Tuesday afternoon. Then, Tech will be able to head over to their venue for Friday’s game, the legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse.
On the campus of Butler University, Hinkle is one of the signature arenas in all of college basketball. The championship game from the movie ‘Hoosiers’ was played inside the arena, and it is certainly fitting to have NCAA Tournament action on the fabled floor.
“I’m 58 years old with 35 years in coaching and I’ve been a lot of places, but I’ve never been on Butler’s campus,” Young said. “What a mountain-top experience to be able to compete in that building. We’ll go over tomorrow and have an hour-and-a-half practice. I’ll look forward to that as a basketball person. With the history in that building, that will be a lot of fun for me.”
Tech has the honor of starting off the first round of games on Friday afternoon against Florida which is a change from last week’s experience at the ACC Tournament. In Greensboro, the Hokies didn’t tip off against UNC until close to 9 p.m.
“I don’t like the 9 p.m. start time for obvious reasons. Guys are chomping at the bit, this is the NCAA Tournament,” Young said. “I could care less when they throw that thing in the air, our guys will be fired up, and their head coach will be fired up as well.”
Florida will be the opponent when the ball goes up just after noon on Friday. The Gators have struggled in March, losing three of their last four. The only win came in the second round of the SEC Tourney, beating lowly Vanderbilt by just six.
Despite being the lower seed in the match-up, the Hokies are currently favored by half-a-point with three days until tip-off.
“Mike White does a terrific job, and we have our hands full. I’ve seen a few games so far, and I’ll see a few more before Friday,” Young said. “They’re formidable to say the least. Tre Mann at the point is terrific. This is another good basketball team which you expect from the SEC.