Monday Thoughts: A Landmark Win Over the ‘Hoos

We begin this edition of Monday Thoughts with a tweet:

Once the final horn sounded and it sunk in that the Hokies had pulled off a road win against the No. 1 team in the RPI and the presumptive No. 1 team in the rankings, it quickly struck me that this win will be etched in Hokie history alongside the 1980s wins over Memphis State, the NIT championships, the wins over No. 1-ranked UNC (2007) and Duke (2011), and other ACC wins over highly-ranked Duke and UNC teams.

This win reminded me of a column I wrote after the Hokies beat No. 7 Duke in Cassell Coliseum in February of 2005, in Virginia Tech’s first season of ACC hoops. The column was dramatically titled Quieting the Weary Ghosts of Cassell, and it centered around the notion that the 67-65 victory over Duke was the biggest win in Cassell since the Hokies knocked off 20-0 Memphis State 76-72 in February of 1986, almost 20 years prior.

For a Virginia Tech program that had seen some heady days in the 1960s up through the mid-1980s, the two-decade wait for a signature win had been interminably long. I let it all hang out in the column.

That 1986 win over Memphis State was a topic of conversation this week among Hokie fans, because the parallels between that game and this one against UVA were hard to ignore. Back in 1986, Memphis State was 20-0, ranked No. 2, and poised to take over the No. 1 spot thanks to a mid-week loss by No. 1 North Carolina to Virginia.

As you well know by now, the Virginia Cavaliers, thanks to a mid-week loss by No. 1 Villanova, were poised to take over the top spot in the polls with a win over the Hokies.

(Update: Virginia took over the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll despite the loss.)

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In 1986, Memphis State had smoked the Hokies 83-61 in Memphis just five days earlier, and earlier this season, Virginia annihilated Tech 78-52 in Cassell, so in each case, prospects for victory looked dim.

The similarities end there. The 1986 rematch was in Cassell, while this rematch was on the road in John Paul Jones Arena, with ESPN College GameDay (a hype machine that didn’t exist back in 1986) setting up camp in Charlottesville, ready to commemorate the Hoos’ rise to No. 1 for the first time since 1982-83, when yours truly was a senior in high school in Charlottesville and a big UVA basketball fan. It’s true — my high school years paralleled Ralph Sampson’s college years at Virginia, and it was an exciting time to be living in Charlottesville and watching one of the greatest college players of all time.

Another little detail you may not know or remember — the 1985-86 Hokies were ranked No. 16 in the nation, with a 17-4 record when they toppled Memphis State. Those Hokies were no slouch (and neither are this year’s Hokies).

Thirty-two years later, the result was the same. The Hokies beat a team that was poised to take over the top spot in the rankings, and in so doing notched a win that will be talked about for decades to come.

This win was