The entire Buzz Williams experience has already involved a lot of belief. This year, it's believing that the Hokies can stick with an opponent more talented than them. Next year, it's knowing that Tech will be able to win even more of these games.
The year after that? I'm not a fortune teller, but I don't think last second pleas from the fans will be necessary. Tech will have already have those games, the similarly close ones that have eluded Buzzketball in year one, wrapped up.
I wrote that in February 2015, after the Virginia Tech men's basketball team dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Duke at home. Buzz Williams and company were in the middle of a brutal first season in Blacksburg, where they finished last in the ACC for the fourth straight time.
The only hope fans could cling to were the promises of improvement. Nothing in sports is ever guaranteed, but if there was ever a person with a strong enough will to pull his squad out of the kind of depths the Hokies had sunken to, it was Williams.
The first sentence in the final paragraph refers to this season, Buzz's third. It's been almost two years since Jalen Hudson's ill-fated buzzer beater fell just short of an incredible upset over the eventual national champions. This was the year we all ear-marked as the time to see improvement.
It was also the last time the Blue Devils had made the trip to Cassell Coliseum. It's a far different squad than the one Mike Krzyzewski coached against that night —only two players, Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs, were even on the active roster at the time. And not-so-coincidentally, he saw a far different result.
The Hokies didn't just beat the fifth ranked team in the country, they blew the doors off them. Tech never trailed in their 89-75 win, and had a double-digit lead with 7:38 left in the first half until the buzzer.
This wasn't the case of an inferior group getting hot for a stretch and hanging on to pull off an upset. It wasn't an underdog perking up from three and riding unusually hot shooting to the finish.
No, instead Seth Allen, Justin Robinson, and the rest of the Hokie arsenal took advantage of shoddy Duke defending and ran them out of the gym. The two on-ball guards combined for 28 points, 12 assists, and six rebounds. They tirelessly pushed the tempo, and often found their teammates in the right spots.
Bibbs led Tech with 18 points of his own, and looked like a completely different player on both ends of the court than the man we've seen since mid-November. Despite foul trouble limiting his minutes, Chris Clarke was huge in opening up the lead early and closing it late (see above dunk). Hill had 17 and Zach LeDay had 11, giving the Hokies six double-digit scorers on the day.
Buzz's bunch was simply better from the jump. Duke's Luke Kennard had an impressive 34, but the rest of his teammates were often confounded on both ends. Yes, Krzyzewski's squad was without tripmaster Grayson Allen (though ESPN made sure no one forgot it), and top freshman Harry Giles is still working his way back from injury. But they're still one of the best in the ACC, with or without them.
And the obvious national story may be about Allen and his indefinite suspension, but the Hokies are the real thing to watch develop. With this thrashing, Tech sent a message to the rest of the conference: they're not a pushover like 2014-15. Nor are they young and inconsistent like 2015-16.
They're a formidable team who can beat anyone on their schedule.
A few quick thoughts
The most impressive thing, to me, about this win is how much they seemed to learn from the Texas A&M loss. Up 16 against the Aggies, Tech took the foot off the gas and played far too conservatively. It looked like they hoped to make it to the final horn, not put the game away.
Against Duke, the Hokies refused to change what worked. Look at the shot chart from the second half:
You see the giant blob around the hoop? They consistently attacked, and made any sort of comeback attempt impossible. No milking the shot clock, no taking the air out of the basketball. Tech continued to push, broke down Blue Devil defenders, and took it to the rim.
This was one of Seth Allen's finest performances since his transfer. He shot an efficient 6-8 from the field, constantly succeeded getting into the middle of paint, and made things happen. He played completely within himself, which is exactly what Tech needed.
Foul trouble could be an issue down the line. With Clarke's issues early, the coaching staff basically used a six man rotation, with Khadim Sy and Ty Outlaw combining as the sixth guy. If another wing, either Bibbs or Hill, had picked up an extra call or two, the Hokies would have scrambled for players.
Tech travels to NC State and then Florida State for their next two matchups, and both should prove to be tough. It'll be interesting to see how this team bounces back after such an emotional win, especially since they won't have a home crowd to back them.