It's been a week since the Virginia Tech men's basketball team's drubbing at the hands of Virginia, and head coach Buzz Williams emphasized a desire to ramp up his squad's competitiveness. They had fallen flat against the Wahoos, and had to turn things around as they headed into Coral Gables to play Miami.
And while the Hokies certainly looked improved, it was far from enough. They fell 74-68 to the Hurricanes, a scoreline which seems much closer than the game itself.
Tech came out running, and showed flashes of the fast-paced explosion that enticed fans for the first few months of the season. And for much of the first half, they played like a team who heard their coach's message loud and clear.
But with the game tied at 34 with just over a minute before halftime, the wheels started to come off. A series of sloppy possessions lead to a quick 9-0 Hurricane run to close things out, and instead of being tied at half, Miami lead by six.
The Hokies could never quite get their mojo back after that, and trailed for all but 25 seconds after intermission.
"I thought that we played much harder than we have over the last two weeks," Williams said in his postgame press conference. "I thought we were much more connected. I thought our togetherness, our body language, how hard we competed, was back to the way it has to be for us to have a chance to compete.
"I just thought we made too many mistakes. You can't play a mistake-filled game, on the road against anybody in this league. But I don't know if you can have 15 turnovers at home either. 22 percent of the time that we had possession of the ball we gave it to (Miami). That's a hard number mathematically to overcome."
The giveaways not only piled up, but seemed to come at the most inopportune times. A bad Justin Robinson pass lead to a three point play at the end of the half (stretching the deficit from three to six).
When the Hokies clawed their way back to a tie at the 13 minute mark, Zach LeDay was immediately hit with an offensive foul. It was just the way the night went. All of a sudden, the Miami lead had ballooned to 17 and any chance for a comeback was deflated.
Buzz's bunch now heads home to await an even tougher test. Twelfth ranked UVA heads to Blacksburg on Sunday with nearly a week's worth of rest on their legs, after destroying Louisville 71-55 on Monday.
A few quick thoughts
Everyone's concerned about Virginia Tech's NCAA Tournament chances, which makes sense. After a blistering start, the team's fallen back to earth a bit. They've suffered a few brutal losses, and even the wins they've picked up only bring up more questions (BC's three point bonanza, Clemson's offensive onslaught).
So will Tech go dancing?
Probably, but it won't be easy. The ACC has a glut of tournament caliber members, and all of the bracketologists know it. ESPN's Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports' Jerry Palm each have 10 ACC teams currently in their projections, and many other predictors have at least nine.
The respect the league gets both helps and hurts Hokies' chances immensely. Obviously from a competition standpoint, it makes things tough night in and night out, regardless of the opponent.
But on the other hand, a 9-9 conference record would all but assure their spot. It means going 4-3 over the final seven games of the year.
Can they do it? Well let's look at who's left on the docket:
vs Virginia: If their prior meeting in Charlottesville is any indication, a win over the Hoos would be a tall order, even in Blacksburg. But to be fair, Buzz and company have kept things close against UVA at home. The squad won last year, and rode Adam Smith to a near-upset in 2015. Still, I wouldn't hold my breath for a W.
@ Pitt: This game's tricky. The Panthers have been terrible (only two conference wins), but have shown signs of life since their 50 point demolition against Louisville. They took UNC to the wire in the Dean Dome (something Tech couldn't do), and battled both Duke and Clemson in losses. The Hokies almost have to pick up a win on the road here, but it'll be a tougher task than your usual trip to an ACC basement dweller.
@ Louisville: This is the toughest remaining stop on the schedule. The Cardinals are fourth in the AP top-25, fifth in RPI, third in KenPom, and first in dorm room stripper parties. I'd assume a loss.
vs Clemson: Another near must-win. The Tigers are somehow considered Tech's second best victory via RPI, and that was on the road. The Hokies can add another solid resume builder if they beat Brad Brownell's squad again.
@ BC: If they don't win in Chestnut Hill, something went terribly wrong.
vs Wake Forest:
Wake is in a nearly identical place as the Hurricanes. They're tough, can challenge anyone, and have been improving for the last month. You'd like to think the Hokies can pick up one of these final two in Cassell. But if the two squads are also playing for a potential tournament berth, these are much closer to toss ups.
So in review, winning on the road against Pittsburgh and Boston College, and at home against Clemson and one of Wake/Miami is Tech's best chance to hit 9-9. It could be worse (UNC still has to play both Duke and UVA twice), but it won't be easy.