Buzzketball Is Ready To Heal A Decade of Pain

As Buzzketball prepares to take the next step, might the 2018-19 Virginia Tech campaign be the best seen in Blacksburg in the last 10 years?

[Mark Umansky]

My first vivid memory of Virginia Tech basketball dates back to the 2007-08 season. My dad, courtesy of his co-worker, had picked up 2nd row seats to the basketball installment of the Commonwealth Clash. I don't recall every detail of that game, but I do remember watching Deron Washington sky for a putback dunk with the clock under 15 seconds in the second half.

I remember Jeff Allen getting a baseline pass from Hank Thorns and slamming it home to ice the game in overtime.

I remember how loud Cassell was that afternoon. It still gives me chills, almost 11 years later.

That was my introduction to Virginia Tech basketball. One hell of a way to kick it off, right?

Over the next few years, I was teased with greatness. The teams of the late 2000's took me on a crash course through what it meant to really be a Virginia Tech basketball fan. Amazing performances, shocking let downs, and ultimately, utter heartbreak.

I'll always have PTSD from the 2009-10 team getting snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. That team went 23-7 in the regular season. But a loss in their first game of the ACC tournament, coupled with a three-game losing streak towards the end of the regular season kept the Hokies off the dance floor.

The program tested me again the following season.

That infamous soundbite of Dick Vitale screaming "GO GET YOUR DANCING SHOES" to Seth Greenberg as Hokie students flooded the floor of Cassell. The Hokies had just knocked off No. 1 Duke. They were 19-8. Tech just had to be in, right? But then I watched in dismay as the Hokies finished their season with two straight losses. They were right back on the bubble.

So naturally, Tech's fate would be determined during the ACC Tournament. Who could forget Erick Green's jumper with 4 seconds remaining to give the Hokies the lead over Florida State in the quarterfinals? I was in my basement, watching with my dad, jumping around and yelling my head off. This was the win that would get Tech back to March Madness.

When Derwin Kitchen promptly turned around and hit the buzzer beater to give the 'Noles the victory, the first thing I said to my dad was that the shot wouldn't count. We had a TiVo at the time, and I can't tell you how many times I paused the TV to show my dad that I was going to be right. He, of course, was a hardened Hokie fan. He knew what to expect. Another year, another heartbreak. And he was right in a way.

The Hokies ended up winning that game, but it still wasn't enough. Another season, another NIT appearance.

And then everything went completely downhill.

Season W L W-L% ACC W ACC L ACC W-L% NCAA Tournament Coach(es)
2013-14 9 22 0.29 2 16 0.111 James Johnson (9-22)
2012-13 13 19 0.406 4 14 0.222 James Johnson (13-19)
2011-12 16 17 0.485 4 12 0.25 Seth Greenberg (16-17)

Look. The firing of Seth Greenberg was surprising to most. But the utter lack of ability to keep a single ounce of momentum going once James Johnson took over was the more shocking thing to me.

Virginia Tech basketball was bad. Awful. Embarrassing. Abysmal. Choose whatever negative adjective you want, it would fit. Remember Ben Emelogu? He averaged 10.5 points per game in 2013 and that was good enough for 3rd best scorer on the team. Or how about the fact that Will Johnston got meaningful minutes in ACC games? That's a thing that happened.

Yes, Erick Green was fun to watch. He single-handedly carried the Hokies to multiple victories. For everything that was negative about the James Johnson seasons, Green had a positive response. Leading scorer in the nation? Sure. ACC Player of the Year? Why not.

The lone positive memory I have from the James Johnson era was the Oklahoma State game in Cassell in 2012. My seats were in the last row, meaning I shed approximately my entire body weight in sweat. Tech upset the No. 15 Cowboys that afternoon, and moved their record to 7-0 on the season. Marcus Smart got boo'ed out of Blacksburg. Things were going well! There was life in Cassell!

Then Virginia Tech sandwiched a win over Mississippi Valley State between losses to West Virginia and Georgia Southern. Not great. They beat Bradley by only one-point. Even worse. And just to cap it all off, the Hokies promptly went on a four-game losing streak by a combined 96 points.

It was during that losing streak that I disconnected. To be more exact, it was during their 97-71 loss to BYU. I can remember sitting in the car, listening to Bill Roth and Mike Burnop. The Cougars were hitting three after three after three, so I turned it off, and never turned it back on. Hearing the margin get larger with each possession crushed whatever Hokie spirit I had left.

That was my personal low point in terms of Tech fandom. I truly did not believe that Tech would be relevant in basketball ever again. And that crushed me. Basketball has always been the sport I'm most invested in. I played all the way through high school. It hurt to have my favorite school be so bad at the sport I loved.

But all it took to get me back was a single tweet.

I knew that Marquette had gotten to the Elite 8 in 2012-13. Williams was a quality coach. How in the world did Whit Babcock manage this? My interest in Tech basketball was piqued again.

I'd probably be repeating information that you already know if I start to recap the early seasons of Buzzketball. The first couple years weren't good. I can distinctly remember watching Radford celebrate on the floor of Cassell in 2014. But from the very get-go, I would tell anyone that would listen to me that 2018-19 was the season to circle.

The nucleus of Williams' initial recruits would have loads of experience. He would have had plenty of time to put his touch on the staff and recruiting. It all lined up. And the 2015-16 season helped my buy into that belief.

Tech had knocked off No. 4 UVA in Cassell for the first time since 2010. Tech had a season record of 12-6 when I logged onto Twitter to compose that thought. They would finish that regular season on a 5-game winning streak. I felt confident in my hot take.

And now we're on the doorstep of the "chosen season". To start year five of Buzzketball, the Hokies are ranked No. 15 in the AP preseason poll. Senior PG Justin Robinson is a preseason 2nd-team All-ACC player and is the 7th best guard in the country according to The Athletic. Sharpshooters Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw will be on the wings. Big man Kerry Blackshear Jr. enters his redshirt-junior year. Highly touted recruit Nickeil Alexander-Walker is coming off a successful freshman year. Wabissa Bede and P.J. Horne will be high-quality substitutions. And freshman guards like Jonathan Kabongo and Landers Nolley come in with high expectations.

For as bad as Virginia Tech has been at basketball in recent years, I don't think it's wrong to state that Hokie Nation would be content with the last two seasons. Back-to-back 6th place finishes in the ACC. Back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. The return of a raucous Cassell Coliseum leading to marquee wins in Blacksburg.

But guess what? It could get even better. This program has yet to reach their ceiling roof. But this year, that could all change.

So enjoy this season. Enjoy arguably the greatest assembly of talent in program history. Nobody knows what highlights there might be in the next five months, but don't hesitate to store them away. I know I will. Because 11 years down the line, I might end up reflecting on them and realize how special this team was.

In 2012, I thought Virginia Tech basketball would never be relevant again. I couldn't be more happy to have been so wrong. The Hokies' are one of the best teams in the best conference. I've already hit my low point following Virginia Tech basketball. And this year, I believe I'll experience my personal high.

Comments

Yeah, Buzz was a big get for the program.

Really hoping they live up to expectations this year. Need to win a game in the tourney!

Very nicely written, Skutt. Sums up pretty much exactly where I'm at too. And as someone going through his personal Tech fandom low right now, I couldn't need a great season more.

21st century QBs Undefeated vs UVA:
MV7, MV5, LT3, Jerod Evans, Michael Brewer, Tyrod Taylor, Sean Glennon, and Grant Noel. That's right, UVA. You couldn't beat Grant Noel.

I was already excited for Buzzketball, and this has only made me more so. Well done sir, excellent stuff here.

Danny Coale Caught That Ball!!!

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

Holy crap, is that kid really this guy?

If you're not sure if my comment warrants a "/s", it probably does.

I was not exactly content with the last 2 seasons, particularly if you'd have asked me immediately following the first round exits in both. This season they need to get a tourney win or two, need to get over the hump.

Shows you how much expectations and interest have improved tho. I hear your point, I also suffered through attending VT during James Johnson era, it was painful, morale seemed to bottom out. Me and my roommate didnt even get season ticket my last 2 years in Blacksburg, there was no point in paying for a definite seat, there were thousands of empty seats every game and VT gave away tickets to any interested students. What greener pastures we are in today. I pray that was bottoming out, and we never return to those depths again.

Now, if only we could get Buzz to clear that <= 6'6" filter he must have applied to his database of recruits sometime after KBJ committed.

Well written. I could really use an enjoyable basketball season. I guess now I know how LOLUVA feels.

Nevermind.

"What are you going to do, stab me? - Quote from Man Stabbed

We don't have to play Duke this year right??

2-26-19 exactly 8 years from the upset???

Big thanks to Henry for making me feel old when I remember photographing my first court rush in undergrad.

You youngsters are too funny!! Feeling old over a game that happened less than 8 years ago, lol.

I remember rushing the court as an undergrad after beating #2-ranked Memphis State (20-0) in 1986.......when Dell Curry was a senior. Believe it or not, we used to have to camp out (in January/February) for tickets and then again to get in and grab the best seats - they were general admission back then.

Unrelated - somewhere along the way Memphis State lost the State and just became Memphis.

when Dell Curry was a senior

When it's all said and done and the justifications, I'm still bitter we missed out on Steph Curry.

Lighting in a bottle comes once in a generation.

Let's Go

HOKIES

I remember being in Sharkey's during my first senior year when the Buzz to Blacksburg rumors were going around. I distinctly remember my group of friends saying it was a pipe dream, and laughing off the possibility.

Oh how far we've come since those dark days.

"Go Hokies!" - Thomas Jefferson
@HaydenDubya

The day Buzz Williams danced along to John Denver, on WVU's home court logo after a Marquette win. That was the day my lust for Buzz2VT began.

My buddies and I also thought it was a pipe dream, but then Whit Babcock happened.

my lust for Buzz

Not that there's anything wrong with that, haha.

"first" senior year, lol

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

Hey, victory laps are the best.

"That move was slicker than a peeled onion in a bowl of snot." -Mike Burnop

We have never beaten Louisville in ACC Play. And I know anything can happen on any given night, but I don't think anyone in the ACC is beating this Duke team if they stay healthy.

Buzz Williams with a 0% winning percentage against David Padgett. Save that one for trivia night.

-1 Turkey legs for not using "heel" instead of "heal" ;)

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
“I served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

Marcus Smart was booed out of Blacksburg

Appreciate the very generous phrasing compared to what actually happened.

Also, good thing Buzz wasn't there to scold the crowd. He would have gone ballistic

Here lies It's a Stroman Jersey I Swear, surpassed in life by no one because he intercepted it.

"You're a pussy" is what I remember being chanted.

Marshall University student.
Virginia Tech fanatic.

That game was great. I've never seen a crowd get in a player's head like that. He was shook.

But yeah, language would have been NSFB.

The optimists season:

Nolley is able to play and looks really good, VT shoots well at the start of the year and wins close games over Bama and Purdue to win the Charleston tourney. After a tougher-than-shoulda-been win @ PSU and a solid neutral win over UDub, VT hits conference play at 12-0 and ranked in the top 10.

A favorable early schedule gets VT out to 4-1 in ACC play with only a loss @ UVA. A few bumps in the road with 4 of 6 on the road around the start of February pushes VT to 7-4 and just outside the top 25. A strong finish, winning 6 of 7 including beating UVA in Cassell and winning @ FSU gets VT to 13-5, 25-5 and ranked 14th heading into the ACC-T as a 3-seed. NCAA tourney rewards VT with a 4-seed and gets VT into the Sweet 16 before a loss to Kansas ends the season. Final of 28-7, best year in VT hoops history.

The pessimists season:
Without Clarke, the soul of the team and with Nolley's situation dragging on, VT hits the Charleston tourney in a bit of disarray. After a close loss in the 2nd game to Bama, VT fails to regroup and drops a second game to Wichita St. A road game @ PSU is just a bit too much for the disorganized Hokies and they drop the UDub game as well. They hit the ACC schedule at 8-4, failing to win any big games in the OOC.

A well-coached ND team again beats VT in Cassell and even with a tough road win over GT, they start the season 3-2. A 4-game losing streak with @UNC, vSU, @Mia and @NCSU has the Hokies at a very low point. A brief rally over Louisville, GT, Pitt and a home win over UVA gets VT to .500 at 7-7, but loses @ND, vDuke and @FSU keep the Hokies at a rather pedestrian 8-10 ACC record with only the win over UVA as the a big wins to speak of. Drawing the underrated NCSU in the first round of the ACC-T doesn't help and sends VT (16-15) to yet another NIT draw and a major disappointment.

I can see either of these.

You lost me at over Louisville. I'll believe it when I see it.

Who frustrates you more... Louisville basketball or GT football?

"What are you going to do, stab me? - Quote from Man Stabbed

Yes

I found TKP after two rails from TOTS then walking back to my apartment and re-watching the 2012 Sugar Bowl. I woke up the next day with this username.

GT Football. Easily. Louisville hoops has won championships with different coaches and doesn't use a unique high school offense. They are a legit top 10ish program. No shame in losing to them. GT football OTOH?

Didn't you read the title of this thread?

Just kidding, after this football season, setting appropriate expectations is important to one's health.

to really be a Virginia Tech basketball fan. Amazing performances, shocking let downs, and ultimately, utter heartbreak

FTFY

Pass around the bourbon.......

I'll take 2 rounds...

Pain is Temporary, Chicks Dig Scars
Glory is Forever, Let's Go Hokies!!

(Before last night)
I like our chances this year. Teams with upper classmen tend to do really well. We could actually have a shot at winning the ACC this year.

(watches Duke/Kentucky game)
Mother of god...

That was something else man. 3 potential lottery picks on that team and two of them broke the school record for points by a freshman in their debut. They dominated UK.

Reddit ran some stats and their Big 3 scored 4 points less than Kentucky scored. Add in the 6 points from their 4th freshman and the Duke freshmen did our score Kentucky.

I don't believe PJ will be able to hold his own against them.

Not only that, but FSU beat the absolute brakes off a good UF team. If you look at Kenpom right now, we're 8th in the conference... at 30. Going to be a tough conference season.

If FSU gets that good of guard play, that's a top ten team.

FSU will always have Leonard Hamilton, so they won't ever be/perform consistently like a top ten team.

Is it football season yet?

Outside its night time, but inside its LeDay

Valid point. FSU Obstacle #1: overcome your coach.

buzzketball-ready-heal-decade-pain

Jeez, Skutt. I know this football season has been rough, but has it really felt like a decade?

Warning: this post occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors)..

I think he might've been talking about the basketball decade of pain.

And I think he was trying to make a joke ;)

My low point was a year later, during my senior year watching that final JJ team. They were so bad, it was difficult to watch. Yet I did, every single game, I'd walk to Cassell, sit down and think maybe we'll turn it around. Obviously we never did, we got worse as the year went on. I can't believe where this program is now, whether Buzz is a lifer or leaving after this year I don't care, he made basketball fun again.

Rip his freaking head off!

Just remember, no matter how good/bad it gets this season.... no cussin'!

Bacon strips &
bacon strips &
bacon strips &
bacon strips

Someone tell that to the people in our game threads o.o;;;

Nice write-up. I was brought-up on VT basketball at the end of our A10 days and early Big East days and got to witness our first ever BigEast win in person, so any finish with 20 wins is a fantastic year still in my mind. But... this could be a great year and my hopes are elevated!

Great article. I know a lot of the feels you're talking about. Watching games in Cassell during the JJ years was a strange time. Even though we knew Erick Green was great at what he did and Jarell Eddie had talent, nobody was kidding themselves into thinking that the team had a high ceiling.

This VT team has a high ceiling. It's a much different kind of hype.

Also, if this turns into one of those magical seasons where we sweep LOLUVA on our way to a final four, I'm going to be the most insufferable and obnoxiously happy dude in the world.

I found TKP after two rails from TOTS then walking back to my apartment and re-watching the 2012 Sugar Bowl. I woke up the next day with this username.