A Really Good Team

Mike Young had a consistent message all season: that the Virginia Tech men's basketball team is really good. Now, after an ACC Tournament title, it's clear we should have believed him all along.

[ACC Pool]

We could have believed him. It would've saved a lot of heartburn.

"I have a good team", was something Mike Young would tell anyone who would listen from media day all the way through the end of the season. He said it at the beginning, when he called his Hokies collectively maybe "the best shooting team he's ever had", allowing fans to envision a squad that would unconsciously bomb away night after night, running overstretched opponents off the floor.

He expressed it after two excruciating losses in Brooklyn during the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Hokies faded down the stretch against a Memphis program that would subsequently lose four straight, and then Tech blew a lead versus a ranked Xavier squad. The Musketeers had just four reliable players, and still Tech couldn't shut the door.

He reiterated it after tough losses against average-to-bad competition. After his group — of seasoned, heady upperclassmen — continually failed to close things out down the stretch, and lost heartbreaker after heartbreaker. He even said it the day the levees seemed to finally break, and Miami's Charlie Moore hit a half court buzzer beater to sink the Hokies in Cassell. Tech had a five-point lead with 2:24 to go, up 75-70, and failed to score a single point the rest of the way. Moore's shot fell, and the Hokies fell to the Hurricanes 78-75.

At that moment, just about everyone was done with Young's overly positive assessment of his guys. While he may have seen a "good team", we saw...something else.

We saw a roster who didn't have the guy to finish a game with less than five minutes to go. A group whose defense suffered noticeably after switching Wabissa Bede for Storm Murphy. A team who, while still very skilled, may not have had enough athletic talent to compete with the top competition in the league. A locker room full of nice guys from Wofford who were destined to be a perpetual 3-seed in the NIT.

Man, we really should have listened.

After the Hurricane heartbreak, Young went to the podium with the posture of a man who'd been through some serious shit over the last month. A coach who may have been the last person on earth who truly believed the Hokies were a good team. Not an average one or a decent-if-not-underachieving one. But good.

And when he was asked what he said to his players after Moore's prayer was answered, he beat the drum again:

When asked about his message to his guys after the loss, Young's best qualities were on display. "I'm very proud of you and I appreciate your effort and this thing's going to turn," he said. "We've got a really good basketball team. We have deserved better outcomes, but that's the game, man. Doesn't owe you a damn thing. You've got to suck it up and play better."

I'd call it prophetic if it wasn't so damn honest and heartfelt. He loves his guys, and believes in them even if he's the last person on earth who truly does.

And guess what. Just after that moment, Tech did turn it around. They ripped off six straight wins and didn't just look good, but instead like the top-25 lock that was promised in October. They made shots and played stifling defense. They played up to the expectations of their coach.

They played like a really good basketball team.

But they didn't just stick to good. As the calendar turned to March, they became excellent.

They beat Clemson off what was maybe the most stone cold shot in recent Tech history:

We all know what happened next. They beat Notre Dame, beat the hell out of North Carolina and exorcised the devil out of Duke to expel whatever demons remained in their locker room and win the ACC Tournament. It proved Young's assessment correct. It proved, once again, that maybe as fans we don't know as much as we'd like to pretend. In beating the best three schools in the conference, the Hokies didn't just go on a hot streak. They proved that they belonged there all along.

No, Tech doesn't have the athletes Mike Krzyzewski or Hubert Davis have down in the Triangle. They don't have lottery picks, seven-foot shot blocking skyscrapers or conference players of the year. But they do have a system. They have shooters, matchup nightmares in the post and a gaggle of gangly defenders who can switch one through four.

This is Mike Young basketball. At its worst, it's a complex system that raises the floor whenever his program is inexperienced or depleted of talent (the 2019-20 Hokies had no business finishing .500.) At its best, it's, well...

It's an ACC Champion.

The Hokies will never be Duke. They'll never be Carolina, but they can be — gulp — Virginia. Or Notre Dame. Or Wisconsin, Tennessee, Texas Tech or Iowa. Programs that are consistently good, can be great with the right amount of older players and can be special with one or two NBA guys.

And you know what's incredible? The Hokies are really good, but even after providing the most exciting thing that's happened to Virginia Tech athletics in over a decade, this program could absolutely stand to get better. Imagine this offense with Justin Robinson at point guard or Nickeil Alexander-Walker running on the wing opposite of Maddox. Imagine the defense with a true anchor at center ("what if the Hokies hadn't missed on PJ Hall" comes to mind right about now).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not taking anything away from this team. They won the ACC Tournament for god's sake! Keve Aluma strung together four of the most impressive all-around performances of his career, playing solid defense and stepping up when his squad needed him most. Hunter Cattoor's targeted bombing overshadowed Aluma scoring six straight points in crunch time to put the Blue Devils away.

Justyn Mutts continued to be Tech's most important player, particularly when the box score may not have shown it. Mt. Cattoor — who hadn't scored more than 14 points in over a month — erupted for 31. And Storm Murphy quietly became the point guard Young said he'd be, constantly probing longer, faster defenses. Moving the ball with borderline reckless speed. Wonder how the Hokies ended up blowing out both Duke and Carolina? Maybe you should look at Murphy's assist totals (13 in the tournament's final two games), or the fact that he was finally confident enough to pull shit like this:

The Hokies are a good team. Their coach knew it. Then they knew it. Then fans and everyone else finally started to wise up.

How they end up performing in the NCAA Tournament is almost moot at this point. They could lose to Texas and the 2021-22 season couldn't be considered anything but a raging success. Why? Let me say it again:

THEY WON THE ACC TOURNAMENT.

Sorry, that sentence really never gets old.

But to spit a cliche as old as March Madness itself, Tech is playing its best basketball at the right time. The Hokies are truly scary right now, no one in the field wanted to see them in the first round. Especially the Longhorns:

That is the face of someone who watched the ACC Tournament on Saturday night.

Tech could absolutely make a run to the Sweet 16. And once they get there, who's to say they can't go farther? It's not a likely outcome, but if this season has taught us anything it's this:

If you can sustain a regular amount of success in college basketball, you always have a shot to make some noise in the postseason. Sometimes it happens, sometimes you end up watching a team stumble over themselves without ever figuring out which way was up. But with a good coach, a good system and players who can excel in it, even the highest of highs isn't out of the question.

The combination of single elimination tournaments mixed with your average dose of March Madness volatility means anyone in the mix has a shot. So next time Mike Young tells us his Hokies are really good, let's take his word for it.

Comments

Nice write up Brian. Thanks.

I'm ready for the tournament.

To be the man you gotta beat the man!

Great article. I couldn't agree more with the sentiment that this is a great season even if we are 1 and done in the dance. I'd much rather have an ACC tourney championship and lose in the first round of the NCAA then a couple wins in the tourney and a Sweet 16 appearance. Nobody really remembers those, we will fly an ACC Championship banner forever.

That being said, I like our chances in the first weekend.

Brian, I need you to comment so I can leg the hell out of you.

Since fans don't get the access to the practices, locker room talks, game reviews, etc., we have to rely on stats and on-court appearances to tell us what the team is. But this performance really shows that CMY isn't just coach-speaking when he talks about what he believes about of his team's potential.

Life/career tip: Find you a manager/mentor that talks about you the way CMY talks about his Hokies in that Miami presser.

.... this is the most perfectly written thing I've ever seen on this site
-8300A_Hokie'12

Great job Marcolini. Also I have to say that I have concerns about that first NCAA Tourney game against Texas. Why? First, our guys left it all out there and you could tell they were spent after winning the ACC Tournament. I hope they rest up and that there is no let down.

But secondly is Coach MK's point that you "need at least 72 hours to prepare" to play against VT. Texas will have that 72 hours. Look at that first win in the ACC Tourney over an average Clemson squad - it took a last second shot in O/T (and I am counting the regular season closer toward Clemson's "prep" time, even tho they had to win their first game on Tuesday). The other games (with 24ish hours to prepare) were much more in VT's favor. If we can beat TX (no small order), then I may feel better about our chances on Sunday. But man I love this team.

If it wasn't for Texas' 3 game losing streak, I'd be more worried. I'm am still worried, but not as much if they had a win in the last 3 weeks.

But like you said, 72 hours, so, assuming a win against Texas, Purdue doesn't get near enough time to prepare, and we're a very nightmarish matchup for them on the perimeter.

Kentucky can be top tier in 3 pt defense, but they are not a 3 point shooting team. Bigs will be important here.

I think the top half of the region will be won by St. Marys. On a short turn-around, I give it to us.

Gonzaga's gonna boat race us in the Final Four, but still.

Never Forget #1 Overall Seed UVA 54, #64 UMBC 74

"Take care of the little things and the big things will come."

This season, the last time this team faced:
NCSU, FSU, Pitt, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Clemson, Miami, UVA, Notre Dame, UNC, and Duke; the Hokies won.

And the ACC teams not on this list? Both were single game series that happened before Miami. Neither are in the big dance, oddly enough because one (BC) beat the other (Wake Forest).

"Hokie religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid." Han Solo

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

This was awesome to read and sums up a lot of everyone's feels. I know it does mine
Entire year has been confusing because we all knew this was a good team...right?
On paper...we should be top 4 conference...right?
Storm Murphy makes this team better..............right?

After Miami I almost stopped watching because the heartbreak was too much...
Every game...every effing one...
That type of ending meant that this season just wasn't meant to be...

But I didn't stop watching. We just need someone to push the lane...a good shooting night and bam!
I keep telling myself...I keep telling my dad...I keep telling my wife
My wife rolls her eyes when I tell her there's a game tonight..."Don't you guys suck anyway?"
Hey, easy there...but yeah...we suck right now...
I remind her that's what being a fan is...this flies over her head...every time....every effing time...

Proud of this team to finally find themselves. This team is playing more like, and even better than, most thought going into this year. What a sweet sigh of relief. Anything from here is gravy.

Wonderful write up. Had two favorites:

They beat Clemson off

Tee hee hee.

And....

Mt. Cattoor — who hadn't scored more than 14 points in over a month — erupted for 31.

I think Joe has a good writing team.

My favorite:

a gaggle of gangly defenders

Great write up. I really think this is a sweet 16 team, maybe even elite 8. The draw is favorable and the guys have become a force in the last 3ish weeks. This could be a special ending to a special year folks

Warning- Filter lost.

"Look at this... This is just spectacular.... These people are losing their minds"

But, we should also be incredibly proud and okay if it's a one and done. They have already far surpassed my expectations. Of course a run would be icing on the cake. If they pick up where they left, they can beat anyone. Going to be a fun Friday!

Let’s go……

Oh yeah, absolutely. I would much rather hang a championship banner and lose on Friday than not hang a banner and play the second weekend.

Warning- Filter lost.

"Look at this... This is just spectacular.... These people are losing their minds"

My hope is we hang 2 banners... :)

So glad we play on Friday...just seems like an advantage.

"Take care of the little things and the big things will come."

Yes. My liver gets an extra day of rest.