The Peak of Excellence

In winning their first ACC men's basketball championship, the Virginia Tech Hokies showed what can be accomplished when tough people overcome tough times.

[ACC Pool]

Over the course of this season, I have told you many things.

I told you that Virginia Tech couldn't finish close games. I told you they looked slow, small, and unathletic. That they weren't capable of competing against the upper-echelon of college basketball. I told you that their point guard play was dismal, that they couldn't score off the dribble, that their forwards couldn't carry the load. I told you that their defense was in a free-fall, and that their offense was one-dimensional β€” too reliant on shooting, not reliant enough on physicality.

But sports have a way of humbling us all. And today, I consider myself very humbled.

The Virginia Tech Hokies are the ACC Tournament champions. They did it without prized recruits or a Hall of Fame, national championship and gold-medal winning head coach patrolling their sidelines. Instead, the Hokies won college basketball's most prestigious conference tournament with their two best players unrated by recruiting services coming out of high school. They won it with their highest-rated player coming off the bench, and their second-highest rated player a complementary piece that was largely a non-factor in the final two games.

Above all else, they won it with a head coach in Mike Young who spent 17 years at a mid-major program, and who used the basketball knowledge he had accumulated in that time to recruit a roster full of 11 scholarship players that he deemed good enough to play at this level. Despite all those concerns and more, Young's judgment proved to be right in the end.

Virginia Tech β€” a school that has been in the ACC all of 18 years β€” slayed the two behemoths of the conference in North Carolina and Duke, not only beating them but doing so soundly. Per ESPN Stats and Information, the Hokies are the first team in the Mike Krzyzewski era to beat those two teams by double-digits on consecutive days. The Hokies took down the league's top three seeds and became the highest-seeded team ever to win the ACC Tournament. None of this would have happened if not for Darius Maddox's game-winning buzzer beater to beat Clemson in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.

Sometimes, all you need is a bit of luck to show your true potential.

Much to my dismay, Virginia Tech is an 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and will face the sixth-seeded Texas Longhorns on Friday. I would've hoped for a better seed given that they just won 23 games and a major-conference championship (albeit in a historic down year), is top 30 in KenPom, BPI, and the NET rankings, but I guess we can't have all the things we want in life. The Hokies will have to earn their way through this tournament like all other 67 teams.

But unlike most of those 67 teams, Tech has all the wind at their back. What goes into a turnaround like this? Simple: a group of young men that isn't willing to fold when the times get tough.

Overcoming Adversity

Last week, I said that the story of the 2021-22 Hokies will be one of missed opportunities. Looking back, it is clear that the true story of this team is overcoming adversity.

All season long, Virginia Tech unperformed relative to their potential. Every statistical metric and analytic told us what we could see on the court: yes, this team is good. They have talent. They are well coached. They just can't win games.

As a numbers guy, I loathe myself for not fully appreciating the Hokies' potential.

"Oh, they have good metrics, but they don't have the athletes to close out games."

"Yeah, they can shoot threes, but they are soft inside. You can't win like that."

"Virginia Tech has a limited ceiling because they do not have any individual playmakers."

For a time I believed all of these things. How quickly the narrative can change.

Offensive and defensive efficiencies tend to correlate well year-to-year. You can make fairly accurate projections based on what a team has done the previous season, combined with the talent they return. Ken Pomeroy includes multiple years of data in his preseason projections. Virginia Tech was good last year, and they returned most of their best players. They were destined for improvement.

But that luck stat? It's a whole lot of nothing. Zero correlation from one year to the next. A total anomaly. It's hard to see that when you are 2-7 in a mediocre conference and keep losing every game by three points, but it is true. Virginia Tech is a really good basketball team, and they showed us why this past week.

Recipe for Success

I want to lay out the following elements which I view as most crucial to the Hokies' historic turnaround. There are no advanced stats or numbers to cite β€” I wrote solely from the heart.

Virginia Tech would not have won the ACC without their defense. I could not have imagined such drastic improvements on that end of the ball one month ago, when they were getting carved up by the likes of Florida State and Pitt. Down the stretch, the Hokies were much better at communicating defensively and quicker with rotations. Darius Maddox was able to improve his on-ball defense to the point where he wasn't a liability. On ball screens, Tech hard-hedged or soft-hedged almost everything, which you can do with a forward like Keve Aluma who has the quickness to recover. The guards helped him out by playing with high hands and not constantly getting beat 1-on-1.

Against Duke, the Hokies did an excellent job rebounding, bringing in their guards to help clean up the glass. They got back on defense and prevented fast-break opportunities against both the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels, neutralizing an area in which those two teams are so dangerous. They deflected passes and fought for loose balls. Rarely do I resort to vague generalities, but watching the championship game it is clear to me that the Hokies just wanted it more than Duke.

Offensively, there were two major developments. The first is the growth of Storm Murphy. Sean Pedulla provided a spark off the bench this season, and his improvement has allowed Murphy to take on a lighter load.

But no good team has ever been led by their backup point guard. While Pedulla has performed adequately in a limited role, Tech did not truly take off until Murphy played to his full capabilities. He scored 31 points in the first two tournament games and showed the highlight-reel plays exhibited at Wofford: driving to the rim, finishing over longer defenders, finding open cutters. I couldn't be more happy for him to prove all the critics like me wrong. If you watched Murphy in this tournament, you would genuinely believe that he was a top point guard in college basketball.

The second development was that of Maddox. I hate to sound like a parody of myself, but when you see him play you can tell that he's a four-star player. There is so much finesse and fluidity to his game, and can hit shots at an elite rate from anywhere on the court. A key element of sports is having guys that can make special plays that few others can, and Maddox is precisely that. The Hokies wouldn't be where they are without him.

Then again, I could say that about most of the players on this team. Hunter Cattoor has played top-notch defense and moves off the ball better than almost anyone. Justyn Mutts makes incredible passes that put his teammates in position to score. Yes, he is good for three dumb turnovers a game. You just have to accept the good with the bad. Thankfully, there is a lot of good.

I view Nahiem Alleyne as a complementary player. He is not a go-to scorer, which is why I believe he struggled so much earlier in the year in the absence of Tyrece Radford. The progression of Murphy and Maddox have allowed him to settle into his role, focusing on playing good defense and occasionally hitting threes.

Having a roster composed of talented freshmen and one-and-dones is perfectly fine, but there is no substitute for experience. Virginia Tech's age and maturity showed up in this tournament, and combined with production off the bench from the likes of Pedulla, Maddox, and David N'Guessan, they won four games in four days, taking down the best of the ACC.

No, on second thought: the Hokies were the best of the ACC.

Attitude of Gratitude

I will leave you all with this.

Of the 160 teams to finish ranked top 20 in KenPom over the past eight years, only one has done so without the services of a top 200-ranked high school recruit.

It was Wofford in 2019.

The Terriers went 28-5, won the SoCon championship, and won their first NCAA Tournament game in program history. It was a magical season that helped their head coach, a southwest Virginia native, land a job at the school he grew up rooting for. Now, he has taken his new team to a peak many never could have imagined.

Appreciate Mike Young as the head coach of the Virginia Tech basketball program. He's a player-developer. He's a class act. He's a winner.

And most importantly, he's the Hokies'.

Comments

Well done Shelton! Hope MY stays till retirement.

Being a Radford native + VT truly seeming to be his dream job + the fact that he spent 17 years at Wofford (and I'm sure had the opportunity to move on prior to VT)... I'm hopeful he sticks around

Now finish up them taters; I'm gonna go fondle my sweaters.

Excellent article! Great follow up to yesterday's Giftory.

"That's my school, this is HOME"

I found this article was best read with the theme from Chariots of Fire playing in the background. Excellent read, thanks Shelton.

Pleasure is mine! Thanks for reading.

VT '21

To my admittedly untrained eye, Murphy's acclimation to ACC play over the course of the season is the biggest cog in our improvement. The team just seems more comfortable now than they did early on and it just feels like once Murphy really got his feet under him at this level, everything else just sort of fell into place.

That and Maddox's minutes going up

I just sit on my couch and b*tch. - HokieChemE2016

Yeah, seeing him get more and more minutes always felt like a positive step. I have to imagine he was putting in the work on the defensive side to get those minutes.

I would say the main three from the bench, not only helped Storm, but the entire team.

Mike Young, the Frank Beamer of Hokies basketball. Finding underrated kids and turning them into winners.

I just sit on my couch and b*tch. - HokieChemE2016

If some filthy rich $EC or B1G program comes trying to steal CMY by doubling his salary, I am going to develop LOLuva levels of hatred for that school. Whit has got to be proactive if he wants to keep CMY in Blacksburg. I hope he has the resources to make it happen.

VTCC '86 Delta Company, Hokie in Peru, Former Naval Aviator, Former FBISA, Forever married to my VT87 girl. Go VT!

CMY isn't going anywhere!

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

I agree that this is the vibe Mike Young gives off, but we shouldn't take that for granted. Pay him all the gold in Blacksburg or whatever else he wants.

Coach Wright of Villanova, unprompted on Friday night, made the comment that CMY is the most underappreciated coach in CBB. He is extremely well regarded in coaching circles and that tells you just how connected Whit is.

Whit knew this when he hire CMY.

Murphy definitely came up big in the tourney. As he slowly became more confident at the end of the year, the team really started to shine. And for everyone who wanted Cattoor off the floor - his D and work off the ball contributes in ways not shown on the stat sheet. It was nice to see him break out of his shooting slump Saturday. Hopefully it will continue.

A veteran team, with a great coach and lots of chemistry who play for each other is exactly the type of team that can make noise in dance.

That's awesome, any chance you recall where he said it? TV interview? Online? Would love to hear.

VT '21

It was mentioned in one of the CBS Sports HQ videos on YouTube (I think one from Saturday night). I think the interview with Wright was CBS HQ on Friday night after Nova's win.

We can win a few games in this tourney if we shoot like the FSU/UVA/Syracuse stretch this year

Funny part is we didn't even shoot all that well against Syracuse (38.3% from the field, 29.6% from 3) or UVA (43.5%, 25%). We were scorching hot starting starting with the Miami loss and through the back-to-back Pitt games.

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

I think both these trains of thought are valid: 1) CMY is a SWVA guy, VT is his dream job and it's easy to see him staying here another 10-15 yrs (he's 58) until he retires and we build a statue for him. ALSO 2) It'd be naΓ―ve to think some big dog won't come and offer him EFF-You money if he continues this seasons' success over the next 2-3 seasons, and give us all Beamer-to-UNC scares.

Ultimately my gut though (which is ample) thinks he sticks around; he seems like the type of guy who knows a good situation when he sees it, and for whom money isn't everything. So long as Whit provides him the support staff and asst coach salary pool to keep them competitive, I think CMY sticks around.

The Cup is going nowhere Mikey!

The good news is that basketball is not football. Buzz left Mike Young Radford and Bede. That's it. 3 years later he did something Buzz never did- win 2 games in the ACC tourney..then he won the whole damn thing. Something no VT coach has ever done. So if South Carolina comes after Young with 6 million per, cool. Whit can find a guy- in hoops you don't need 20 4 star player to win like football.

THE WHOLE DAMN THING. Feels good to stay still.

They have a couple more nets to cut down this season. I just have a feeling.

It also still helps that CMY has family in the area. I think his dad still lives in Radford. Must be nice to be only 15-20 minutes away in case family needs him.

^yes to all the points above and to add:

Coach is a 'This is home' guy.
We got to watch him here build Wofford to lofty heights but VT is blessed that Coach grew up in the backyard and made the move back home. He maxed out at Wofford, but he's a competitor to the core and wanted to continue the challenge at VT.

But he grows deep community roots: Wofford alum are now VT fans and pulling hard for Coach Young because they love him. (Miss him, but love him)

Contrast to fans' reactions to our departed basketball coaches (different, I know but you get the point).

I did notice Whit at the post game celebration in Brooklyn-he had a Cheshire cat grin and deservedly so. He got this one right (and most of the others).

Great article.
Go Hokies.

#WhitForPresident

Love this article!

Reach for Excellence!

VT Football: It'll get after ya!

Proud Hokie since 2004.

Such a great read! In January, it was hard to envision a moment like Saturday night. I was waiting for the season to end to put us out of our misery and now, I don't ever want it to end. Such an awesome turnaround for the team!

I don't know what a Hokie is, but God is one of them!