The arrival of 2017 meant that the Hokies were due for a decennial trip to the Big Dance, and they answered the call with an outstanding season.
Following 1986 — the last season of Tech’s sustained success under Charlie Moir — the Hokies only appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1996 and 2007. While a first round exit is disappointing to be sure, it’s worth noting that it’s truly unusual just to be involved.
A 22-11 overall record isn’t something to take lightly in the ACC either. This year’s conference is particularly formidable and yet Tech won 10 ACC games for just the fourth time since joining the league in 2004.
The Hokies have also posted back-to-back 20-win seasons after four consecutive years of 16 wins or fewer.
The turnaround sparked by the arrival of Buzz Williams can’t possibly be overstated. He’s completely reshaped the culture of the program and of people who follow it with his offbeat brand of inspirational wisdom.
It also can’t be overstated how much a pair of unselfish transfers did the heaviest lifting.
Seth Allen and Zach LeDay came to Tech for one last shot to fulfill their dreams of college basketball greatness. Allen had flashed potential at Maryland and received a number of suitors. LeDay, on the other hand, chose Tech sight unseen because it was his only option.
Both players have transformed themselves at Tech, and in doing so, transformed the entire program.
After sitting out the dreadful 11-22 campaign in Buzz’s first year, LeDay turned into a potential double-double on any given night, playing against far bigger players in the ACC trenches. Allen meanwhile evolved into Tech’s best clutch shooter from outside and a steadying influence with his mere presence.
That was true again Thursday night when Allen suffered a toe injury early in the game, but came back to grit out the game. His presence despite limited minutes was crucial to keeping the Hokies close throughout.
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When Zach LeDay fouled out at the end of the 84-74 loss to Wisconsin Thursday night, every Hokie in attendance rose to their feet without hesitation as Buzz Williams embraced his senior “big man”. It was an emotional moment for both crowd and player. And can you remember a more emotional Tech basketball player?
I’m hard-pressed to remember a guy with as much energy who wore things so clearly on his sleeve. A thunderous dunk followed by Zach glowering his way, head down, back to the other end was such a welcome sight.
LeDay and Allen lifted Virginia Tech out of the ACC basement and brought them to the NCAA Tournament. Buzz Williams gave them a push and they handled the rest.
There’s also a sense that this group of guys deserves support. Not that all teams aren’t deserving, but you simply can’t help but root for these guys. They seem earnest and dedicated to improving themselves and the program.
It’s hardly a consolation prize to be good people. Buzz is the kind of head coach who puts that stuff first. Back in the preseason, he was talking about this very theme.
"I’m kind of bored with basketball just to be real honest with you….I think I’ve just matured to the point that maybe we’re just using basketball as a microcosm for life, and that doesn’t mean that I’m trying to be holier than thou, and it doesn’t mean that I’m even a good figure to be an example of that, but the older I’ve gotten, I’ve just become more consumed with who the Seth Allen’s of our program end up being as future husbands and future fathers and future leaders of our country, and so all that we do is predicated on that."
It would appear that Buzz’s plan is working. His kids are growing and learning and they just happened to win a few basketball games on the way to the NCAA Tournament.
It won’t be another 10-year wait for this group to return.