For the next several days, the Tar Heel Blog staff will be previewing each ACC team heading into the ACC Tournament. We’ll be highlighting how the season has gone for each team, and discussing the state of each school heading into the postseason.
Overall Record: 21-9
Conference record: 10-8 (#7 seed; faces winner of #10 Wake Forest/#15 BC game, by which I mean Wake Forest, Wednesday at 7pm)
Biggest wins: Virginia (80-78 2OT), Duke (89-75)
Worst losses: @ NC State (104-78 – don’t bother, I double checked that already and it actually occurred in real life), Texas A&M (68-65).
Key players: Zach Leday, 15.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg; Seth Allen, 13.1 ppg, 46.5% 3pt%, Chris Clarke, 11.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg.
KenPom Numbers: #47 overall; strength is on offense (#26); weak defensively (#128). They rarely cause the other team to turn it over (#347 steal percentage). They have excellent 3-point shooting team (40.5%, good for #7 nationally).
Buzz Williams seems to have things on schedule in Blacksburg. After starting off 11-22 in his first season in the ACC, Williams improved to a 20-15 mark and the NIT in 2016, and now seems primed to take the Hokies back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade. Given the degree of difficulty involved in winning at Virginia Tech (they’ve only made eight total NCAA appearances in school history), the fact that the “other” Williams got no meaningful consideration for ACC coach of the year (he finished tied for 5th) could reasonably be seen by Hokies fans as a snub.
Williams is a widely-respected coach, and there’s more than the simple year-to-year record improvements to suggest that he may be taking the Virginia Tech program to new heights. The Hokies, whose strength of schedule is a respectable #47 overall, have only lost one non-conference game (a close November loss to Texas A&M). If the mark of a well-coached team is that they rarely beat themselves, Virginia Tech qualifies: with the exceptions of A&M and the NCSU head-scratcher, all of the Hokies’ losses have come against teams that are rated significantly higher, and Williams’ team has pulled off several upsets, including victories over ACC elites Duke and Virginia.
Looking at the ACC brackets, one can’t help but believe that Virginia Tech hopes to get another shot at a Wake Forest team that came back from multiple double digit deficits to ruin the Hokies’ senior day. That was a game that many viewed as a must-win for the Demon Deacons to keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, and Wake Forest would undoubtedly see similar stakes at play in a rematch, making this one of the more interesting potential early-round games in the tournament.
The “reward” for getting out of the first round would be #2 seed Florida State in the quarterfinals, which is a tough matchup for the Hokies. The Seminoles are a far bigger and more balanced team than Virginia Tech and handled them easily in Tallahassee, 93-78.
That said, if we have learned nothing else from the month of March, it’s that a team that’s dangerous from long range can beat anyone on a hot night, and that’s what Virginia Tech will need to do much further damage in Brooklyn.
PREDICTION: Virginia Tech wins a close one against Wake Forest, who will be having to play a second straight game, but bows out against FSU, whose edges are simply too great. They will console themselves with an NCAA bid and a justified feeling that they are making important strides in the toughest conference in the nation.