It’s that time of year again. You know the time of year when you actually tune your television to TruTV. Yes, the NCAA Tournament is underway with its First Four games in Dayton. Tomorrow the entire thing gets going and by Sunday night the beauty that is 68 teams will be down to just 16.
There are few things you can count on over the next couple of weeks. One is that coaches who make hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars will once again show that they are clueless when it comes to designing a play worth a shit in the final 20 seconds of a game. Unbelievable. Secondly, those same rich coaches will be clueless when it comes to finding a way to attack a zone defense. The way some of these teams play against a zone makes you wonder if they’ve ever seen one.
You can also count on countless trips to the monitor by referees in the final two minutes of a game. Just stop it. And if you do have to go to the monitor take one look at the play in question, and make a damn call. Most referees get it right the first time anyway so trust yourself. Some like “TV Teddy” Ted Valentine just want to be the center of attention. And one other thing you can count one, countless annoying Capital One commercials and television time outs that are just two long.
Having said all that, the NCAA Tournament remains the world’s best and most perfect sporting event. I’ve said all along if I could only watch one sporting event per year, this would be it and it’s not even close. It’s perfect because everything about it is imperfect from the way the teams are selected to the way they are seeded to the god-awful tip off times you have endure. Some games in the first two days won’t begin until almost 10:00 p.m. That’s too late, but it’s part of its charm.
This year my interest is even greater because for the first time in 10 years, Virginia Tech is back in the field. The Hokies endured one of the longest droughts between appearances in college basketball. Rhode Island is back for the first time in 18 years, Northwestern for the first time, but the last time Virginia Tech made the tournament, there was no First Four, and there were no games on TruTV. It was 2007 and true to the school’s history in the NCAA Tournament, it failed to go beyond the first weekend. Virginia Tech beat Illinois in a first round game, then lost to Southern Illinois in the Second Round in Dayton, Ohio.
Over it’s basketball history, Virginia Tech has had some great players. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better player to ever play at Virginia Tech than Dell Curry. Curry played in the mid-80s and left as the school’s all-time leading scorer without a three-point line. He still holds a Virginia High School League State Tournament record that can never be broken, only tied as he went 11-for-11 from the field for his high school Fort Defiance in the State Tournament his Senior year. I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not a fan, but there’s no denying Bimbo Coles contributions to the program. He benefitted from having a three point line to displace Curry as the all-time leading scorer at the school, and was part of the 1988 Olympic team before – like Curry – playing in the NBA. I just don’t happen to be a big fan of his and it’s hard for me to explan. In the Mid-90s, Ace Custis was the next in line of great Virginia Tech players. Custis was about as versatile a player as has ever played there and is now beginning a coaching career on the staff at Maryland-Eastern Shore.
Despite occasional great players, it’s always been fairly easy to describe Virginia Tech basketball in one word: “mediocre.” It’s been a nice little program with pretty good fan support when warranted by the performance on the court, but nothing to brag about.
This year is just the school’s 9th all-time appearance in the Tournament. They’ve played – prior to tomorrow night’s game against Wisconsin in Buffalo – just 14 total NCAA Tournament games with a very pedestrian 6-8 record. Tech has advanced to one Sweet 16 and one Elite 8 and that was in 1967 when only 23 teams made the tournament. Since then the school has never advanced to the second weekend and of those seven appearances has lost in the first round 3 times. They are not a consistent NCAA Tournament team. Their first appearance was in 1967, and then they didn’t make another one until 1976. Appearances followed in 1979, 1980, 1985 and 1986. Then a 10-year gap to the next appearance in 1996, and 11 years until the next in 2007 and now 10 years until this appearance.
The issue with the program’s inconsistence in my mind has largely been the coaching. It’s just been hard for the school to actually get the head coaching position right. They did so in the early 70s in the form of the most successful coach – Charlie Moir who came to Virginia Tech in 1976 from Tulane replacing Don DeVoe who led Tech to the 1973 NIT Championship before bolting town two years later to Tennessee. Moir, had previously coached Roanoke College to the then-NCAA’s College Division Championship in 1972, before advancing his career. He spent 11 seasons in Blacksburg with seven 20 win seasons and 8 post-season appearances. Of Virginia Tech’s now 9 NCAA Tournaments, Moir took Tech to 4 of them and yes he recruited and coached Dell Curry. He also had 4 NIT appearances including a 3rd place finish in 1984. Moir only had one losing season in Blacksburg and that was his last, a 10-18 record in 1986-87. Combine that with NCAA issues and Moir was gone from coaching after the 1987 season and now lives a quiet life as a grandfather in Salem, Virginia.
He was replaced by his top assistant Frankie Allen who honestly was meant to be nothing more than a stop-gap, but after taking a team ineligible for the post-season in 1987-88 to a 19-10 record, Virginia Tech had little choice but to give him the job permanently. That proved to be a big mistake. Over the next three years Allen went 11-17. 13-18 and 13-16. He also had issues off the court including a DUI arrest after crashing his University issued car into a pole in Salem, Virginia. I had no real personal issues with Frankie Allen. He was an unusual personality and kind of shy which portrayed itself more often as stand-offish. I did feel bad for the way things ended at Virginia Tech. After he was fired, he was at Montgomery Regional Hospital undergoing an emergency appendectomy when the University went to the hospital and took back his university issued car. He did manage to find a measure of redemption by taking Tennessee State to the NCAA Tournament several years later.
When Allen was shown the door, Bill Foster came out of retirement to clean up the mess. Foster – who had coached at Clemson and Miami among other places – was working as an analyst on Metro Conference games for Raycom Sports. He once told me that he enjoyed the television deal, but had so much time on his hands that he was going crazy. Translated that means I didn’t realize my wife was such a pain in the ass because I was never home. When then Tech A-D Dave Braine offered him a chance to return to coaching, he took it and after back to back 10-18 seasons, his next three teams went 18-10, 25-10 winning the NIT in 1995, and 23-6 and losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 1996 to the eventual champion, Kentucky. After 15-16 in 1996 – 97, Foster retired again. He was replaced by his long-time loyal assistant Bobby Hussey, who had no business getting the job and latest only two poor years. When he was fired, then A.D. Jim Weaver who was frankly o-for-life at hiring basketball coaches replaced him with Ricky Stokes. Stokes, a graduate of Virginia was a fine assistant, but not head coaching material and was ditched in 2003 with a 45-70 record.
To replace Stokes, basketball wise Virginia Tech got it right in hiring Seth Greenberg. He was a success on the Court there’s no question about that with 5 straight post-season appearances. However, 4 of those were in the NIT prompting jokes that you just couldn’t have an NIT without Seth Greenberg. Internally, however, Greenberg was reportedly a disaster who sort of floated in his own world and did whatever he wanted. He did himself no favors but refusing to give a scholarship to Charlotte area basketball player Steph Curry – yes Dell Curry’s son – telling him he could walk on. Curry instead took the free ride to Davidson College. Nice call there huh given Steph led Davidson to the Elite 8, and is about the best player in the NBA now. He allegedly alienated the women’s basketball program by downplaying its importance (despite the fact he was the father of 3 daughters), players left in bunches, staff was constantly turning over and he had such a fractured relationship with Weaver, that Weaver called a press conference to inform the media that Greenberg was fired without first telling Greenberg he was going to fire him.
To top off the incompetency, Weaver – who hated actually beating the bushes to find coaches – hired one of Greenberg’s former assistants James Johnson who had left the Tech staff to take a job at Clemson. Johnson was in over his head from the start and went 13-19 and 9-22 in just two season. When Weaver was forced to retire due to his health, the day new A.D. Whit Babcock walked in the door was the day Johnson’s days were numbered.
So now comes one Brent “Buzz” Williams. I don’t know the man at all, and like Greenberg Buzz reportedly floats in his own world, but he can coach and he seems to actually get it. In other words, unlike Greenberg he’s not predisposed to be an asshole. He took Marquette to the Elite 8 before jumping to Virginia Tech, a move at the time that appeared to be lateral at best. I had concerns as to whether Virginia Tech could consistently compete in the ACC, but Buzz Williams is alieving those concerns. The issue is going to be whether the “Texan” decides to stay in Blacksburg for the long haul. Williams is going to get looks every season for jobs considering that he’s literally taken Virginia Tech basketball out of the toilet that James Johnson threw it in. He’s benefitted from two transfers in Zack LeDay and Seth Allen, whose next game could literally be their last game. The team is built on three pointers so when those aren’t falling there are going to be nights like Tech had at N.C. State when they were blitzed by one of the worst teams in the league. But, if they can play with high energy, hit their shots and defend this weekend, two wins would put Buzz Williams in the Sweet 16 and Virginia Tech somewhere it hasn’t been since Lyndon Johnson was in the White House (without the benefit of Twitter) and that make just make this “football” school a sudden buzz at basketball.