What a season it was for the Virginia Tech Hokies basketball team. We haven’t seen success like this on the hardwood in 11 years. All those lackluster years of Hussey and Stokes are behind us. Last year’s tragedies and disappointments were behind us. Finally, THIS YEAR WAS OUR YEAR! A line famously uttered by Cubs fans that never comes to be, but was true for Hokie fans. This was a magical season that saw VT beat a #1 for the first time in over 20 years. It was Tech’s first winning conference record, NCAA Tournament appearance, and 20 win season since 1995-96. We won at fabled MSG (Madison Square Garden), cameron indoor stadium, and the dean dome. Oh, what a year it was. Let’s take a look at it month by month, and then some of the low-lights and highlights.
The season started with easy wins over coppin state and west florida. I was at the coppin state game and I remember thinking a few things: we look a LOT better on offense than we have in past years and the freshman really did NOT impress me. Munson showed me he could stroke the three (he hit 3 threes that game), but he did not look quick on defense, had his head down dribbling up the floor, and picked up his dribbled too far from the basket. Witcher looked OK and had some post moves, but just seemed too thin for ACC play and wasn’t the shot-blocking force he was in high school. I hoped to see improvement.
Krabbendam started the season as a starter (as he always does) and quickly showed he had no business being out there. Witcher became a starter in his place for most of the season.
The rest of the month was very up and down. Tech went just 1-2 at the Old Spice Classic in Florida and finished 6th. They lost to a horrible directional michigan team (western, to be precise) and then lost to the salukis of so ill in the 5th place game. The Hokies struggled offensively in the tourney and Vassallo lost his early three point touch. However, Dowdell was shooting much better from long range than he had the year before. That was a positive. VT rebounded from the Old Spice Classic by looking very impressive against a poor iowa team in the Big 10/ACC Challenge. Well, I should say VT looked impressive for 35 minutes. They shot just 17/33 from the line and nearly blew a 14 point lead late.
The Hokies finished 4-2 for the month, a disappointment based on their level of competition. The bandwagon was losing momentum.
The month of December got off to a terrible start as the Hokies blew a nine point halftime lead against gwu. This game was especially frustrating because Collins missed a wide open dunk that would have put VT up by three with less than 20 seconds to play, and then fumbled a pass away at the end of the game for a 63-62 loss. Tech should have won this game.
But VT rebounded by beating a virus-plagued odu team. Collins was a no-show in that one due to injury and seemed to have hit rock bottom. He got better as the season went on, but never looked anything like he did before his dad’s tragic illness and death.
Tech followed up with a win over a decent appy state team. Now get this: appy state only had nine points at the half and shot just 12/58 (21%) for the game! VT held appy state scoreless for over 10 minutes! Yeesh.
Next up was VT’s first ACC tilt. In a horribly officiated game, Tech managed to squeeze out a win. But the Hokie’s offense looked AWFUL. There was no movement without the ball, no reversals, and no feeding the ball into the post. The fact wake lost shows how bad they are.
VT then went up to MSG for a neutral site game against seton hall. About 150 people were at the game at the start and Tech struggled early. But in the second half they played some of the best defense I’ve seen from any team and blew out the pirates. seton hall couldn’t complete a pass to save their live. Tech also beat campbell easily at home with their third 90+ point game of the season.
Then, the wheels came off. Tech fell behind by over 16 points in the first half to marshall. A terrible marshall team. Tech battled back to make it close, but fell in the end by a point.
For the month Tech was 5-2. Not bad, but again, because of the level of competition, not good. Tech should have easily gone 7-0. And the marshall loss coupled with the Hokie choke in the Peach Bowl on the same day left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth. The bandwagon was leaking fuel.
Tech started the month against richmond and benched most of their starters. They fell behind early but battled their rears off and won the game. This was a confidence builder for all. Then, the real season began.
The Hokies headed to cameron to play duke with revenge in their minds from the season before. And they got it, despite needing overtime. The game featured a Gordon shot from his rear and Deron jumping OVER Paulus. And as was the case the year before, duke had a three to win it at the buzzer. But this time Deron said, “In de face!” and blocked the Paulus shot to seal the win. What a great, emotional win this was. The bandwagon was off the pits and gaining speed!
After an easy win over unc-g-spot (greensboro), the Hokies took on #1 unc. unc looked unbeatable in the first four minutes, and even had a dunk off the tip-off. unc looked unbeatable in the final four minutes, scoring 22 points. VT gave up 44 points in those eight minute spans, but dominated the other 32 minutes of the game. The Hokies won. Not only won, but looked better than the #1 team in the nation. Tech lead by 20 points late, almost choked it away, but held on. The bandwagon was sky high and TechHoops.com took advantage by launching itself
Next came the letdown. All you can say about fsu is they own us. And they did once again in tallahassee. But Tech rebounded and got a huge win over a desperate maryland team. This was the infamous ice bowl in which Greenberg let the students take over the arena and it led to a win in overtime, despite blowing a late lead in regulation due to stall-ball.
Tech then went on the road and won in style over miami and georgia tech. We were looking good! 6-1 in the ACC and all but assured of a NCAA bid. But Tech looked terrible against a bigger nc state team. [I can just repeat this twice more as you'll see]
A very impressive 7-2 this month. The bandwagon was riding the gravy train with biscuit wheels!
The month started with VT getting waxed in boston. bc remained the only ACC foe Tech had yet to beat. The game was never close. But Tech had a week to recoup before uva came to town. They needed it. People were fearing a collapse.
Tech answered the bell against uva in Blacksburg and blew the hoos out of the gym despite Dowdell not reaching double digits for the first time ever in 42 career ACC regular season games. Did the fire alarm at 3:30 AM at the hoos hotel the night before have something to do with it? hoo knows. But the 27 point win was sweet!
The Hokies followed that up with a win in an amazing game in chapel hill. Yes, Tech had swept unc and I talked our waitress at Bailey’s Pub into giving me a broom and we swept the heel fans out of the bar! The game was tight the whole way and really showed VT’s grit. Munson hit a clutch free throw off the bench and Tech stopped unc at the end of regulation and OT to get the win.
Once again, a letdown ensued after a win over unc. nc state waxed the Hokies in Raleigh, shooting 67% from the field and 70% on threes. Tech never had a chance.
Again, VT had to regroup. And they did. Tech dominated bc at home for their first win over the eagles in the ACC. Tech went on a 30-4 run to start the second half, including the sickest Deron dunk ever (that was the #3 college play of the year on SportsCenter before the NCAA’s). Tech won the next game at home over miami and headed into the final week tied for first in the ACC.
4-2 for the month. Not bad at all. Very good, in fact. With the Hokies at 10-4 in ACC play, the bandwagon was in cruise control.
As it turned out, had VT won either of their final two games, they would have won the ACC regular season title and been the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament. They didn’t. They lost at uva and then lost a heartbreaker on Senior Day to clemson. The good news? VT had lost exactly 2 games in the other four months, so we were bound to win the ACC and make the Final Four!
The ACC Tournament saw VT enter as the #3 seed. Since wake upset georgia tech in an amazing double overtime game, the Hokies faced the #11 seed in the quarters. VT beat the deacons for their first ACC Tournament win and then faced nc state for the third time. But yet again, state’s inside presence was too much and Tech lost to the #10 seed, blowing a chance at playing in the ACC Finals.
The NCAA Tournament saw VT, the #5 seed in the West, face powerhouse illinois, the #12 seed. Tech’s offense never got going and the Hokies found themselves down 12 with eight minutes to play. But Tech went to a full court trapping press and got back in the game. Deron banked in a jumper on purpose (kidding) to put Tech up one with less than a minute to go. After a stop, Vassallo hit a free throw to put VT up two. Then senior Brian Randle choked on the front end of a one-and-one (he’s no Bryan Randall!) and VT ran out the clock to win 54-52! The Hokies stole this game. Tech had their first NCAA win since 1996.
The next game saw a rematch with the salukis of so ill. Tech stunk on offense, Vassallo couldn’t hit anything, Tatum was amazing. Nuff said. VT lost 63-48. It was very sad to watch Collins foul out early in the second half, and then Gordon and Dowdell get subbed out with little time left as Tech conceeded the loss.
2-4 for the month. Those two wins were Tech’s first ACC Tournament win and a NCAA Tournament win, which is nice. But VT had an easy shot to win a share of the ACC regular season title and get to the ACC Tournament Finals, so that was a disappointment. The bandwagon heads back to the garage for a while.
Tech finished 22-12 on the year. It was such an up and down year at times. But what memories this Hokie team provided us. It really was an amazing year, one I will never forget. Basketball is back in Blacksburg, and that feels great. But we are losing five seniors, three of which started for four years and another that started for two years. So the road ahead is very foggy. But recruiting is at an all time best. Can’t way to see our young-ins and new recruits start to build a new legacy starting next year.
- The loss to marshall. This was a BAD loss.
- The loss to nc state in the ACC Semis. Would have been nice to play for an ACC Tournament title in our third year.
- The miss by Dowdell late in the clemson game. Really wanted to send the seniors out with an ACC regular season title on Senior Day.
- The missed dunk by Collins late in the gwu game. So frustrating.
- The win over #1 unc at home. It launched this web site!
- The win at duke. That’s when I think we all really started believing in this team. Last year, the Hokies find a way to lose that game (just like the gwu game). This year, VT wins it.
- The win over uva at home. VT had lost four straight to them, and to blow them out like that was sweet!
- The win at unc. Here’s a factoid: clemson has NEVER won at unc in over 50 years of ACC play. VT is undefeated at unc in ACC play.
- The win over illinois. Hey, March Madness, baby! What a sweet game it was that VT totally pulled out of their rears.
- Deron Washington’s dunk against bc at home. Heck, it was the top regular season play of the year according to SportsCenter. Who am I to argue with them?
- Deron leaping over Paulus at duke for a layup. Vince Carter-esque.
- The mob scene on the court after the win against unc at home. What a moment!
- Deron’s block of Paulus at the end of the duke game. If VT had lost another game at duke at the buzzer, who knows how this season would have gone.
- Munson’s free throw to tie the game at unc. He came off the bench cold to shoot for Deron, missed the first, but then nailed the second to help force overtime. Clutch! And from a freshman.
- Deron’s bank-shot against illinois with less than a minute to play to lead VT to the win.
- Gordon’s shot from almost his butt after falling backwards at duke. Unbelievable trick shot.
- Dowdell’s performance at unc. He had 33 points and carried the offense for most of the game.
- Deron’s dunk over 6’11” Blair of bc in Boston.
- MVP – Dowdell. No question about it. He was an ACC First-Team member and honorable mention All-American by the AP. He averaged over 18 points per game during the regular season. Zabian struggled in the ACC and NCAA Tournament, but he was still our offense ring leader. He was the pulse of this team. Amazingly, he hit double digits in 46 of his 48 career ACC regular season games. That’s consistency.
- Freshman of the Year – Munson. Witcher started most of the year, but never did much. When Munson came in, he had no fear. He would pull the trigger on a three without question and even took the ball to the hole more later in the year. He just needs to learn to not pick up his dribble so far from the hoop. Nigel is also slow on man-to-man defense and got beaten often. Hopefully Diakite can clean up his mistakes next year.
- Most Improved – Vassallo. He really came on this year. Look for him and Deron to carry the offense next year. A.D. shot almost 50% on threes in ACC play. He was almost automatic. He just needs to improve his driving ability (he does have a pretty runner) and figure out how to score with his back to the basket.
- Best Recruit – Malcolm Delaney. I love the Towson Catholic product. He plays with a bigger name recuit (a dude going to syracuse), but he runs the team. And he can score like crazy. I see Malcolm making a big impact next year with the holes VT has to fill.