In what was supposed to be a game that introduced Virginia Tech as a force to be reckoned with in an overstuffed ACC that’s filled with future lottery picks and teams stacked top to bottom with blue-chip freshmen prospects, the Hokies simply came out flat against a far superior Virginia team.
This is a familiar feeling for Buzz Williams’ team, who around this time last year was held to just 52 points against a similarly stacked UVA team, but something about this Virginia Tech team was supposed to feel different. Maybe it was the return of four starters with winning experience in the heated in-state rivalry, maybe it was the blossoming star power of sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker, maybe it was the excitement of a top 10 team at Blacksburg for the first time since 1996.
Whatever it was, it generated a sense of excitement that maybe, finally, Virginia Tech was a complete enough team to handle a top five opponent that has shown no major weaknesses so far this season. Obviously, we were all wrong. None of the aforementioned reasons to feel excited appeared to make any kind of impact on the game, as we were treated to a 40-minute beatdown courtesy of one of the last two undefeated teams in the country.
UVA is a great team, with surprisingly great scoring options that compliment a shutdown defense. Tech made the bold decision to play aggressive defensively, trying to trap Virginia’s bigs in the paint in order to force mistakes and keep the ball away from their primary ball handlers, and it just didn’t work. UVA was able to move the ball effectively regardless and they made Tech pay by hitting 13 of their 24 three-point attempts. On the other end, Tech had too many cold streaks from beyond the arc to keep up with that kind of shooting performance, hitting just seven threes on the night.
Give credit where credit’s due, from the tip Tony Bennett’s team never let up and were absolutely in control of the momentum the entire game. They truly looked like a top five team and there should be no doubt in anyone’s minds that this team isn’t a legitimate contender, even with their historical struggles in March.
So where does this performance leave the Hokies? Well for starters, it showed that they were in desperate need of a wake up call. It’s hard to take a wake up call like that in stride, especially when Tech’s last exposure to UVA was an overtime thriller in the same stadium just a season ago, but it honestly was what this team needed in order to move forward. Before tonight, Tech had just one game against an opponent in the top 25 and it showed. They needed to be thrown into the fire on the road against a team that knows how to neutralize a team’s best contributors for long stretches, and it just so happened that it was against a heated rival.
Though it may be hard to swallow now, a loss like this was bound to happen eventually and it’s better to have it happen now rather than later. How Buzz Williams and his team respond to the loss will be what matters most, and we’ll find out just how well they do in just under a week when Tech has to once again go on the road against a high-powered ACC opponent in No. 13 North Carolina. If the Hokies can show their grit and their ability to respond to diversity in Chapel Hill, home to one of the most intense crowds in all of collegiate sports, than perhaps this loss will have been for the better rather than represent a low point for a still improving Virginia Tech squad.