On Selection Sunday, the No. 16 Virginia Tech Hokies (24-8, 12-6) packed inside of Cassell Coliseum to await its NCAA Tournament fate. Announced around 6:00 p.m. on CBS by the NCAA Tournament selection committee, Virginia Tech learned its fate as a four seed the same day it learned of Justin Robinson’s return.
Projected as a four seed by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi before Sunday’s NCAA selection show, Virginia Tech is set as a four seed and will play 13th seeded Saint Louis in the East region on Friday, March 22 at 10 p.m. with the game televised on truTV.
The Hokies’ opponent, the Saint Louis Billikens (23-12, 10-8), traveled a similar path this season, battling through adversity and injuries of their own and rallying as sixth seed to win the Atlantic 10 Title.
Although the Billikens shoot just around 30 percent from long range on the year, they got hot in spots during the Atlantic 10 Tournament, aiding their dominant rebounding effort as they averaged about 40 boards per game, including games where they outrebounded their opposition by over 20. If the Atlantic 10 champs can continue to shoot well and crash the glass, they will be a tough out for the Hokies.
In the wake of Justin Robinson’s foot injury in Virginia Tech’s 82–70 Jan. 30 win in Coral Gables against the Miami Hurricanes, the Hokies’ postseason fate was in a bit of limbo. Sitting at 17-3, (6-2) at the time of the point guard’s injury, Virginia Tech was staring at a chance for a possible one or two seed.
However, Virginia Tech struggled at times to find its identity, but the Hokies kept their legs churning, going 7-5 without Robinson in the lineup, including hardfought losses to Clemson, No. 2 Virginia and No. 12 Florida State and big-time wins over No. 5 Duke and NC State in regular season play.
After lighting up Miami 71–56 in the second round of the ACC Tournament, Virginia Tech fell once again to a No. 12 Florida State squad that is 10 deep and filled out with athletic, lanky veteran players that made an Elite Eight tournament run last year.
The Hokies had the Seminoles on the ropes, leading 56–53 with 18 seconds left to go in regulation and 63–60 with 1:43 remaining in overtime. But they couldn’t finish the job, falling 65–63 behind a Terance Mann jumper with a second left. Florida State went on to defeat Virginia and give Duke all they could handle for the majority of the ACC Championship.
Robinson’s absence left a huge void to fill on the offensive end and as an on-court coach and leader. Kerry Blackshear Jr. became the Hokies’ go-to scorer, averaging 18 points a game, which is more than three points higher than his season average. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Ahmed Hill and Ty Outlaw continued their great plays, and Wabissa Bede got more experience going up against some the nation’s top players as well, including drawing the assignment of guarding R.J. Barrett.
The Virginia Tech career assists leader’s return to the lineup provides the Hokies an additional playmaker to allow Alexander-Walker to play more off the ball, affords them additional bench depth with Bede returning to the bench and brings back Virginia Tech’s on-court coach and leader.
With the tournament berth, the Hokies go dancing for a third consecutive March under the stewardship of Buzz Williams. Despite making the “Big Dance” in three straight seasons, Virginia Tech will look to win its first NCAA Tournament game since its 54–52 win over Illinois in the 2006-2007 season with ESPN’s Seth Greenberg at the helm.