Hokies have a 'Buzz'

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, March 14, 2017

BUFFALO--When Buzz Williams stunned Marquette fans during the 2014 NCAA Tournament by bolting Milwaukee for Blacksburg, Virginia, to take over a Virginia Tech program that on a good day was irrelevant and on a bad day was moribund, the move made little basketball sense.

Marquette failed to qualify for the tournament that season, Williams' sixth as head coach, but the Golden Eagles had made the field in each of his first five seasons, capping the run with an Elite Eight appearance in 2013.

Virginia Tech hadn't made the NCAA field since 2007 and had just endured a two-year run that produced a combined record of 12-41 under James Johnson.

Williams, whose relationship with his bosses had decayed, believed he could change the Hokies' culture.

He needed only three seasons for that belief to come to fruition as the Hokies (22-10) are seeded No. 9 in the East Regional and face No. 8 Wisconsin (25-9) at approximately 8:40 p.m. Thursday at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo.

“To be able to be a part of anything that's first, I think is always special. It's really neat,” Williams said. “Probably should be able to articulate it better than that.

“Those are kids who have dreamed their whole life of having this opportunity. Along the path of pushing them further than they're typically willing to be pushed, you're trying to explain this is why.

“But they don't understand it because they've never done it. I think that's why it is so hard. And that's why the teams that win always win and the teams that lose always lose.

“Anytime you see one that's flipped, you know there's a lot stuff that has taken place.”

The Hokies finished 2-16 in the Atlantic Coast Conference and 11-22 overall in Williams' first season.

They improved to 10-8 and 20-15 in his second season and reached the second round of the NIT.

They finished 10-8 in the ACC and recorded victories over Michigan, Duke, Virginia and Miami this season en route to securing an at-large berth.

“He has turned that pretty quickly,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “This is his third year. He has obviously been able to change the mindset and get things back on track.”

The Hokies, who generally have started three guards, boast five players averaging at least 10.3 points per game.

Senior forward Zach LeDay and senior guard Seth Allen, both of whom have only five starts this season, are No. 1 and No. 2 on the team in scoring.

LeDay, who played his first two seasons at South Florida before transferring, averages 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds.

Allen, who played his first two seasons at Maryland before transferring, averages 13.4 points and shoots 45.1 percent from 3-point range.

In ACC games, the Hokies led the league in 3-point shooting (41.4 percent) and overall field-goal shooting (49.0).

“I've watched them a little bit when they've been on during the season,” Gard said. “They shoot it pretty well.”

Stopping foes from scoring has been an issue.

Virginia Tech finished 12th in the ACC in points allowed (78.2 per game) and field-goal defense (47.3 percent) and 14th in 3-point shooting defense (40.8).

They forced only 10.6 turnovers per game, allowed an average of 11.1 offensive rebounds and had a rebounding margin of minus-5.6.

Against the Badgers, Williams was 3-3 as Golden Eagles coach.

His Marquette teams were tenacious, and that trait can be seen in his Virginia Tech players.

“They'll play extremely hard,” Gard said. “You get to this point in the year and there aren't any bad ones. The bad ones are done.”

Virginia Tech's players over the years have either been done playing by now or languishing in the NIT.

No more.

“I think about the faces that were here Day 1, when we didn't have nothing,” LeDay said. “We didn't have nothing to believe in. It's crazy how much blood, sweat and tears it has taken to get to this point.”

Last updated: 11:56 pm Tuesday, March 14, 2017

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