The Virginia Tech Hokies officially were invited to the NCAA Tournament last night for the first time since 2007, receiving a 9 seed in the East Region as one of the 36 at-large bids to make the NCAA Tournament. However, the Hokies received what has to be the toughest draw for any 9 seed in this year’s tournament.
Virginia Tech will face eighth-seeded Wisconsin in the first round with the winner of that game almost certain to face defending national champ and number 1 overall seed Villanova. The Hokies don’t have a single player who has NCAA Tournament experience and will face two teams that have proven that they know how to win in March in the Badgers, who made the Final Four in 2014 and 2015, and Villanova, who is the defending national champion.
The Hokies do have a NCAA Tournament veteran in Buzz Williams at the helm with Williams making 3 Sweet 16 appearances while at Marquette including a run to the Elite 8 in 2013.
However, the Hokies have to face a Wisconsin team that despite their poor end to the regular season, seemed to pick it up some in the Big 10 Tournament and were seen as being one of the most under-seeded teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
There are two big things that Wisconsin brings with them that makes this matchup even more difficult, experience and size. Wisconsin’s experience is clear with guys like Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter, and Vitto Brown who are all seniors that were with Wisconsin for their Final Four runs in 2014 and 2015. While the Hokies have some veterans, there’s also plenty of inexperience especially on the biggest stage in college basketball that does take an adjustment.
Wisconsin also has three guys that are 6’8” or taller averaging 20 or more minutes per game in Hayes, Brown, and Ethan Happ. While the Hokies have faced and beaten bigger teams like Wake Forest, facing a team with this type of size is far from being an ideal matchup for the Hokies in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and will force the Hokies to need Zach LeDay not only to stay out of foul trouble and have a big game as he did in both of his ACC Tournament games, which is doable but will be a challenge against Wisconsin’s talent and veterans.
Wisconsin as a program has become known as a very dangerous team when March comes around largely over the past few years, and the Hokies will be facing a Badger team that knows what it takes to go deep in March and definitely is better than their seed suggests.
If the Hokies can get past Wisconsin, they’ll face a Villanova team that knows how to win it all and is the number 1 overall seed in the tournament. While this is one matchup where size won’t be an issue for the Hokies, facing a veteran team with a couple of future NBA players creates a massive challenge along with going against a coach that knows how to win on the biggest stage in Jay Wright.
Villanova still has many of the stars from last year’s team that won it all including the man who hit the game-winner against UNC in Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson, and Mikal Bridges that know what it takes to win a national title.
The Wildcats know how to win in March with veteran guys that don’t fear the biggest stage and brightest lights in all of college basketball along with being a team that has proven themselves once again against tough competition this year and has definitely earned the number 1 overall seed winning the Big East regular season and tournament titles in a league that sent a national-best 70% of its teams to this year’s NCAA Tournament.
While there are some reasons why these matchups aren’t too bad due to Wisconsin’s poor three-point defense and the fact that the Wildcats don’t present a size issue, Virginia Tech will have to go through two programs that are quite talented and know how to win in March in order to become somewhat of a “Cinderella” story and get to the second week of the NCAA Tournament.
For the Hokies return to the Big Dance, no one could have imagined that they would draw this tough of a road to the Sweet 16, making dreams of being a surprise and getting to the Sweet 16 smaller than what Hokie fans thought going into Selection Sunday.