When the Virginia Tech Hokies basketball team entered Greensboro Coliseum for the 2023 ACC Men's Tournament, the team had a different vibe to it.
The Hokies had the swagger of being the defending champs, after running the table in 2022.
Last year, Tech won four games in four days, taking down two final four teams on the way to a Cinderella ACC championship, all as a seven seed.
In 2023, Virginia Tech finished the regular season as the eleventh best ACC team, with a subpar in-conference record of 8-12 putting them in a 'must win the ACC Tournament' position to make March Madness.
On Tuesday, the Hokies took care of the fourteenth seeded Notre Dame Irish, winning 67-64 in a hard fought battle that would end up being the last for Mike Brey at the helm of the Irish. That was step one of coach Mike Young’s five-game plan.
Step two did not go the Hokies' way after that though. Virginia Tech (19-14) was defeated in the second round of the ACC tournament on Wednesday night by six seed, NC State (23-9), 97-77.
Long story short, NC State legitimately shot the lights out of the Greensboro Coliseum, exposing an unathletic Tech defense that was not prepared for the task at hand.
Led by the tenacious guard combo of Jakel Joiner (20 points, ten assists, seven boards) and Terquavion Smith (30 points on 11-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds), the Wolfpack went all out from the get-go in this one.
The tandem of All-ACC guards, in addition to a supporting cast of two double-digit scorers off the bench in Jack Clark and Ebenezer Dowuona, would be plenty. This was a game where NC State shot a staggering 62 percent from the field including 46 percent from behind the arc.
The Wolfpack led 53-26 at half, being sure to let Virginia Tech know this wasn’t the 2022 ACC Tournament. With the loss, Virginia Tech’s streak of five NCAA Tournament appearances in a row has come to an end.
However, the second half showed where the Hokies can go from here.
Tech would end up winning the second half, 51-44, but the defense could not stop Kevin Keatts offense at all tonight. The bright spot of the second half was former four-star recruit and freshman guard Rodney Rice, and he shined very brightly.
Rice was highly touted coming out of DeMatha Catholic, a staple of high school basketball in the DMV, yet this was only his seventh game in a Hokie uniform, having dealt with an ankle injury that kept him out until early January, just to break his finger the practice after his debut.
Fans were treated to the full Rodney Rice experience in the second half; however, with the freshman scoring a team high 17 points, knocking down five-of-seven from deep in just 19 total minutes.
He and sophomore guard Sean Pedulla (second in ACC Most Improved Player voting), who averaged just over 15 points per game should make for a solid backcourt in the years to come.
While the Hokies are a projected four seed in the NIT tournament according to DRatings, this could be the last regular season game in which Justyn Mutts (15 points, five rebounds), Hunter Cattoor (nine points), and Grant Basile (11 points) lace ‘em up for Virginia Tech.
Cattoor and Basile both have a COVID year of eligibility remaining, but have been mum on the idea of using it.
The Hokies will bring in two three star guards in Brandon Rechsteiner and Jaydon Young next season, with the ratings per 247 sports. Mike Young and company may also look to the transfer portal to bring in some more depth in key spots with those priorities likely to depend on the decisions made by Cattoor and Basile.