News With Commentary by TSL Staff

Monday, March 8, 2004
by Will Stewart,

Hokies Head to Garden as #8 Seed

Heading into the season picked dead last in the 14-team Big East, the Virginia Tech men find themselves in a surprising position: going to New York for the Big East Tournament as the #8 seed. Tech will be the higher seed in their first-round game, facing #9 Rutgers at noon Wednesday, on ESPN.

VT finished 14-13, 7-9 in the Big East. It's an outcome very few could have foreseen at the end of January, when Tech was 8-10 overall, 1-6 in the league, and losers of five games in a row. The Hokies had just been beaten by Syracuse, 76-64, in a game in which the Orangemen had bolted to a 37-14 lead. This came on the heels of an embarrassing 96-64 blowout at the hands of Connecticut in Cassell Coliseum.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Big East basement: VT rallied. Through February and early March, the Hokies went 6-3, all conference games, starting with an impressive 69-57 win over a Providence team that would eventually finish 20-7 (11-5), third in the Big East.

Next came an 80-65 home win over Georgetown, a victory that would send the Hoyas spiraling to eight straight losses.

VT went on the road next and got their confidence shaken at Rutgers when the Scarlet Knights pasted a 30-0 run on Tech on their way to an 85-52 win. Villanova wasn't any kinder, downing the Hokies 80-68 with a key 10-0 run in the second half.

At 10-12 (3-8), the Hokies were in danger of falling out of contention for the Big East Tournament, but instead, they regrouped and won four out of their last five games, beating St. John's, WVU, and Rutgers at home, and Georgetown on the road. Tech's only loss came at Boston College in a game that VT led midway through the second half before cold shooting doomed them to a 56-48 loss.

The season-ending hot streak vaulted Tech up the BE standings from #13 to an improbable #8, by virtue of a tie-breaker over Rutgers, which also finished 7-9 in the conference. During Tech's win over Georgetown, Tech play-by-play announcer Bill Roth made the statement that Tech might be the "best team in the bottom half of the league," and weekend events bore him out, as the Hokies moved into that #8 spot.

While many Tech players chipped in down the stretch -- Bryan Randall made a game-winner against St. John's, Coleman Collins tipped one in at the buzzer to beat Rutgers, and Philip McCandies and Allen Calloway stepped up their play -- the big key was, of course, Bryant Matthews.

Matthews led the Big East in scoring with a 22.9 points per game average, easily beating #2 Hakim Warrick of Syracuse (19.9 ppg). Matthews shined at the end, averaging 25.3 points per game in Tech's season-ending three-game win streak, and he simply willed the Hokies to win in all three games.

Matthews scored 11 straight points for Tech in a come-from-behind victory over WVU in which he had 22 second-half points. Then he scored 14 points in six minutes as Tech stormed from behind to down Rutgers. And against Georgetown, he dropped in 26 points, including a key three-pointer that put Tech ahead for good with 2:14 to go.

Matthews earned the right to talk trash with the way he ended his season, and after Tech's last few wins, the quiet, reticent Matthews wasn't shy with his quotes.

After beating Rutgers to lock up a Big East Tournament slot, Matthews told the Roanoke Times that Tech's impending trip to New York, "proves that I'm a good player ... that I should be up there with [Emeka] Okafor, Ben Gordon and the rest. I did all I could to lead my team into the Big East [tournament]. ... I did it. I showed y'all what I can do."

Again after the Georgetown win, Matthews spoke out, telling the RT, "I'm going to show everybody what I'm about. They can say, 'Anybody can do that on a team that ain't that good.' I'm good, I work hard and I compete. For the coaches who know that but won't say it, now they going to shake 'cause I'm coming. Can't hide from it."

Bryant Matthews has hit his groove. For a player not known for his brash quotes to suddenly open up with quotes like that, he is clearly feeling it. Don't be surprised if his performance against Rutgers Wednesday is yet another  eye-opener for him in a season full of outstanding performances. Matthews has scored 617 points this season, the most since Bimbo Coles scored a school-record 785 in 1989-90.

Matthews is a special player in the prime of his career. Catch him and the Hokies on ESPN Wednesday at noon.

VT Women In Good Shape for NCAA Tournament

Another game against UConn, another loss. When they dropped a 48-34 decision to the Huskies Sunday, it wasn't anything new for the Virginia Tech women, and it put the Hokies' record at 22-7. They now await an NCAA Tournament bid, one that will surely be forthcoming despite winning just 10 of their last 17 games.

A 12-0 start for this team woke up the echoes of the 1998-99 Sweet 16 team, but a bad stretch in January brought the team back to earth. Facing four road games in a five-game stretch, the Hokies went 2-3, including bad offensive showings in losses at Rutgers (56-43) and Notre Dame (53-40), and an absolutely embarrassing whipping at the hands of Georgetown, 70-50.

That stretch put the Hokies in the middle of the Big East pack, and they stayed there for most of the season, finally finishing 8th in the Big East at 10-6. They avenged the Georgetown loss with a stirring come-from-behind win against the Hoyas in the BE Tournament on Saturday, then put up their second-lowest point total in school history in the loss to UConn.

VT finishes #28 in the RPI ratings, with three wins over RPI top 25 teams (ODU, Villanova, and Boston College), one win over another top-50 RPI team (Maryland), and no bad losses to teams outside the RPI top 100. That's why they'll make the NCAA Tournament.

Two years ago, when the 17-10 Hokies were ranked #35 in the RPI and didn't make the NCAA Tournament, it was because they went 3-8 down the stretch, including losses to two teams outside of the RPI top 100 (Providence and Rutgers). This year's VT team has a much more impressive NCAA resume, despite often playing poorly on the road and having trouble offensively. Making the NCAA Tournament should not be a problem.

It should be a treat for Hokie fans to see VT play the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament on their home floor, on Sunday, March 21st, and Tuesday, March 23rd (if they win in the first round). projects the Hokies as a #6 seed, which means they would face a #11 seed in the first round and could potentially face a #3 seed in the second round.

For bracket projections, click here.
For RPI ratings, click here.
For NCAA Tournament ticket info, click here.


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