Ahmed Hill and Virginia Tech turned back Liberty in the...

Ahmed Hill and Virginia Tech turned back Liberty in the round of 32 on March 24, 2019, in San Jose, Calif. Credit: Getty Images/Ezra Shaw

WASHINGTON — Virginia Tech entered its Sweet 16 game against Duke on Friday night with an underdog’s reputation and a sense of full preparation. The Hokies believe they got ready the best way possible, which happens to be the same way Duke prepared: a full Atlantic Coast Conference schedule.

“I think every coach should say that they coach in the best league,” said Buzz Williams, who has led a striking transformation in his five years as Virginia Tech coach. “You don’t want to say you coach in the fourth-best league.”

Then he went on to support his claim that the ACC is college basketball’s top conference. He pointed to the Hall of Fame coaches such as Mike Krzyzewski, his counterpart Friday night: “They were inducted when I was a teenager, right? And they’re still employed and winning national championships.”

Williams, who coached Virginia Tech to its third consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and its first Sweet 16 in 52 years, also mentioned “the depth of the talent on each roster.” Then he referred to the national championships that have been won by Duke and North Carolina, following up by reminding everyone that five of the 16 teams that made it to this week were from the ACC (Virginia advanced to the Elite Eight on Thursday night, Florida State was eliminated by Gonzaga).

“I think the success in our league kind of helps add to why we believe it’s the best league in the country,” said the Virginia Tech coach, who has been rumored to be a target for the vacancy at Texas A&M in his native state.

After North Carolina's loss to Auburn on Friday night, there remained the possibility of seeing two ACC teams in the Final Four. In which case, seeing two on the same court Friday was something of a warm-up.

“Seeing another ACC team this late in the tournament isn’t a surprise to me,” Duke guard Tre Jones said Thursday. “I felt like that would happen with how strong the conference is.”

That explains why Virginia Tech did not see its Duke game as a long shot vs. heavily favored No. 1 overall seed. They viewed it as a matchup between rivals.

Justin Robinson, a guard who proudly watched his team defeat the Blue Devils last month despite the fact that he was injured and unable to play, said on the eve of this game: “I don’t know if anyone said it, but in three out of my four years here at Virginia Tech, we’ve beaten Duke. So I don’t think we’re [overly] excited for the moment. I think it’s just another game for us. I think we’re going to be ready for whatever is going to come.”


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