Beltway Basketball Beat: Bracket Racket VIII — Hokies make history, plus an East Region preview

One wild week in Washington (the CAA and Atlantic 10 Tournaments provided excellent theater) and elsewhere gives way to three weeks of even more thrills, chills, and spills.

Texas Southern plays Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday at 7 p.m., meaning this is the lone day we have with no hoops to rest up for the sprint that is ahead.

Virginia Tech can use a bit of a breather after winning four games in four days to capture the Hokies’ first ACC Tournament championship and second conference title in school history (the trivia answer being the 1979 Metro). And they were almost one and done in the ACC, needing a three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime by Darius Maddox to beat Clemson 76-75.

The fact that they received a No. 11 seed leads one to believe that they needed to beat Duke Saturday night in the title tilt to make the NCAA tournament. But Saturday’s win wraps up quite a comeback to a season that appeared lost: Jan. 26 they had just lost their third straight to drop to 10-10 and 2-7 in the ACC. Thirteen wins in fifteen games later Coach Mike Young’s team is NCAA-bound for the second straight year and playing as well as anyone else in the field. Senior forward Keve Aluma averaged 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists during the ACC Tournament while guard Hunter Cattoor tallied 31 points against Duke.

The draw is intriguing as they’ll face a Texas team Friday that’s been ranked for most of the season, but enters the Tournament with three straight losses. Purdue would be the likely Second Round opponent, and the Boilermakers were once a No. 1 seed contender but have split their last six games. Of course, optimism on a Monday morning can vanish with an ill-timed turnover or a three like the one Maddox hit against Clemson

We start our Tournament Preview coverage by kicking the tires on Virginia Tech’s region. The East boasts defending national champion Baylor as well as more than its share of bluebloods: Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, and Indiana have each won 5+ National Titles while San Francisco was the first unbeaten champ in 1956 (they had a center by the name of Bill Russell). The Dons are in a classic “mid-major matchup” with Murray State that might turn out to be one of the better games played Thursday.

Instead of picking every single game (I once had a friend who tried to do that over the phone for our office pool — bad idea), we’ll present our Bold (which team wins a game or two beyond its seeding), Fold (who disappoints), and Gold (who goes to New Orleans and the Final Four) picks.


It’s easy to dismiss Saint Mary’s. But the West Coast Conference school that isn’t Gonzaga beat the Bulldogs in the regular season and also posted wins over Notre Dame and Oregon. They fell by four to defending national champ Villanova the last time they played in the NCAA’s (2019), and Coach Randy Bennett’s program has reached the NCAA or NIT every season since 2007 so the glare of the bright lights won’t make them shrink from the big moment. The Gaels face a First Four winner of Wyoming & Indiana that will have to fly from Dayton to Portland less than 48 hours before tipoff, likely followed by a UCLA team that caught fire last March but is due for a letdown.


Purdue was ranked No. 1 in December and was the class of the Big Ten for the first full month of conference play. And they boast firepower from perimeter in Jaden Ivey (17 points per game) while having a 7-foot-4 Zach Edey as a presence in the post. But an 82-58 loss at Michigan Feb. 11 started a 6-4 finish where they had just one victory by double digits, and while the Boilermakers can score with the best of them (their 80.2 points per game is 11th best in Division I), they have issues defending. And teams that can’t stop opponents don’t stay long in March.


Kentucky has spent the season under the radar (for the Wildcats, at least) with Auburn stealing the SEC spotlight during the regular season and Tennessee drawing attention during its run to the SEC Tournament title. But the Wildcats boast big man Oscar Tshiebwe, and the native of the Congo averaged 17 points and 15 rebounds in his first season with the program (he transferred from West Virginia). Senior transfers Davion Mintz (Creighton) and Kellan Grady (Davidson) give the rotation experience often lacking during the one-and-done era and of course this being Kentucky there’s an impact freshman to worry about, and TyTy Washington Jr. is the real deal.

Coming up Tuesday: Richmond’s road to redemption, the Spiders matchup with another tired team, plus our Bold, Fold, and Gold picks for the Midwest bracket.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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