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Pressure is off for Hokies in ACC tournament

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The pressure is off Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

Unlike the past two seasons, in which they were left out of the NCAA tournament, the Hokies don't have to come to the conference tournament seeking quality wins to improve their resume enough to get into the bracket. As it is, the Hokies are probably already in this season's field of 65. They can obviously help their seeding with a quality performance here, but winning doesn't seem like it's an absolute necessity.

"We’re more relaxed now," guard Malcolm Delaney said of the team heading into the ACC tournament. "The last two years it was always, well, we’ve got to go into the tournament and win a certain amount of games. Now, we get that bye, and we’re freed up.”

To an extent, that more laid-back feel showed in practice on Wednesday afternoon. Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg hit a half-court hook shot after which his players mobbed him and a small group of spectators applauded.

The Hokies could not afford to be more casual in each of the past two seasons. With a better showing

In 2008, the Hokies were a No. 4 seed in the tournament. After knocking off fifth-seeded Miami to pick up a needed quality win in the quarterfinals, the Hokies fell to top-seeded North Carolina in a 68-66 heart breaker in the semifinals. The loss was punctuated by a last-second basket by Tyler Hansbrough.

Last season, eighth-seeded Virginia Tech beat ninth-seeded Miami in the opening round. But it lost, again, to the top-seeded Tar Heels, this time in the quarterfinals. Virginia Tech wasn't as close to the tournament field last season as it was in 2008, and the team didn't even watch the selection show together.

For the players, coming to the ACC tournament has always seemed like a pressurized situation. They have been fighting for their NCAA tournament lives with each game.

"It was always in the back of our mind like, We got to win this next one," Delaney said. "And after the first win, it was like, How do you feel about having to get the next one. It was always in the back of our mind. We wanted to get to the tournament so bad, but it kind of hurt when we didn’t."

But the fourth-seeded Hokies, who take on 12th-seeded Miami on Thursday, can relax knowing they are probably assured an NCAA tournament bid regardless of their performance here.

By Mark Viera  |  March 12, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
 
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