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Recapping Hokies' 2009-10 basketball season

Virginia Tech had one of the most successful seasons in program history, but in the end, it fell just a little bit short.

The Hokies narrowly missed the NCAA tournament. In their consolation prize, they could not finish off Rhode Island on Wednesday in the National Invitation Tournament to reach their goal of getting to Madison Square Garden. It will be a long, painful offseason, but one also filled with promise in looking ahead to next year.

Virginia Tech ran off to its best start (12-1) since the 1995-96 season, but for all the wins, its nonconference performance was hard to figure. The Hokies fattened up on the likes of North Carolina Central and Longwood, but also looked impressive in defeating Seton Hall on Jan. 2 without injured star Malcolm Delaney.

In Atlantic Coast Conference play, Virginia Tech never looked overwhelming. There were a few memorable wins (Wake Forest on Feb. 16, at Georgia Tech on March 6) and a few regrettable losses (at Boston College on Feb. 24). But when everything added up, it boiled down to one pivotal weekend for Virginia Tech.

The Hokies moved tenuously into Selection Sunday after falling to 12th-seeded Miami in the ACC tournament. They needed things to break their way in the other conference tournaments in order to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Just about everything that could have gone wrong, did go wrong, and the Hokies were left out of the field of 65 for a third straight season.

Each year, teams across the country set out with the goal of making the NCAA tournament. A first-round loss in the Big Dance, in most peoples' minds, outweigh even an NIT championship. That's the truth of it.

So when Virginia Tech missed the bracket because of a poor nonconference schedule, the season was stamped shut on a disappointing note. Coach Seth Greenberg stewed about being left out, consulting with friends in basketball who offered support in the subsequent days. The players were not made available to speak with the news media on Selection Sunday.

Virginia Tech tried to create a cause for itself: get to MSG, win the NIT title and show the selection committee it was incorrect.

The Hokies took two steps in that direction and were poised to make it a reality. On Wednesday, when they were just one win of getting to MSG, they faltered in the second half against URI. The Rams, pulling away late as Virginia Tech failed to finish the game, earned the trip to New York. The Hokies' loss left a sour taste.

Greenberg has repeatedly heaped praise on this team, noting its chemistry, resilience and togetherness. The Hokies had moments this season in which that showed: Dorenzo Hudson's last-ditch lay up to beat Boston College on Jan 23 or Manny Atkins's huge performance at Georgia Tech. Hudson emerged as an unlikely bright spot, going from role player to the team's second-leading scorer and an emotional leader. Terrell Bell also became a savvy defender, using his length and quickness to make a difference. And after a slow start to the year, J.T. Thompson blossomed down the stretch as a spark-plug presence coming off the bench, using his athleticism despite being undersize.

But there was also weak points. Delaney, despite being the team's leading scorer and a unanimous first-team all-ACC selection, was not the type of shooter he can be for much of the year as a result of nagging ankle injuries. Jeff Allen showed his tremendous upside at times, but he struggled with foul trouble all year, sometimes to the point where he was a non-factor because he was relegated to the bench. Also, the Hokies' freshmen never really broke out and emerged as threats, with Erick Green struggling to find his shot and Cadarian Raines hampered by a shoulder injury toward the end of the season.

For Virginia Tech, the upshot is that it should be considered a favorite in the ACC and an NCAA tournament team in 2011. If Delaney returns to campus, this will almost certainly be a reality. Lewis Witcher, averaging 1 rebound and .8 points per game, is the only contributor that the Hokies lose, and they will benefit from the addition of transfer Allan Chaney, who players and coaches have noted as an athletic specimen.

Greenberg is wont to say there is a fine between agony and relief. That was evident for the Hokies this season, but they seem poised to break through in 2011.

By Mark Viera  |  March 25, 2010; 12:50 PM ET
 
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