|Virginia Tech dreaming big as Robinson returns vs. Saint Louis|
Virginia Tech will have point guard Justin Robinson for the NCAA Tournament.
Robinson's return from a left foot injury is a shot of energy for the fourth-seeded Hokies, who open their NCAA Tournament with an East Region game against No. 13 seed Saint Louis in San Jose, Calif., on Friday night.
Robinson, a four-year starter, is averaging 13.7 points, 5.2 assists and 1.6 steals, while shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range. He hasn't played since suffering the injury on Jan. 30 at Miami.
The Hokies (24-8) are 17-3 with Robinson and 7-5 without him -- although one of those victories in his absence came against Duke, the NCAA Tournament's overall No. 1 seed.
"Being able to play is like a dream come true again," Robinson said in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "I missed, what, 11 games, 12 games? It feels like one day I'm just going to wake up and get those back, but that's not how it works. I'm just going to try to make the best of now."
The time is now for Virginia Tech, which is in the NCAA Tournament for a program-record third consecutive year and is seeded higher than it ever has been. Also, Hokies fans might be wondering if this is the last go-around for coach Buzz Williams, who has been linked in reports to the Texas A&M coaching vacancy.
Williams, a former Texas A&M assistant, is 98-68 in five seasons with the Hokies.
Saint Louis (23-13) advanced by winning the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, ripping off four victories in four days and allowing a total of 152 points in the last three games. The Billikens stormed back from a 15-point first-half deficit in the title game to edge St. Bonaventure 55-53.
"How we won the game is who we are," said coach Travis Ford, who took over at Saint Louis in 2016 after being fired following eight seasons at Oklahoma State. "You know, we are just a hard-playing, physical, aggressive basketball team."
Saint Louis has a trio of double-digit scorers, led by senior guards Javon Bess (15.3 points per game) and Tramaine Isabell Jr. (13.8). Sophomore guard Jordan Goodwin averages 10.6 points and 7.4 rebounds.
Isabell was selected Most Outstanding Player of the A-10 Tournament.
"I do believe we are supposed to be here," Isabell said. "I think we are a very good team. I've been a part of three teams, and we have tremendous athletes. We have tremendous competitors from top to bottom, from coaches down to the managers."
One problem area for the Billikens: They shoot 59.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Sophomore forward Hasahn French is a muscle man around the basket (8.4 rebounds per game), but his free-throw shooting is an eyesore (36 of 104, 34.6 percent).
While Robinson was out for Virginia Tech, sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker (16.6 points per game) and senior Ahmed Hill (13.1) took on more ball-handling chores, while the offense focused more on junior forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. (14.7).
How Robinson fits back in will be a first-round storyline, but Williams seems to like his team's chances either way.
"I don't want it to come across arrogant at all, but if there was some category for effort across the country regardless of sport in college, I think we would win," the coach said. "I don't mean this in the wrong way either, I don't want to win so we can win. I want to win because that means we get to play again, and I've never seen in my career as a coach the connectedness and the effort that these guys play with."
--Field Level Media