- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2007

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The sound that echoed throughout the Dean Dome on Tuesday night was Virginia Tech punching its NCAA tournament ticket.

OK, the Hokies probably can’t afford an utter meltdown in the three weeks preceding Selection Sunday.

But if Tuesday’s 81-80 overtime victory at No. 4 North Carolina represented anything — other than what Tar Heels coach Roy Williams called “the absolutely worst job I’ve ever done in my life” — it was the validation of any lingering doubt the Hokies will be playing in March.

Virginia Tech is now 18-7, 8-3 in the ACC. It has become the first team to win at both North Carolina and Duke in the same season since Georgia Tech in 1996. It was carried by Zabian Dowdell’s insane 33-point effort. And it now owns the school’s best NCAA tournament resume in, well, maybe ever.

The Hokies have never been seeded higher than seventh. With two wins over Carolina, one over Duke and a 20-win season likely, that stat will probably change.

Meanwhile, a note on North Carolina’s manic substitution patterns, which is part of the reason for my trip to the Dean Dome on Tuesday.

The Tar Heels made 55 substitutions in regulation — not including returning all the starters after halftime — and got a dozen players into the first 13 minutes of the first half.

(By comparison, Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg made 42 subs in regulation. Maryland coach Gary Williams subbed 32 times in the Terrapins’ victory Sunday over Duke, and the Blue Devils’ Mike Krzyzewski made 25 changes in that game).

Williams ripped his inability to prepare the Tar Heels for situations even if a less-than-optimal group was on the floor. It’s tough to imagine that happening with a deep team, but such was the case in the waning seconds.

Is the Tar Heels’ rotation too deep? Is it a coincidence Carolina played one of its best games when it ripped Arizona while missing two players to illness and another to injury?

Both are curious questions worth considering as the season continues unfolding, and making a bold and premature declaration for one side of the argument or another is probably unwise.

By the end of March, both questions will be settled quite nicely.

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