SportsPulse: We have our Sweet 16 and it’s loaded. USA TODAY’s Scott Gleeson gives each team a reason to feel like they can win (or lose) it all.
For the first time in six years, the Sweet 16 has a unique Buzz.
That would be Buzz Williams, one of the most eccentric, entertaining and sweatiest coaches in college basketball.
This is the coach whose profuse perspiration soaks his dress shirts and, before he figured out how to hide it with suit vests, triggered sweat-dripping memes. This is also the same coach who once grabbed a public address announcer’s microphone, turned to a rowdy student section and said, “Quit cussin’. Quit cussin’.”
The cussin’ stopped.
Buzz continued being Buzz.
And here he is back on one of college basketball’s biggest stages with a chance to burnish his quirky reputation.
Last at the Sweet 16 with Marquette in 2013, Williams has traveled a bumpy road to get back. Now the coach at Virginia Tech, where his inaugural team four years ago finished 11-22 and 2-16 in ACC play, Williams has guided the fourth-seeded Hokies into a, well, sweet spot. They’ll play top-seeded Duke Friday at the East Regional in Washington, D.C., where Buzz will likely say or do something notable based on his performance at San Jose, Calif., where Virginia Tech advanced with a 66-52 victory over Saint Louis and a 67-58 victory over Liberty.
He was at his most entertaining at press conferences, and let’s go to the highlights:
After Virginia Tech’s 67-58 victory over Liberty in the second round, a baby-faced kid introduced himself as a reporter for Sports Illustrated for Kids and looked at Buzz. “Liberty was able to put up 80 points against Mississippi State (in the first round), and today you held them to 56. What was your defensive game plan, and how do you control the pace of the game so well?”
Responded Buzz, “That was the best question asked thus far. Congratulations. You’re on your way. Competition (from adult reporters) is not too tough.’’
HURRICANE AND COMIC RELIEF
Before Virginia Tech played Liberty in the second round, a reporter noted that before the season started the two schools played an exhibition game to raise money money for hurricane victims, and Buzz had shared the same podium with Liberty coach Ritchie McKay.
“I gave him some money,’’ Buzz said. “Did you ask Ritchie about this? I gave money to that ministry, and they never cashed the check until after the new year. That must be a (Jerry) Falwell deal. When you donate to charity, my CPA said you want to count that in 2018.”
Interjected the reporter. “I don’t have a CPA.’’
Shot back Buzz, “As skilled as you are, I’m surprised.’’
PEACEFUL, EASY FEELING
Just in time for Virginia Tech’s first -round game against St. Louis, point guard Justin Robinson was cleared to play after missing 12 games with an injury. He helped lead Virginia Tech to victory, and Buzz helped put it in unique perspective.
“You’re too young to know the group the Eagles,’’ he said. “They had a song, ‘Peaceful Easy Feeling.’ And when (Robinson) has the ball, I think everybody feels that way.
“And a lot of times I think the decision that he makes, he’s skipping. If it’s A, B, C, he’s skipping B. He’s going from A to C, and unless you’ve been around him a long time, you never even knew that there was a B.’’
BUZZ’S BOX SCORE
After each game, it’s not unusual for coaches to arrive at the press conference room and glance at the box score. Buzz, by contrast, studies his proprietary postgame data.
“Yeah,’’ he said. “Eclectic, weird, whatever adjectives you would have. We don’t study much on the box score. We call them white board stats. It’s nine different categories that we study, nine different things that we emphasize to our team.
“Maybe it’s a by-product of some of the numbers that are on the box score, but I don’t like to have too much of an opinion in post game because I’m so emotionally bankrupt, I like to have facts. So I just like to study that stuff before all the smart people ask me questions.’’
Explaining the data from the Buzz boxscore, he said, “If we’re only talking about offense when the ball gets to the paint off the pass or the bounce, that’s a paint touch.”
Said Liberty Ritchie McKay during a later press conference, “I’m not going to go Buzz Williams on you and tell you how many paint touches or how many box touches that you need. He’s way too eccentric and smart.’’
Then there was a final moment in San Jose, when Buzz spoke to USA TODAY Sports while savoring a Virginia Tech victory that has propelled him back to the Sweet 16, a place he’d reached three times with Marquette and where Virginia Tech had been only once before Buzz arrived.
“If you follow my career, not much of it makes a lot of sense, right?’’ he said. “I was a junior college (team) manager, you know? I was an NAIA manager. The first (coaching) job I took was for $4,800 for the year, and so I don’t think that anything, if you follow my career, makes a lot of sense.’’
Like the fact he got the head coaching job at Marquette in 2008, despite having been a head coach for just one year at the University of New Orleans, where his team went 14-17.
“Shouldn’t have got the job (at Marquette),’’ he said. “There were real coaches trying to get that job. … The day after they hired me, the next day in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it said, ‘Who the hell is Buzz?’ ”
A refreshing addition to the Sweet 16 field, that’s who.