Seth Allen was bummed he couldn’t make a tee time this week.
“It’s all snow outside,” the Virginia Tech guard said Wednesday, “so we’re not leaving the hotel for walks or golfing.”
It could be worse. Allen could be on a warm beach somewhere, relaxing in the sun.
“All of the average to bad teams are on spring break right now,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said in KeyBank Center.
Wisconsin and Virginia Tech certainly don’t fall in the bad team category, though one will start its offseason Thursday night. The No. 8 Badgers and No. 9 Hokies will meet in Buffalo’s late NCAA Tournament game.
The game is a contrast in styles and experience. Wisconsin is playing in the tournament for the 19th straight time. The Hokies are dancing for the first time since 2007. The Badgers are big, deep and defend well. Virginia Tech is small, shoots three-pointers and will use only seven players.
While the Badgers’ players treated the pre-tournament media session as a cross between a nuisance and chore, Allen asked if he could take home his name tag as a keepsake.
“We have a roster full of guys who, tomorrow night, that will be their first time ever playing on a court that has an NCAA blue sticker on it,” Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams said of the difference in experience. “I don’t think it’s overblown at all.”
Though the differences are immense, the teams have one thing in common. Neither is just happy to be here. They want to win.
“This year’s fun just because it’s with a group of seniors I’m definitely going to miss next year,” said Wisconsin sophomore forward Ethan Happ. “I don’t want it to be my last game with them tomorrow, or even this week, so we want to continue to play.”
The last time Wisconsin’s coach came to Buffalo, he ate Italian food and won a national championship. Alas, there won’t be a repeat.
The Italian place is gone.
Gard was an assistant to Bo Ryan at Wisconsin-Platteville back in 1995. The Pioneers won the NCAA Division III championship at Buffalo State, capping an undefeated season by beating Steve Alford and Manchester (Ind.).
“I chatted with coach Ryan, or traded messages over the week, when it was announced we’re coming here,” Gard said. “He said, ‘Hey, take the team to I think it’s Carmine’s.’ That’s what we decided the name was now, but we found out it’s out of business.”
Indeed, Carmine’s in Clarence burned down in 2015.
“But it was obviously great memories,” Gard said, “because my second year coaching we win a national championship. I mean, got spoiled pretty quickly. It was a good time.”
One of Gard’s most vivid memories is the orange gym at Buffalo State. If he remembers orange this time, it’ll be because the colorful Hokies ended the Badgers’ streak of three straight trips to the Sweet 16.
“It would be huge for everybody just to keep this run going,” Virginia Tech forward Zach LeDay said. “It’s been a special story. We don’t play that many guys. We’re small.
“So it would be really special to get wins in this tournament and just keep on going, but we got to start off with this one.”