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Virginia Tech excited to play No. 3 Villanova on Saturday

Virginia Tech excited to play No. 3 Villanova on Saturday

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. — The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team has a replacement opponent for Saturday night — and it’s a doozy.

Virginia Tech announced Friday morning that it will play third-ranked Villanova (2-0) at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Mohegan Sun casino and resort. The game will air on ESPNU.

“It is fly by the seat of your pants,” Tech coach Mike Young said Friday afternoon in a phone interview. “You’ve got to be able to turn on a dime.

“Our team’s excited. We came up here to play and challenge our team and improve, and we’re going to do that.”

Tech (1-0) had been planning to play Temple at the Mohegan Sun at 8 p.m. Saturday. But Temple announced Thursday afternoon that its men’s basketball team was pausing activities and beginning a 14-day quarantine because one of its players tested positive for COVID-19.

So event organizers began searching for a replacement opponent out of the schools already at the Mohegan Sun for the “Bubbleville” event that began Wednesday.

“Trying desperately to find a replacement. No luck yet,” Young told The Roanoke Times early Thursday night in a direct message on Twitter.

But at about 10 p.m. Thursday, event organizers asked Tech if it were interested in playing Villanova on Saturday.

Young agreed.

“We’re here. We are trying to get better as a team, as a program,” Young said in Friday’s phone interview. “We want to play.”

But Villanova was in the middle of a game Thursday night, so Wildcats coach Jay Wright had yet to sign off on the booking.

Villanova beat Arizona State late Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun. Wright signed off on playing Tech in the wee hours of Friday morning.

The Wildcats had already played two games at the Mohegan Sun and did not have another one planned at the resort, but the Wildcats were willing to stick around because they also had a sudden hole to fill on its schedule. The Wildcats had been scheduled to host Temple on Dec. 3, but that game was also called off on Thursday.

Tech’s game Saturday had been set to air on ESPNEWS, but the game was upgraded to ESPNU after Villanova replaced Temple as the foe.

On Friday, Wright and Young got a chance to chat when they happened to pass each other in a hallway.

“His point was, ‘We better play while we can,’” Young said.

So on short notice, Young must prepare his team to play the third-ranked team in the country.

Of course, Villanova has to play the game on short notice, too.

“There’s no competitive advantage, disadvantage,” Young said.

The Villanova game will the first of two games that Tech will play at the Mohegan Sun. The Hokies will face South Florida at 8 p.m. Sunday in a game that will air on ESPN2.

The Hokies were tested for COVID-19 upon arriving at the Mohegan Sun on Wednesday night and were tested again Friday.

The Mohegan Sun “Bubbleville” is “as safe as an environment as I can possibly imagine,” said Young.

“Everything here is by the book in terms of transportation, meals, testing protocols,” Young said.

Teams have “very, very little contact” with each other at the hotel or arena, said Young.

Army and Tech have been on the same hotel floor but are “completely separated,” said Young.

“We have our own meeting room. We eat in our meeting room, we watch film in our meeting room,” Young said.

The Wildcats have already played one ACC team at the Mohegan Sun, having beaten Boston College 76-67 in the first round of the 2K Empire Classic on Wednesday.

Villanova then beat No. 18 Arizona State 83-74 on Thursday night in the 2K Empire Classic title game.

Sophomore forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl scored 28 points for the Wildcats on Thursday, while Justin Moore added 16 points and 12 rebounds. Caleb Daniels, who sat out last season after transferring from Tulane, had 14 points for the Wildcats.

Villanova also shined defensively Thursday, holding Arizona State star Remy Martin to five points.

The Wildcats were 10th in the final Associated Press poll last season. Robinson-Earl and Moore are among four starters back from a 24-7 team that tied for the Big East regular-season title with a 13-5 league mark. The star of that team, Saddiq Bey, was chosen in the first round of the NBA Draft.

Villanova will be playing another ACC team next month. Villanova and Virginia will square off at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 19.

Tech has not played Villanova since February 2004, back when the two schools were Big East rivals. Tech is 1-9 all-time in the series.

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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