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Virginia Tech keeps chipping away at ACC hierarchy

Chip, chip, chip.

That sound you hear, ACC hierarchy, is Virginia Tech taking a pickax to your foundation.

From below .500, to the NIT, to the NCAA tournament, that’s the upwardly mobile trajectory Buzz Williams has taken the Hokies on since arriving in Blacksburg.

There is no sign of a detour.

Moving up in a conference as top heavy as the ACC is no easy task, but Virginia Tech already has mastered step one in the process -- beat the teams you're supposed to beat and steal a few wins that are unexpected. Last season, that meant the Hokies had just one lousy loss -- a throttling at the hands of NC State -- and "stolen" wins that included a thorough thrashing of Duke and a double-overtime victory over Virginia.

The next step up the conference ladder arguably is the most difficult, moving out of the middle of the pack to the upper echelon. That section of the conference long has been dominated by North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Virginia and Notre Dame, with an occasional interloper -- such as Florida State a year ago -- sneaking in.

But the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are in flux, and the Cavaliers are readjusting after an exodus of transfers. The Seminoles, meantime, have stars to replace and could fall back to the mean.

Which leaves a potential opening for someone else.

Could that someone else be the Hokies? Why not?

Moving up certainly will be a little more difficult without Seth Allen and Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech's two leading scorers, but there is plenty left in Williams' quiver with which to work.

The Hokies were a savvy offensive team last season, and even without those two, there's no reason to expect much to change. For starters, Justin Robinson, Ahmed Hill, Justin Bibbs and Ty Outlaw return to anchor the perimeter game. That gives the Hokies four guys who shoot better than 35 percent from beyond the arc.

And then there is Chris Clarke. The sophomore tore his ACL in that double-OT game against Virginia, denying Virginia Tech of one of its most explosive weapons. Clarke was averaging 11.4 points and 7.3 rebounds at the time of his injury, and became the first player in Virginia Tech history to post a triple-double when he went for 13 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against the Citadel.

Without LeDay, Clarke's health becomes even more crucial to give the Hokies a post presence. ACL rehab is a long and arduous process, but if Clarke comes along well, he will be a huge injection back into the lineup.

The other injection comes in the form of a freshman class rated 20th in the country. Most recruiting sages believe that Williams has the backcourt of Virginia Tech's future in the form of Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede. Alexander-Walker, a five-star recruit by way of Toronto, finished 20th in the ESPN 100 rankings, making him the highest-ranked recruit to commit to Williams in his short tenure. He led his FIBA under-18 team with 17.4 points per game last summer. Bede, a savvy point guard, saw his stock continue to rise in the summer and will push for playing time this season.

The late addition of Preston Horne, a 6-8 power forward from Georgia, will give Clarke some help in the frontcourt.

Virginia Tech made its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2007 this past season, losing to Wisconsin in the first round.

With a deep, experienced and talented roster coming back, there's no reason to expect that appearance to be a one-hit wonder as Williams continues to lead the Hokies' resurgence.

Chip, chip, chip.