ESPN's College GameDay was at Cassell Coliseum hyping Saturday night's collision between Tech and No. 1 Duke.
As many have said, the program, like its more established college football version, is an invaluable infomercial for the host team, and the Hokies were no different.
Hours before the show's 10 a.m., start, students lined up outside the arena. The doors opened at 8:30, and more than 3,000 poured in.
"You have replaced Kansas as the No. 1 student body" in GameDay's seven seasons, ESPN's Digger Phelps shouted, working the crowd into a pre-show lather and pulling Mark Edwards, a Tech booster from Smithfield, out of the stands to lead cheers.
"Number one goes down tonight," Phelps added, playing his audience like a politician.
By air time, spectators numbered 3,197 and included more than a dozen football recruits, including defensive end Alston Smith of Norfolk and his father, Hokies legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Smith. Most of Tech's football coaching staff, including big whistle Frank Beamer, were in the house, as was Hokies basketball coach Seth Greenberg's wife, Karen.
Some of the most clever signs:
"Crazy? We're certifiably insane."
"Enter Sandman, Exit The Bubble."
"Seth Greenberg starring as Bubble Boy: Coming soon to an NCAA tourney near you."
Indeed, the NCAA tournament bubble is like home for the Hokies, denied a bid three seasons running, last year despite a 10-6 ACC record. Playing to the role, Greenberg presented cast members Bob Knight, Rece Davis, Hubert Davis, Jay Bilas and Phelps with bubblegum as he entered for his live interview.
Rece Davis asked Greenberg about Tech seniors Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen and Terrell Bell. Greenberg applauded their careers before noting, "But there's one thing missing, and they understand it."
Beating Duke would go a long way toward filling that void, but only Phelps picked Tech to win. Knight said the Blue Devils are too "experienced" and "talented" for the Hokies, but added, "I don't think Virginia Tech has to win this game (to make the NCAA tournament). Just play well."
Bilas took a similar tact, saying that a credible defeat Saturday combined with closing wins over Boston College and Clemson would likely earn the Hokies a bid.
"I think Virginia Tech is an NCAA tournament team," Bilas said, quieting the boos of those who recalled him leaving the Hokies out of his mock brackets in previous seasons.
Some of the show's bits were cheesy, such as tape of Bilas carving a turkey in front of the Hokie bird, and Rece Davis attempting to engage Allen and Delaney with Newlywed Game-style questions.
The one amusing moment: Allen predicting that Delaney's dream date would be Michelle Obama.
GameDay also featured a taped interview with Knight, Rece Davis and Knight's protégé, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Entering Saturday, Krzyzewski was nine victories shy of surpassing Knight's Division I record of 902.
Asked by Davis how it feels to be introduced as college basketball's winningest coach, Knight responded in typical fashion: "I'd rather have people say I'm a damn good fly fisherman, which I am."
Knight is clearly the least comfortable when GameDay goes live, that because he has not, and likely never will, transition from coach to performer. Conversely, Bilas has morphed into a showman.
"The idea that our job is to sit around and talk basketball is pretty cool," he said earlier this week of GameDay. "What raises the temperature of it is, we get to go to some of the coolest places in sports."
Unless that list is mighty long, Cassell Coliseum probably doesn't rate, but the joint jumped Saturday morning in anticipation of the evening's central attraction: college basketball.
Tech's players watched the final hour from the bench they'll occupy against Duke.
"You can't shield them from it," Greenberg said of immersing the Hokies in the GameDay hype. "It's like trying to shield them from all the bubble talk."