Despite sporting 20 wins and a stellar 7-3 Atlantic Coast Conference record, the Virginia Tech men’s basketball team is by no means a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
In games against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and the Duke Blue Devils this week, the Hokies possess a chance to silence those who doubt whether Tech can really maintain its position toward the top of the ACC standings.
On the surface, Tech’s impressive record implies that it has experienced a dominating season. However, a poor strength of schedule, ranked at No. 161 in the country, and a Ratings Percentage Index rating of only 50 hold the Hokies’ tournament chances hostage.
The Hokies have played 11 teams ranked 182 or higher in the RPI, including three teams over 300. Sure, last year Penn State won the National Invitational Tournament, and that appeared to be a quality win early in the season, but the Nittany Lions now sit at No. 225 in the RPI with an 8-16 record and zero conference wins.
Tech also got stuck with Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and the Hawkeyes currently rank 182 in the RPI, further weighing down the Hokies’ chances to move up in the rankings.
Even Tech’s ACC schedule seems to be hurting the Hokies, putting them up against the six top-50 RPI teams in the ACC only once: Duke, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Maryland and Florida State. The Hokies are stuck with home and away match ups against RPI anchors North Carolina State, Boston College, Virginia, North Carolina and Miami, all of which come in at 80 or higher.
With all that said, Tech must be at its best for the next six games, starting with tonight’s game at 7 p.m. against Wake Forest, a team that ranks No. 11 in the RPI. A win at home over the Deacons would be a huge boost to Tech’s RPI and would provide a second top-50 RPI win for the Hokies. Tech would also be placed second in the ACC standings.
On Sunday, Tech travels to Durham to face the Blue Devils, which provides another opportunity for the Hokies to solidify its tournament resume. Duke ranks second in the RPI, and should the Hokies pull off an upset at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Tech should be well on its way to a tournament bid, as well as a first-place standing in the ACC.
At this point in the season, the Hokies are not facing a must-win game, but a win over either team this week would be an incredible boost and would not put as much pressure on Tech to win at home against Maryland and away at Georgia Tech. Two losses, though, and the Hokies will be in a bind for the remaining two weeks of the regular season, both at home and on the road.
Beginning Tuesday, Tech fans and the NCAA selection committee can begin to get a real grasp of the true quality of this team.
Despite playing poorly for entire halves and producing some pretty miserable shooting performances, Tech has still managed to win some important games. However, that sort of play will not suffice in the coming weeks.
Overall, Tech truly sits in a unique position this year. If the Hokies show up offensively for both halves and continue to play excellent defense the remainder of the season, Tech will more than likely earn an NCAA tournament berth and legitimately compete for the ACC regular season title.
Then again, if the Hokies begin to unravel this week, Tech may very well end up with yet another NCAA bubble bursting and another berth into the NIT Tournament.
With the parity and unpredictable nature of the ACC basketball season, nobody can realistically predict what will happen, but starting Tuesday night in Cassell Coliseum, it will sure be fun to watch.