Is it possible to be on the NCAA Tournament bubble when you are 21-4 and in second place in the ACC? That’s the question surrounding Virginia Tech, which entered this week with an RPI rating of just 50.
The Hokies are currently the hottest team in the ACC, having won eight of nine games (4-4 ATS) following Tuesday’s huge 87-83 home win over Wake Forest. That was the Hokies’ first win in three tries over a ranked team this season – and the other two ranked teams they played, North Carolina and Florida State, are nowhere near the Top 25 right now.
And really that’s the problem with the Hokies: their schedule. It ranks only around No. 116 in the nation, and the non-conference schedule is ranked 340th -- there are only 347 Division I-A college basketball teams. Before last night’s win over the Deacons, Virginia Tech’s best victory was against Clemson. Their best non-conference win has been against Seton Hall, one of the bottom-rung teams in the Big East.
That’s again why Tuesday’s win can’t be overstated. Virginia Tech shot 51.6 percent in the second half and rallied from 11 points down with just over 12 minutes to go to stay perfect at home (14-0 overall, 4-5 ATS) and beat only its second team with an RPI of 50 or better. It was Tech’s fifth ACC win in a row, a first for the school since joining that conference. The Hokies have a huge game at ACC-leading Duke on Sunday night – Virginia Tech last won there in 2007. An upset Sunday assures an at-large NCAA spot, which would be Tech’s second in Coach Seth Greenberg’s seven seasons there.
Tech point guard Malcolm Delaney is one of the unsung stars of the ACC; he had 31 points Tuesday and leads the conference in scoring. But the Hokies have really taken off thanks to guard Dorenzo Hudson and forward Jeff Allen providing a second and third scoring threat behind Delaney. Hudson had 21 Tuesday and is averaging 17.4 ppg in the past eight (he averaged 3.9 ppg in the ACC last year). He has been held to single digits just once in ACC play compared to eight times in non-conference play. Allen was held to eight points on Tuesday but was averaging 14.6 points in the previous five ACC games compared opposed to 6.8 in the first five. Three of Virginia Tech's losses this season have come when Allen has scored six points or fewer.
Virginia Tech is second in the ACC in both scoring defense and turnover margin, which helps make up for a lack of size and the fact it isn’t usually a very good rebounding team (ninth in the conference in rebounding margin) or a good shooting team (last in the ACC). And don’t bet against this team in what would appear to be a close game, as it is 7-1 in games decided by six points or fewer or in overtime. Last season, Tech lost six games on its opponents' final possession.
I still say this looks like a one-and-done NCAA team, and I’d expect the Hokies to lose their final three ACC road games (at Duke, Boston College and Georgia Tech), but they’ve done enough to warrant an NCAA trip.