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League squads sit on bubble

If someone were to ask you if the fourth-place team in one of the nation’s best conferences would qualify for the NCAA Tournament, you would say that they’ve sewn up a bid.

If you were asked the odds of the 118th-ranked team in the RPI making the field of 65, you would say that there is not a chance in the world.

What happens if it is the same team, as is the case this year with Virginia Tech?

The ACC Tournament this weekend in Washington, D.C., should hold all the answers.

As always, numerous teams are fighting for a few bids and who gets in will be determined by the number of entries available, which is dependent on many factors, such as unexpected teams winning their respective conference tournaments and grabbing automatic bids.

At .500 in the ACC, the Hokies would have been considered an lock for the NCAA Tournament in the past.

“I think our kids have earned it,” Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said. “Is it one time in history that an ACC team at 8-8 didn’t make it?”

In truth, nearly all 8-8 teams in the ACC have earned a bid in prior seasons. But this season, the conference abandoned its double-round-robin format, creating unbalanced schedules within the league. The fifth- through eighth-ranked teams in the league standings currently sit on the proverbial bubble, and a strong conference tournament showing by any one of them could earn that team an NCAA Tournament entry.

The Hokies played North Carolina and Wake Forest, the top two teams in the conference, just once apiece—with both games at home.

“There are some teams that have had a little bit tougher schedules in the conference,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That’s a factor. You need to look at that.”

In other words, Virginia Tech will need to make a big run in the ACC Tournament, beating Georgia Tech and possibly North Carolina to advance to the finals. The Hokies, with a skewed 8-8 ACC mark, a poor non-conference record and a low RPI ranking, may not have the necessary résumé to gain entry to the competitive field.

Many say that Georgia Tech is already in, but looking at its résumé, that thinking may be presumptuous. The Yellow Jackets do have a respectable 17-10 record, but 12 of their wins have come against teams with RPIs of 101 or worse, and they have only one win against the RPI top 50 and they appear to have benefitted from the altered RPI that gives a lot of credit to teams which play strong opponents on the road, such as Kansas Jan. 1.

The committee may look favorably on Georgia Tech because senior B.J. Elder, one of the team’s top players, missed several games and only recently returned to action.

“There’s only one way to erase all doubt,” Hewitt said. “That’s just to keep winning all weekend.”

If Virginia Tech does not make the tournament and Georgia Tech does, two other ACC teams are likely to receive bids, said Krzyzewski, who estimates the conference will get six teams in. Maryland, N.C. State and Miami are the contenders for the two spots.

Maryland is in a similar boat as Georgia Tech, notching several big wins but also recording many bad losses. The Terrapins swept Duke picking up their two best wins of the season, but also lost twice to lowly Clemson.

They have also lost four of their last five games, winning only at cellar-dwelling Virginia—and needing two overtimes to do it. The selection committee gives significant consideration to how a team ends a season, and the Terrapins will need to beat Clemson and at least put up a good fight attempting to beat North Carolina to clinch a spot.

The sixth-seeded Hurricanes will face Duke if they beat Virginia today. A win against the Blue Devils, who have beaten Miami twice already this season, would likely get the Hurricanes into the tournament.

The Wolfpack are in a similar position but are probably out without winning two straight, including a victory over Wake Forest—minus All-ACC point guard Chris Paul—in the quarterfinals.

N.C. State head coach Herb Sendek feels much like the rest of the coaches on the bubble, wanting to ensure a bid but not knowing exactly how.

“How many games we have to win, I really don’t know,” Sendek said.

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