Hokies End Skid, Take First Step Back Towards BubblePosted by BHayes on January 13th, 2013
Bennet Hayes is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Saturday’s game in Atlanta between Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
One of the beauties of the college basketball winter is that the NCAA Tournament picture is constantly changing; teams that felt like January locks can find themselves sweating the bubble in March, and clubs trying to forget their non-conference campaigns can do so with a torrid couple of pre-Tournament months. This year, more than ever, might find a slew of teams in the latter category; fewer teams have built Tournament-ready resumes at this juncture than in past years. Pair that with year two of an expanded field of 68 teams and it is no stretch to imagine this year’s bubble as the weakest in NCAA Tournament history. While many will lament the relative quality of the last few teams in the field, this dynamic should create a wide open final two months, and many teams currently left for dead could find their way back into the mix by March. Two of those teams resting below ground (at least for the moment), Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, faced off Saturday afternoon in an ACC battle for that first step towards March relevancy.
The Hokies, led by the relentless Erick Green, found a way to pull out a game they really had no business winning, escaping from McCamish Pavilion with Coach James Johnson’s first ACC victory, in overtime nonetheless. Having dropped five of their last six games entering this one, the Hokies win will hardly register on the national consciousness, but make no mistake—this one was big. “Winning in the ACC is hard,” Coach Johnson noted after the game, adding that his group “deserved a reward for all their hard work.” Hard work alone will not earn you respect in this conference, but getting road wins is a good start. Give a shorthanded Virginia Tech team credit for putting their last month behind them and finding a way to get out of Atlanta with ACC win number one.
Virginia Tech has a long ways to go to even be considered part of the bubble picture, but the uniqueness of the current national landscape offers a better than usual opportunity to do so. The middles of many of the power conferences are historically weak, including that of the ACC. After Duke and NC State (Wolfpack, welcome to the ACC’s elite – you earned it today), can you really feel that comfortable believing any other team is a lock to be included in the field of 68? Same story in the SEC, where questions abound once you get past Florida and Missouri — a state of confusion aided by Kentucky’s continued struggles (did Elston Turner really go for 40 in Rupp today? What?). Only the Big Ten and Big East possess a real surplus of teams that fall into the “safe bet for the Tournament” category, as elsewhere, Kansas rests very much alone at the top of the Big-12, while UCLA and Arizona have emerged from the always muddled Pac-12, although Oregon deserves mention as maybe the most underrated team in the country.
As undefined as the power conferences are, the disarray extends well beyond. While the Mountain West is poised for a banner year and could realistically net five tournament bids, the Atlantic-10 has struggled a lot more than expected, the WCC may only send Gonzaga to the Dance (BYU and St. Mary’s will have chances to make the conference a 2-bid league), and both Conference USA and the Colonial, leagues that have sent multiple teams to the Dance in recent years, seem destined to be one-bid leagues. It all adds up to a lot of opportunity for teams who have yet to seize the moment, like Virginia Tech, or even Georgia Tech for that matter. In this wild 2013 season, count teams out at your own peril, for there will be a lot of shuffling between now and Selection Sunday.