The Hokies could face defending NIT champ Dayton in the quarterfinals. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Looking at Virginia Tech's bracket in the NIT, I think there's only two things that will determine whether or not the Hokies will advance to the semifinals: Fatigue and motivation.
There isn't a team in the Hokies' bracket that can match Virginia Tech's talent on the court. However, with only seven scholarship scholarship players and coming off a perceived snub by the selection committee, there are intangibles that could keep them from making it to New York. But there isn't a team in the bracket that should actually knock them off, including defending NIT champion Dayton.
In their three previous NITs, the Hokies have fallen in the quarterfinals twice and in the second round once. However, in each of those years they faced some pretty tough competition, including Ole Miss, Baylor, UConn and Rhode Island. This year, none of the teams on Tech's side are as good as those teams. And with the Hokies potentially playing all three games at home, there's no reason they shouldn't make it to Madison Square Garden.
The Hokies' first opponent is Bethune-Cookman at 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday on ESPNU. The Wildcats are making their first ever Division 1 postseason appearance and earned an automatic bid into the tournament by winning the regular season MEAC title. Their only two games against power conference opponents (Arizona and Baylor) were blow out and resulted two of their three lowest point totals of the year.
Should the Hokies get past Bethune-Cookman, they'll play the winner of Wichita State and Nebraska. The Huskers are the only other power conference team in Tech's bracket and are led by a very good guard in Lance Jeter. The Huskers play good defense, but are a mere 2-10 in road/neutral games this year with those wins coming Hofstra in Puerto Rico and at Oklahoma in a game with a wacky ending.
Offensive rebound will be at a premium in this game as both the Huskers and Shockers are in the top five in the country in offensive rebound percentage against. The two teams are extremely similar, but I think Wichita State will defend its home court and advance.
The Shockers represent the toughest possible opponent for the Hokies in their road to New York. They rebound well and play good post defense, which would require solid games from Malcolm Delaney and Erick Green. Tech's guards match-up favorably against Wichita State's and if Delaney and Green come to play, Tech should make it to the quarterfinals.
Cleveland State, Dayton, College of Charleston and Vermont are on the other side of Tech's bracket. Dayton is the tournament's defending champion and returns its top two leading scorers from last season. Chris Wright and Chris Johnson have played will inside for the Flyers, but inconsistent guard play is the reason they're back in the NIT.
What also hurts the Flyers is that they have to go on the road in the first round despite being a 3-seed. Their home gym is being used for the NCAA Tournament's first round, meaning their opening game will be at College of Charleston. The Cougars are a little underrated in this bracket and are led by guard Andrew Goudelock.
He almost led Charleston to a win over Maryland in the first game of the season as the Cougars fell by one point after leading most of the way. They also lost to North Carolina by five and Clemson by seven this year, but won at Tennessee. Should they pull the upset, it likely sets up a match-up with 2-seeded Cleveland State.
If that game happens, it's as must-see TV as the NIT can be with a spectacular guard match-up of Goudelock and the Vikings' Norris Cole. Cole leads the Vikings in points at 21.6 per game, assists and also in rebounds at 6.0 per game despite being just 6-2.
I think Virginia Tech is the more complete team than any of the four that could come from the other side of the bracket. Tech's biggest challenge will probably come from either Wichita State or Nebraska, who play good defense and will look to turn the game into a rock fight.
If Tech gets by the Shockers or Huskers, they should get past whoever the other side of the bracket spits out. That other side will offer the better match-ups and prettier games, but in the end Tech should be the team from this bracket that heads to New York. It's just a questions of whether or not they're motivated to do so after missing out on the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
2011 NIT Schedule
Virginia Tech Bracket
1 Virginia Tech vs. 8 Bethune-Cookman, Wed. 8 p.m. EDT, ESPNU
4 Wichita State vs. 5 Nebraska, Wed. 7 p.m. EDT, ESPN2
2 Cleveland State vs. 7 Vermont, Tue. 7 p.m. EDT, ESPN3.com
3 Dayton at 6 Charleston, Tue. 7 p.m. EDT, ESPN2
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