Down the stretch they come. Virginia Tech limps into the final quarter of its ACC schedule Tuesday at Wake Forest trying to avoid a second consecutive debilitating road defeat.
After a win at home against Maryland and a road loss to Virginia, the Hokies' dropped in the official RPI from No. 57 to No. 65. They own just one win against a team in the RPI's Top 50: No. 50 Florida State. They'll get their chance to improve on that stat, but first they have to get past a Wake Forest team that has lost six in a row and lost by 21 points in Blacksburg a little over a month ago.
To win, Tech needs to get back to what it's done when it's been successful in conference play: Hit the glass and have good ball movement. There's a huge chasm between Tech's assist-to-field-goal ratio in its ACC wins and its ACC losses. The Hokies' guards need to get back to driving to the basket and either getting fouled and getting to the line or finding open guys for easy baskets. Neither of those things happened against UVa.
For Wake Forest, well, the Deacs need to hope the Hokies are worn out from playing a lot of minutes and distracted by Jarell Eddie's arrest earlier in the week. The good news for Wake is that it's at home and the Hokies haven't played very well on the road in ACC play this year.
Beat Wake and suddenly the Hokies will be presented with plenty of chances to improve their RPI. The No. 1 team in both polls, Duke, visits Blacksburg Saturday and next week they face Boston College (RPI 45) and Clemson (RPI 66). Can the Hokies get into the NCAA Tournament with wins over Wake, BC and Clemson and a loss to Duke? It's possible, but like last year they'll probably be counting bids during championship week.
Those three wins would give the Hokies a 10-6 ACC record and give them a bye in the ACC tournament, likely as the 4-seed. However, that 4-seed could be a lose-lose situation for the Hokies like it was last year. In last year's ACC tournament, Tech wound up playing 12-seed Miami in the second round and losing.
Tech will be battling the pressure of making the NCAA tournament for a senior class that has never played in it and likely fatigue as well. Playing with only eight scholarship players since before Christmas, Tech's starting five has logged a lot of minutes during conference play. Will they start to break down with the finish line in sight?
No matter what, the Hokies face a paper-thin margin of error. If they win the games they're supposed to win or at least beat Duke, they'll likely find themselves sitting on a line on the bracket during CBS' selection show. Stumble once to a team other than Wake Forest and they're looking at a photo finish. Stumble in a big way and it'll be time to put them down.
Blogger So Dear has the Wake-centric game preview.
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