Schedule was the Hokies' undoing

Dan Guerrero rambled nonsensically when asked a simple question.

Why didn't Virginia Tech make the NCAA basketball tournament?

Finally, after what must have been a 35-second shot-clock violation, the chairman of the selection committee cut to the quick.

"One of the things that allows us to distinguish between one team and another, as you know, is strength-of-schedule, especially nonconference strength-of-schedule," Guerrero, the athletic director at UCLA, said during a Sunday media teleconference. "That was an area that really hurt Virginia Tech as we talked about whether they made the cut or not."

Surely Hokies coach Seth Greenberg heard, and now he must act.

Oh, we can parse credentials for hours. I preferred Virginia Tech to Florida, which not only made the 65-team field but did so comfortably as a No. 10 seed. The Hokies were 3-4 against the top 50 on the Rating Percentage Index, 8-7 versus the top 100, while the Gators were 3-8 and 7-10.

Moreover, I'm surprised that Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, ACC rivals that Virginia Tech defeated, drew a No. 9 and 10 seed, respectively. The Deacons (six) and Yellow Jackets (five) have more top-50 victories than the Hokies and deserved their bids, but their overall credentials aren't that superior to the Hokies'.

In fact, given its pitiful 83-62 ACC tournament loss to Miami and 1-4 regular-season close, I'd have punted Wake Forest before Virginia Tech

The ACC standings — Virginia Tech (10-6) finished ahead of Wake (9-7) and Georgia Tech (7-9) — also favor the Hokies, until you plow deeper. Based on a predetermined rotation, the five teams Virginia Tech played twice were Virginia, Boston College, Miami, North Carolina State and North Carolina.

Guess which teams were the conference's five worst? So yes, the Hokies are the first 10-6 ACC team ever bypassed for the NCAA tournament, but they fashioned that record against the weakest possible league schedule.

One more victory and Virginia Tech probably makes the field. If Houston and New Mexico State don't win their conference tournaments to earn automatic bids, therefore dropping regular-season champs Texas-El Paso and Utah State into the at-large pool, the Hokies likely are celebrating.

Such is the margin when evaluating the final teams on the board.

Based on seeds, the final three of the 34 at-large selections were Utah State, UTEP and Minnesota. The first two dominated lower-tier leagues, Conference USA and the Western Athletic, before stumbling in the league-championship game; Minnesota advanced to the Big Ten tournament final.

Each of those teams has assets and liabilities when compared to Virginia Tech. But the common theme is all three played credible non-conference schedules.

Minnesota's is ranked 77th, Utah State's 97th and UTEP's 173rd. Virginia Tech's is 339th out of 347 nationally on collegerpi.com.

Granted, teams in Conference USA and the WAC are better positioned to schedule ambitiously, since they don't face a league gauntlet comparable to the ACC or Big Ten. Plus, projecting the quality of your opponents a year or more in advance can be dicey.

But 339th is too glaring to ignore. The only teams with worse non-conference schedules were High Point, Lafayette, Florida Gulf Coast, James Madison, Maryland-Baltimore County, Northern Colorado, Miami and Central Connecticut.

That's what happens when you play perennial lightweights and fledglings such as Charleston Southern, Longwood and North Carolina Central.

This is the third consecutive year Virginia Tech has been oh-so-close to making the field, and if Greenberg and juniors such as Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen, Dorenzo Hudson and Terrell Bell feel cursed, well, can't say as I blame them.

But when the 10-member selection panel debates the final choices, they're often searching for excuses to exclude more than incentive to include. The Hokies' non-conference schedule was just that excuse.

The disappointment for Virginia Tech is another trip to the NIT, this time with a squad that was capable of advancing a round or two in the NCAA tournament.

The encouragement for the Hokies is that, barring unexpected defections, they return all of their key players, giving Greenberg every reason to upgrade the schedule and help avoid any angst come Selection Sunday 2011.

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.

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