Over the summer, Tech fans argued over whether or not their beloved Hokies would be able to go 12-0 during the regular season. Although the football team fell just a little short, the women’s basketball team accomplished this remarkable feat a week ago when it defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to win the Lady Luck Classic. This was the fifth consecutive in-season tournament where Tech has gone undefeated. Tech dropped their next game, the ACC opener against NC State, but bounced back Wednesday night to rout High Point 91-52, leaving the Hokies undefeated in out-of-conference play.
VT has been favored to win all of their games so far, but, as fans well know, winning every time you’re the favorite is a difficult thing to do. Maybe not for the women’s roundball team though. Thursday’s victory marks the third time in the past eight years VT has streaked out to a 12-0 start. In 1999, the Hokies won their first 18 games enroute to a run that took them to the Sweet 16, and two years ago they won their first 12 games and earned another invite to the NCAA Tournament. The program has participated in postseason play (NCAA & WNIT) for eight consecutive seasons, averaging 22 wins per season during that stretch.
With that kind of recent history for a senior-laden ACC team with a 13-1 record, you would expect them to be ranked in the top ten just behind the nation’s five undefeated teams. But you would be wrong. In fact, the Hokies aren’t even ranked in the Coaches Poll, where they are languishing in the “also receiving votes” category. The AP Poll gives the Hokies a little more respect, but not much. A week ago, Virginia Tech appeared in the poll for the first time this season, debuting at #25…behind five 3-loss teams and seven 2-loss teams.
Of course, the argument could be made that the Hokies haven’t played a strong schedule and don’t deserve a higher ranking. The Hokie’s strength of schedule (SOS) currently ranks as the 157th toughest in the nation, which might indeed merit their being excluded from the poll’s top tier. If that were true, though, you would hope the same thing would apply to other teams as well. But six teams with similar SOS issues (100 or lower) are ranked in the Coaches Poll while VT is not. Georgia has 3 losses and an SOS of 176, but somehow they garner a ranking of 18; Conference-mate Maryland has the same record as VT but an SOS of 196, and they are ranked #6 in the country.
Pollsters are not expected to be perfect, which is why the Ratings Percentage Index was created, an unbiased computerized rating system that takes overall record and strength of schedule into account. This is the tool that the selection committee uses to help pick teams for the NCAA tournament, which is good news for Tech because the RPI loves them. Pollsters might be showering unwarranted love on Maryland and Georgia, but in the RPI they are ranked below Tech. Maryland is 23 in the RPI and Georgia is 57. VT is #11.
The Hokies have an excellent record, play in an elite league, and return most of the starters from last year’s crew. The Hokies are led by a nucleus of talented and experienced seniors. Kerri Gardin (6-1, Sr. F) was an All-ACC honorable mention last season, averaging a double-double (12.2 points, 10.1 rebounds) in conference games. Dawn Chriss (6-1, Sr., G) averaged 20.2 points and 6.0 rebounds in the last five games of her Junior year. Carrie Mason (5-7, Sr., G) led the team in assists last year (98), three-point field goals (45), and minutes played (32.9). Mason also recently eclipsed the 1000-point mark for her VT career.
Why then are the Hokies ranked so low in the polls? The only possible explanation is that they haven’t played any quality opponents yet this year. When the schedulers put together this year’s lineup, they figured Tech would’ve been in for a challenge before conference play began. But ODU, Liberty, and Texas Tech—all teams that played in last year’s NCAA tournament—have had less than average seasons this year and have dragged down Tech’s Strength of Schedule. With nothing but conference games remaining on the schedule, Tech’s SOS will soon get a lift. Of their 13 remaining games, four of them are against teams ranked in the top six, one is against the #19 team, and four others are against teams receiving votes in the polls.
It won’t be until VT plays a few of those teams that we will really know how good this team is. Are they a top 25 team? A top ten team? Or, are they merely seventh best in their own conference, as predicted by the ACC Preseason Poll? Sunday’s game against #19 Boston College (2 p.m. in Cassell Coliseum) will go a long way toward answering those questions.