Virginia Tech’s competition level will take a big leap forward over the course of the next week. The Hokies will play three games in the Wooden Legacy Tournament in Anaheim from Thursday through Sunday, and then they’ll travel to Ann Arbor to face a very sound Michigan team in the ACC/Big Ten challenge next Wednesday.
Those four games will give us a much better idea of where the Hokies are as a basketball team. Tech is 3-0 through the first three games and they are playing better than they were at this point last season. However, the competition has left a little bit to be desired.
According to RealTimeRPI.com, the Hokies are No. 103 in the country in the RPI (third lowest in the ACC) with the No. 272 strength of schedule (second lowest in the ACC). Here’s why…
Maine: 1-4 overall against Division I teams, No. 208 RPI
High Point: 2-2 overall against Division I teams, No. 134 RPI
VMI: 0-3 overall against Division I teams, No. 278 RPI
High Point is a decent squad that won 21 games a year ago and they probably won’t end up hurting the Hokies very much, if at all. Maine and VMI won’t be much of a boost though and overall, we didn’t learn very much about Tech through the first three games. We’re about to find out a lot more about this team, starting with Thursday’s with New Mexico.
Thursday’s game will be televised by ESPN at 4:30pm. The Hokies are guaranteed to play three games in Anaheim, though they don’t know who they’ll play on Friday and Sunday. However, the first step is getting by a solid New Mexico team that is 3-0 on the season.
The Lobos are 3-0 on the season, though like the Hokies they haven’t played anybody yet. They are currently ranked No. 130 in the RPI, and here’s their schedule…
81-70 W over 0-4 Idaho State
95-79 W over 0-2 Houston Baptist
72-59 W over 3-2 New Mexico State
New Mexico is still trying to figure out exactly who they are, just like Virginia Tech, which makes Thursday’s game an interesting matchup. The Lobos are led by guard Elijah Brown, who was selected as the Mountain West Conference Preseason Player of the Year. Brown is averaging 13 points through the first three contests and he’ll be looking to turn it up a notch against Tech.
However, the biggest matchup issue might be power forward Tim Williams, who is averaging 23 points and 8.7 rebounds per game. He is a very good player who can get to the free throw line and the best way to defend him is by denying him the basketball. He was a First Team All-Mountain West player last year and he was also a First Team All-Southern Conference player when he played for Samford.
Overall, New Mexico is a solid squad that was picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference this season. They received three first place votes.
If the Hokies win that game, they’ll likely face Texas A&M on Friday, barring a huge upset of the Aggies at the hands of Cal State Northridge. Texas A&M comes into the game with two easy wins over Northwestern State (0-2) and American (0-4). They were defeated by the USC Trojans (4-0) 65-63 on November 18.
The Aggies went 26-8 last year and advanced to the Sweet 16 where they were defeated by the Oklahoma Sooners. They were picked to finish third in the SEC in this year’s preseason poll, and center Tyler Davis (6-10, 270, So.) was a First Team All-SEC selection. He’s averaging 13.7 points and 7.3 rebounds through the first three games and his size could present a big problem for a small Virginia Tech lineup.
While we definitely know who the Hokies will face in the opening round, and we most likely know who they’ll face in the second round if they get by New Mexico, we have no idea who they’ll face on Sunday. Here are the matchups on the other side of the bracket…
No. 14/No. 13 UCLA, 4-0 vs. Portland (2-0)
UCLA is undefeated. They’ve scored at least 102 points in three of their four games. Their worst offensive output was an 88-68 victory over San Diego. Their other wins came over Pacific (2-2), Cal State Northridge (2-2) and Long Beach State (0-5). Obviously the Bruins are a very talented team and because this is basically a home tournament for them, we can expect there to be a lot of UCLA fans in attendance.
The Portland Pilots are 2-0 on the young season with wins over UC Riverside (0-2) and San Jose State (1-3). Despite the hot start, the Pilots were picked just eighth out of 10 teams in the West Coast conference.
Dayton (2-1) vs. Nebraska (2-0)
The Flyers are 2-1 on the season with wins over Austin Peay and Alabama, and a very close 61-57 loss to an always tough St. Mary’s squad. They are always a very good team, and this year’s Dayton squad was picked to win the Atlantic 10 conference in the preseason.
Nebraska has victories over Sacramento State (0-3) and Louisiana Tech (1-2). They are coming off a 16-18 season, and though they are much-improved as a program over the past few years, they are probably only the third best team on their side of the bracket.
With a game against New Mexico, a possible matchup with Texas A&M and a potential game with either UCLA or Dayton, the Hokies could possibly face three very good teams in Anaheim. I’m hoping the Hokies get that game with UCLA on the other side of the bracket, though a matchup with Dayton would be just fine for RPI/SOS purposes.
Tech won’t return to Blacksburg after the Wooden Legacy Tournament. Instead, they’ll fly directly to Michigan where they’ll take on a Wolverine team that is ranked 25th in the AP Poll and 24th in the Coaches Poll. Michigan is 4-0 on the season, and here’s their schedule thus far…
76-58 W over No. 320 Howard (0-4)
77-65 W over No. 230 IUPUI (2-3)
79-61 W over No. 129 Marquette (3-2)
76-54 W over No. 98 SMU (4-1)
The Wolverines play at South Carolina tonight and host Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday, so they’ll play two more games before they take on the Hokies. Thus far, defense has been the strength of this Michigan team.
They are led by preseason First Team All-Big Ten selection Derrick Walton, Jr. (6-1, 190, Sr.), who is averaging 14 points per game while shooting 50 percent (14-of-28) from three-point range. The Wolverines were a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season and their easy wins over Marquette and SMU have made college basketball analysts take notice.
No matter how you slice it, Virginia Tech’s schedule is about to get a lot tougher and if they want to contend for a spot in the NCAA Tournament this season, they’ll have to do some damage over the next seven days. Last season, Tech’s best non-conference victory came over No. 84 UAB. Their second-best non-conference win was against No. 191 Radford. That’s not going to cut it.
That’s why this next week of basketball is so important for the Hokies. They’ve got a chance to do some damage at a national level and improve their computer ratings. Remember, this is how the RPI scores things…
Home win: 0.6 wins
Neutral win: 1 win
Road win: 1.4 wins
Home loss: 1.4 losses
Neutral loss: 1 loss
Road loss: 0.6 losses
Since Tech has three home wins, they are only 1.8-0 according to the RPI. However, their next three games are on a neutral court and then they play a big road game with Michigan. They have the potential to add 4.4 wins to their resume in the next seven days. That probably won’t happen, but they do need to play well and they do need to win 2-3 of these games if they want to get the Selection Committee’s attention in March.