Pat Mason’s goals for his Virginia Tech team this season were not kept private. Well before the first pitch of 2015 was thrown, Mason said an NCAA tournament appearance was the goal, but recognized that wouldn’t be possible without making the ACC tournament first.
Well, with three weekends of conference play remaining in the regular season, Tech is outside the ACC tournament’s 10 spots and looking in.
Prior to Friday night’s action, six of the 14 ACC teams had winning percentages above .500.
Two schools, Duke (.250) and Pittsburgh (.286) have won fewer than half of the games they’ve lost, and are likely to be two of the four schools left out of the party in Durham.
That leaves six schools vying for the final four spots. Here is how they break down:
N.C. State — .450
Boston College — .450
Virginia — .429
Georgia Tech — .429
Wake Forest — .429
Virginia Tech — .400
(Side note: Division classification does not matter in terms of seeding other than when it comes to tiebreakers, but we’ll get to those later.)
Earning a spot in the tournament will not be easy for the Hokies, but things are setting up in their favor.
Thankfully for Tech, the brutal stretch of schedule is over and it didn’t go as poorly as 8-12 might suggest. Its last six opponents, winners of the last 13 ACC Championships, were a combined 68-56. When considering that number, remember that 64 percent of the league is below .500.
During that stretch, the Hokies went 7-10, the best winning percentage ever against those six teams (Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, Florida State).
More so, Tech has the easiest remaining schedule of those those six aforementioned middle-of-the-pack teams. Its final three conference opponents Duke, Pittsburgh and Boston College, are a combined 21-43.
As disappointing as it is when players, especially collegiate players, get injured, a number of injuries around the league may end up being to the benefit of the Hokies.
This weekend’s opponent, Duke, is without its ace Michael Matuella and one of its top relievers, Nick Hendrix. Boston College, which will come to Blacksburg to start May, is currently without its best position player, Chris Shaw. Shaw left a game on April 10 with a broken hamate bone and was projected to mix three to six weeks.
Finally, and most recently, Virginia’s Nathan Kirby, one of the top prospects for the 2015 MLB Draft, has been sidelined for at least the next five weeks with a strained lat muscle. The Hokies already faced Kirby and the Cavaliers, but the absence of Kibry for the next three Friday nights for Virginia and the correlating effect that absence has on the rest of the pitching staff could be massive.
The first tiebreaker when it comes to tournament seeding is head-to-head competition, and that’s where things start to slip away from Tech’s favor.
The Hokies hold the tiebreaker over the Cavaliers thanks to the early season sweep, but that’s it. Clemson, Florida State and Miami, but more importantly Wake Forest and Georgia Tech have the edge on Hokies if the teams are tied at season’s end.
The Hokies split the series with North Carolina last weekend because of a Sunday rainout, and while a Tech-Tar Heel tie isn’t likely, it creates a nice segue into the second tiebreaker.
By the end of the year, Tech will have played all of the middle six teams except for N.C. State.
The second tiebreaker for two teams within the same division is the record of the team’s within divisional games, but since N.C. State is in the Atlantic, the second tiebreaker is head-to-head competition versus a common opponent with the highest conference winning percentage.
So for the sake of explanation, let’s continue on this Tech-N.C. State example.
Miami has the second-highest winning percentage, behind the runaway Louisville Cardinals, in the conference. The Hokies and the Wolfpack both were swept by the Hurricanes, so it bumps down to the next team, Florida State. Both squads won 1 versus the Seminoles, but the tie is broken versus Clemson. Tech won one game versus the Tigers and the Wolfpack won two, so N.C. State has the advantage.
After that tiebreaker it, quite literally, becomes a coin flip. Here is a link to the full ACC tiebreaking rules: http://theacc.co/BASEtiebreakers
So, that’s how this is all set up, but how will it play out?
Well, because of Tech’s current position, they can’t make the tournament without some help. Even if they go 9-0 from here on out, there is a possibility that they don’t make the tournament. But it wouldn’t be likely.
In my opinion, if the Hokies go 6-3 over the next three weekends, something they are capable of doing, they should squeak in. 5-4 might do it, but that would be putting a lot of trust in the rest of the league for things to work out how they need.
Worth noting: As a result of Sunday’s cancelled contest versus North Carolina, the Hokies are one of six teams in the league that have played 20 (instead of 21) conference games. How exactly this will factor in come season’s end is impossible to predict, but the lack of a win or loss will make a difference.