Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dream the Impossible Dream

Now things get interesting. The Hokies hit the boards to beat Miami, 63-49 Friday in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. Tech needed the win to have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament and came through. Tech is now 19-12 with 10 wins against ACC opponents.

The Hokies dominated in the rebound column, collecting 51 rebounds to Miami’s 25. Tech’s 51 boards included 20 offensive rebounds that led to 19 second-chance points. In the preview for the game, we said the Hokies needed to get the ball inside. They did just that with 30 points in the paint, 22 in the second half. Tech looked very good in transition both offensively and defensively and it showed in the box score. The Hokies had a 12-2 advantage in fast break points.

Was the win enough to put the Hokies in the Big Dance? We won’t know for sure until tomorrow, but my feeling right now is that it did not. Miami was a “lock” team (despite my efforts to put them on the bubble) with 22 wins and the win came away from Cassell Coliseum. The failure of any bubble teams to make a statement in their conference tournaments also helps the Hokies. They finished fourth in the ACC and made the tournament semifinals. They’ve finished well, winning five of six going into the North Carolina game.

However, their RPI and SOS aren’t great, they have losses to Old Dominion and Richmond on their resume and they don’t any eye-popping wins. The committee will justify leaving them out by saying they never did anything to stand out from the other bubble teams.

Everyone I see on ESPN has Tech out of the field. Joe Lunardi is especially down on the Hokies and has them near the bottom of the bubble. However, I think it will be closer than people think because they play in the ACC and won Friday. They are one of the few teams who won when they needed to win. The pressure got to most teams, but Tech was able to come through with a very impressive win when it mattered most. I think the committee will look at that. The Hokies need help to get in, and if they get it they could sneak in as the last team on the bracket. It’s going to be close. Right now I think the Hokies are one of the last two teams out of The Tournament.

The point is moot if the Hokies can beat No. 1 North Carolina in Saturday’s semifinal game. The Hokies lost by 39 to North Carolina in their only regular season meeting Feb. 16 in Chapel Hill. Tech swept the series with the Tar Heels in 2007 and North Carolina definitely got their revenge in this season’s match-up. But if the Hokies pull the upset today, it gives them a marquee win over the nation’s best team in a tournament environment.

The problem is Carolina’s really, really good. Barring another injury to Ty Lawson between now and when the bracket comes out, they will be my pick to win it all. They’re too strong in all facets of the game and there isn’t a single player in the top seven of Tech’s rotation that I would take over anyone in the top seven of Carolina’s rotation. Still, the game will be played, so we just have to be a bunch of Don Quixotes and dream the impossible dream.

Game Guide
Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina

Time: 1:30 p.m.
Place: Bobcats Arena, Charlotte, N.C.
TV: Raycom in the ACC viewing area, ESPN everywhere else

Regular Season: It wasn’t pretty. It was on national TV.

Trends: Virginia Tech won its last game, 63-49 over Miami Friday in the ACC quarterfinal. The Hokies have won five of their last six and eight of their last 12 games. North Carolina won its last game, 82-70 over FSU Friday in the ACC quarterfinal and has won nine consecutive games since losing to Duke Feb. 6. The Tar Heels have not lost a road or neutral court game this season (15-0).

What to expect: North Carolina will run, run, run to get points in transition. The good news is Tech is good at transition D. The bad news is once the break is stopped, Carolina will just throw it down to Tyler Hansbrough and hope for the best. Usually this ends well for the Tar Heels. There probably won’t be much outside shooting in this one. The Tar Heels don’t shoot a lot of threes because they don’t have to and the Hokies don’t shoot a lot of threes because they aren’t very good at it. In the half-court, Tech will try to work down low or drive to the basket to get Hansbrough in foul trouble. This doesn’t work a lot. Hansbrough has fouled out twice in his career, none this season.

Hokies win if: They force turnovers in their transition defense, somehow get Hansbrough in foul trouble and pretty much play a Villanova-in-85 type perfect game.

Tar Heels win if: They don’t beat themselves.

Dot-dot-dots: The Hokies are making their second consecutive appearance in the ACC semifinals…they lost to NC State in last year’s semis…the Tar Heels are looking for their record 29th appearance in the ACC finals…they have 16 ACC tourney championships…Tech is 0-5 all-time vs. UNC in Charlotte.

Rooting Guide
The best part about being a bubble team is rooting against other bubble teams. That’s probably just because I’m a schadenfreude. Here’s who we’re rooting against/for on Saturday and Sunday:

TBA – Georgia (out) over Kentucky (bubble)
TBA – Tennessee (lock) over Arkansas (bubble)
TBA – Mississippi State (lock) over Ga./Ky. winner (out/bubble)
11:35 a.m. – Memphis (lock) over Tulsa (out)
1 p.m. – Tennessee (lock) over Arkansas (bubble)
4:30 p.m. – Kansas (lock) over Texas A&M (bubble)
6 p.m. – Saint Joseph’s (bubble) over Temple (out)
Saint Joseph’s is likely in after beating Xavier. A loss by them could keep Tech out.
7 p.m. – BYU (lock) over UNLV (bubble)
7 p.m. – Kent State (lock) over Akron (out)

1 p.m. – SEC – Tennessee or Mississippi State
3 p.m. – Big 12 – Anyone but Texas A&M
3:30 p.m. – Big Ten – Michigan State or Wisconsin

Today’s Schedule/Picks
1:30 p.m. – UNC over VT
3ish p.m. – Duke over Clemson

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