With less than two minutes remaining in their final regular-season game at Cassell Coliseum, Jeff Allen, Malcolm Delaney and Terrell Bell headed for the bench.
Such moments are supposed to include bear hugs from coaches, fist bumps from teammates and standing ovations from the crowd.
Not Tuesday night. By the time coach
subbed for his seniors, fans were fleeing the arena like tourists in Tripoli.
' 76-61 loss to Boston College was that unsightly, as lifeless a performance in the clutch as you're likely to witness.
Of course, the question now becomes, is Tech's quest for an
tournament bid also on life-support?
If you watch the tube, listen to radio or surf the Web, you know how this stuff works. State U is in! State U is out! State U is on the bubble!
And that's all in the matter of a week.
So it's been for Virginia Tech since its last NCAA appearance in 2007. No other program has been so close yet, come Selection Sunday, so far.
To some, Saturday's upset of Duke punched the Hokies' ticket. But calmer, grayer heads knew better.
Virginia Tech is not Duke, Ohio State or Kansas. Given their sketchy credentials, the Hokies couldn't follow that impressive victory with dismal performances the remainder of the regular season.
Well, Tuesday night certainly red-lined the dismal meter. Even basic effort plays such as rebounding and fighting over screens escaped Tech.
During the post-mortem I heard fans and media speculate that absent a victory in Saturday's regular-season finale at Clemson, plus a deep
tournament run, the Hokies were doomed again to the
Such chatter is natural but misses an essential truth: It's impossible to know what any team outside the top 25 or so needs to do to cement an NCAA bid.
That's because we don't know how credentialed the other candidates might be. How will other presumed bubble teams such as Richmond, Michigan and Butler perform in the next week-and-a-half? Will either Old Dominion or
win the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, or will an outlier prevail, throwing the Monarchs and Patriots into the at-large pool.
Without those answers, assessing Virginia Tech's chances is a crap shoot.
We do know that the 10-member tournament selection committee pores through data like a sommelier does grape juice, and that among the criteria are record versus the top 50, record versus the top 100, and non-conference strength of schedule.
The hundreds of games remaining across the country change the numbers hourly, but as of Wednesday afternoon, here's how Virginia Tech compared with some other NCAA hopefuls.
The Hokies are 2-6 against the top 50 and 7-6 against the top 100 with a non-conference SOS of 148. This according to Jerry Palm's CollegeRPI.com.
Butler's numbers, the same sequence: 3-3, 5-6 and 10.
Richmond 1-3, 4-6 and 195.
Boston College 1-6, 7-10 and 43. (Those surprised me.)
Michigan 2-8, 8-11 and 62.
Memphis 4-3, 9-6 and 113.
Memphis is the sole team among that six-pack with a winning record against the top 50; Virginia Tech and Memphis are the only ones north of .500 versus the top 100.
But the committee is not, and should not be, beholden to statistics. After months of watching games in person, on TV and on tape, subjective judgments must be made.
Does Virginia Tech (19-9, 9-6 ACC) belong in the NCAA tournament? Saturday the answer seemed "of course." Tuesday was the polar opposite.
After Clemson, yet another bubble team, we'll know more.
"We've got great opportunities just down the road," coach Seth Greenberg said. "We'll bus down to Clemson and try to get a road win. Our guys have bounced back all season long."
They need to again, now more than ever.
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