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Are Miami, Virginia Tech playing a NCAA elimination game?

February 7, 2017 Columns No Comments

With just about a month to go before the field is filled for the 2017 NCAA basketball tournament (March 12), potential “bubble” teams will begin jockeying for position over the next few weeks.

Two of those teams will clash in Coral Gables Wednesday when Miami hosts Virginia Tech.

Both teams come into the 9 p.m. game with 5-5 records in Atlantic Coast Conference play so the winner will have a leg up in the ACC race. At least for a while. They have a rematch in Blacksburg on Feb. 27.

Miami is 15-7 overall, Tech 16-6, so they will be left with identical overall records if the Hurricanes hold serve at home.

The Hokies, with wins over Duke and Clemson (Top 50 RPI) and New Mexico, Nebraska, Michigan (on the road), Ole Miss, Syracuse, and Georgia Tech (Top 100), have the advantage in RPI score with their No. 44 ranking as of Monday afternoon.

The Hurricanes are No. 55. They have a huge win over No. 4 North Carolina, and also wins over Top 100 teams Pittsburgh, Stanford, and North Carolina State (twice). The Hurricanes lost to Top 50 teams Florida State, Florida, Duke, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, and Iowa State. The Hokies have Top 50 losses to North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia, Wake and Notre Dame.

Strength of schedule is fairly close at this point with Miami at No. 62 and Tech at No. 70.

Of course, RPI is only one tool committee members will use in filling out the at-large spots in the 68-team field, but such similarities in résumés could make the two head-to-head match-ups even more telling when it comes to Tech and Miami.

Another factor that will come into play is how many ACC teams the committee may accept. Preseason speculation had as many as nine teams from the 15-team conference eventually making it, but that could mean accepting a team or two with double-digit defeats.

It’s certainly not that difficult to see both Miami and Tech ending up with 10 losses each. After the trip to Miami, the Hokies still have games left against Virginia at home, at Pittsburgh and Louisville, home against Clemson, at Boston College, and back home against Miami and Wake Forest.

Miami has a trip to Louisville coming up after hosting Tech, then two home games against Georgia Tech and Clemson for an opportunity to build some momentum before looking at a finishing stretch of three of four on the road-at Virginia, home against Duke, at Virginia Tech and at Florida State.

When the dust settles from all that, maybe one gets in, both get in, or neither gets in.

Asked Monday if having three of the next four games at home will give his club the opportunity to build some momentum going into the final weeks, Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga got down to basics.

“What you need to do is play well,” he said. “What I was very pleased about the other day”-that would be Saturday afternoon when Miami rallied to win 84-79 at North Carolina State for a second time and avoid what could have been a devastating loss-“we were not able to stop them. They shot 56 percent overall and 60 percent from 3 and 82 percent from the foul line, and we still won.

“That means we got a lot of contributions offense to make that happen. So what we are attempting to do is to continue to tweak our offense to get more opportunities to put more points on the board and also take into consideration what we want to do defensively. We don’t want to slip defensively.”

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