Virginia Tech was in the running for consecutive NCAA tournament bids heading into Monday night’s game against No. 5 Duke, but after the Hokies upset the Blue Devils, 64-63, they are a lock to be in the Big Dance in March. The Hokies haven’t reached back-to-back NCAA tournaments since 1985 and 1986.
“[Duke] may be the best team in the country, arguably coached by the best coach in the country,” Hokies Coach Buzz Williams said after the game. “I didn’t see it coming.”
It may be time to stop doubting Williams and this year’s Hokies. The victory over Duke was Tech’s fourth win this year over a team currently in the top 10 of the Rating Percentage Index and fourth win this season over a team ranked in the Associated Press top 25 — a program record. Per ESPN Stats and Information, the Hokies have also won three straight against AP top-five teams for the first time since 2006-07.
That year, under Coach Seth Greenberg, Virginia Tech went 22-12, 10-6 in conference play, outscoring opponents by 14.4 points per game after adjusting for strength of schedule. In 2017-18, the Hokies are outscoring opponents by an adjusted margin of 15.4 points per game, making this iteration the best Virginia Tech has ever had as a member of the ACC. By that statistical measure, this season’s team trails only the 1975-76 squad, coached by Don DeVoe in one of the school’s final years as an independent, for the best Hokies team of all time.
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The key to Virginia Tech’s success this season is balance. The Hokies are one of the best shooting teams in the nation this year, hitting 38.8 percent of their three-point shots and a robust 57.6 percent of their two-point attempts, giving them an effective field goal rate that is the 11th best in the nation (57.8 percent) through Monday’s games.
Senior guard Justin Bibbs is one the best spot-up shooters in the country, averaging 1.1 points per possession (21st out of 640 players with at least 100 spot-up attempts), with a no-dribble jumper that carries an effective field goal rate of 62 percent. Junior guard Justin Robinson is almost as good on those looks (58 eFG%) with the added ability of breaking down a defender in isolation (1.2 points per possession, top 7 percent of college players this season). Around the rim, forward Kerry Blackshear Jr., a 6-foot-10 junior, converts 70 percent of his attempts, including a point per possession in the post and 1.3 points per putback off offensive rebounds.
No team is better in transition (minimum 500 possessions), where the Hokies score 58 percent of the time (1.2 points per play).
Defensively, Virginia Tech concedes 99.4 points per 100 possessions, placing them 56th in the nation according to Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. But they excel at stopping ballhandlers on pick-and-rolls, allowing them to score just 30 percent of the time. Only four other teams facing at least 300 possessions are better: Maryland, Old Dominion, Clemson and Rutgers. Blackshear is also a staunch defender in the low post, holding opponents to a field goal rate of just 34 percent against.
According to The Post’s bracketologist, Patrick Stevens, Virginia Tech has played well enough to earn a No. 10 seed in the South. The bracket projection on TeamRankings.com agrees, but also gives Virginia Tech a 42 percent chance of earning a No. 9 seed or better.
A spot or two might not sound like a big difference, but it could have an impact on how far the Hokies go in the tournament. Since 2011, the first year the tournament expanded to 68 teams, teams seeded 10th or worse win an average of 0.5 games in the tournament. The average number of wins for teams seeded between No. 6 and No. 9 — a realistic placement for this year’s Hokies — is 0.8. That’s enough to boost their chances of making the Elite Eight, just based on seed alone, from 21 percent to 38 percent, a huge improvement for a school that hasn’t made it past the second round since 1967.
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