Before the season started, no one expected Virginia Tech to be more than an ACC bottom feeder with Wabissa Bede being the only returning starter and almost all scoring production gone. That showed when the media picked the Hokies 14th out of 15 in the ACC before the season with that prediction seeming more than reasonable given the combination of change and youth. It also included myself making the prediction that this would be a "true rebuilding season" and that Tech would not be able to avoid the first day of the ACC Tournament.
However, the Hokies have been one of the ACC's biggest positive surprises looking like a mid-tier ACC team at worst while giving themselves opportunities to achieve goals that only those inside the Tech locker room could have thought were maybe possible before the season.
Of course, there is still a long ways to go and I still wouldn't be surprised to see the Hokies fade as ACC play gets going. However, the fact that Virginia Tech seems in strong position and good enough to at least make the NIT is a simply incredible accomplishment with the future looking extremely bright with Mike Young at the helm.
Entering 2020, Virginia Tech has what is a solid NCAA Tournament resume with a 9-3 record that includes Quadrant 1 victory against Michigan State, Quadrant 2 victory at Clemson, and all 3 losses coming in Quadrant 1.
Because of that, many bracketologists have the Hokies on the bubble currently with CBS Sports' Jerry Palm having the Hokies as his first team out, and ESPN's Joe Lunardi having the Hokies among his Next 4 Out. Additionally, America's best bracketologist according to the Bracket Matrix currently has Tech among his First 4 Out.
In most years, that would put Virginia Tech in the type of position where simply going 10-10 or 11-9 in ACC play may be enough to make the NCAA Tournament.
However, a down ACC has made the road much harder for the Hokies who may need to go 12-8 or 13-7 at least to have a serious chance of making this year's NCAA Tournament.
The down ACC shows in the NCAA's NET rankings where, as of December 23rd, the Hokies were the fifth highest-ranked ACC team. Now that would usually be a great compliment and a sign that the Hokies were well on their to making the Big Dance.
Instead, the Hokies are currently ranked 59th in the NCAA's NET rankings, one of 5 ACC teams in the top 60. For comparison, the Big 10 has 12 teams in the top 60, the Big East has 9 teams, the 10-team Big 12 has 6 teams, the SEC has 6 teams, and even the Pac-12 has 6 teams; putting the ACC at the bottom among the 6 biggest conferences.
On top of that, the AAC has 4 teams in the top 60, the Mountain West and West Coast Conference each have 3 teams, and the Atlantic 10 has 3 teams with 2 teams in the 61-70 range compared to only Virginia for the Hokies.
While the ACC has teams like Virginia and North Carolina outside the top 60 that seem likely to rise back up plus Pittsburgh inside the top 75 and Miami getting closer, the Hokies have a big schedule issue that has reduced their margin for error. In general, the only ACC teams that have really exceeded expectations are the Hokies, N.C. State, and Florida State; another issue for a league that was expected to weaker anyway.
So what does all of this mean? At the moment, Virginia Tech only has 4 Quadrant 1 games remaining on the schedule, 3 of which come on the road (at Virginia, vs. Florida State, at Duke, at Louisville). While there's a chance for a couple more games to jump into that group, that's still not a deep list or a list that has many good opportunities with a January 4th trip at Virginia potentially being one of the best opportunities on that list.
Meanwhile, Tech has more traps than usual for ACC play with 7 Quadrant 3 games (vs. Syracuse, vs. North Carolina, at Boston College, at Georgia Tech, vs. Boston College, vs. Miami, vs. Clemson). Now a couple those games likely will climb out of that quadrant especially their home games against North Carolina and Miami but currently, that's a lot of minefields for a young basketball team to try to avoid, especially one that has been streaky shooting the basketball at times in non-conference play (see Chattanooga, VMI).
The biggest issue for the Hokies is that while their non-conference strength of schedule is better than usual but not great at 270th, their overall strength of schedule won't get nearly the boost as you would normally expect.
According to Seed-Madness, Virginia Tech's current strength of schedule ranks 190th in the country. For comparison, New Mexico, Richmond, Northern Iowa, and UNC Greensboro are among the mid-major bubble teams that currently have stronger overall strength of schedule than the Hokies.
That's simply unprecedented for an ACC team, especially one that played in Maui against three teams in very good shape to make the NCAA Tournament in Michigan State, Dayton, and BYU; all of whom are helping to carry their strength of schedule rating.
Because of that, Virginia Tech's small NCAA Tournament hopes are smaller in small ways than they would be for a young team such as this that will likely be inconsistent at times during ACC play. However, a weaker ACC play could be better as well for the Hokies for doing better than expected and potentially making a run at the 12-8 minimum type ACC record that could give the Hokies a realistic chance at surprising everyone and making a fourth-straight NCAA Tournament.
For Virginia Tech fans dreaming of a shocking run at the NCAA Tournament no one outside of the Hokies' locker room could have imagined, be warned that a down ACC is going to be a major problem.