Inside the Numbers: Assessing VT's Chances of Making the NIT
by Kevin Cuddihy, 3/9/04

Well, they did it. With a win over the Georgetown Hoyas on Saturday, the Virginia Tech Hokies became eligible for postseason play for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, when they went 16-15 in their final year in the Atlantic 10 but were bypassed due most likely to the weak status of the A-10. VT's last postseason bid came in 1995-96, when they went 23-6 and got to the second round of the NCAAs before losing to eventual champ Kentucky.

What becomes of this eligibility, though? Is a .500 record enough to get to the NIT from the Big East, or will VT be passed over like they were in 1994 out of the Metro Conference, 18-10 record and all? Let's take a look.

To begin, let's examine three of the most important factors: RPI, record, and last ten. As of March 7, Virginia Tech's RPI stood at 113, with a 1-5 record versus Top 25 teams, 1-3 record versus 26-50 teams, and 2-2 record versus 51-100 teams. They play in the third-ranked conference according to the RPI as well, so that 7-9 in-conference record speaks well. Further, nine of the teams ahead of VT in the RPI ratings have losing records and are not eligible for the NIT. Another couple could find themselves ineligible after conference tournaments. That in effect informally boosts VT's rating. With 40 teams making the NIT, added onto the sixty-five of the NCAA, that puts VT right on the fringe, or the NIT "bubble."

Again, Virginia Tech's current record is 14-13. Even with a loss in the first round of the Big East Tournament, the Hokies will still be eligible for the NIT. While a team may make the NCAAs with a losing record by virtue of winning its conference tournament, all NIT invitations are "at-large" bids and thus each team must be .500 or better. So the first question is answered with "Yes, Virginia Tech qualifies."

Let's take a closer look at that record. Perhaps most important in there are good wins and bad losses. As I mentioned earlier, VT has one win versus a top 25 team -- a 69-57 home win over the Providence Friars, ranked #12 in the March 7 RPI. Virginia Tech also beat #44 Rutgers, 71-70. Its two 51-100 wins came against West Virginia, ranked #92. On the loss side, VT takes it on the chin somewhat with losses to #139 Ohio State, #147 ECU, and #159 Miami. Digging deeper, Tech's out of conference schedule surely hurts, with seven teams ranked 237 or lower (Western Carolina, New Hampshire, Morgan State, VMI, Radford, Towson, and William and Mary).

Moving on, let's look at the last ten. Counting the Georgetown game, VT is 6-4 in their last ten games, with three of their four Top 100 wins coming in this 10-game span. That's called peaking at the right time. Prior to a win in game two of this span, Tech had lost five straight and seven of eight, so they turned the season around nicely. And if the NIT counts the Big East Tournament, it's likely to stay at 6-4. A loss in the first round would drop a loss to Syracuse out of the "last ten" running count, and a win in the first round then loss in the second round would drop a win and a loss. Only if VT gets to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament would their last-ten record change.

Those are the standard positives for VT, but there's one more. It's more a trend than a positive, but it's a strong trend. Check out the chart below, which I cribbed from my basketball article for TSL last year. It's the record and postseason destination for the fourteen current Big East teams since the 1986-87 season.

Big East Men's Basketball in Postseason Play
Yellow = NIT Appearance Blue = NCAA Appearance
Team86-8787-8888-89 89-90 90-91 91-92 92-93 93-94 94-95 95-9696-97
Boston College 11-18 18-15 12-17 8-20 11-19 17-14 18-13 23-11 9-1919-11 22-9
Georgetown 29-5 20-10 29-5 24-7 19-13 22-10 20-13 19-12 21-10 29-8 20-10
Miami 15-16 17-14 19-12 13-15 9-19 8-24 10-17 7-20 15-13 15-13 16-13
Notre Dame 24-8 20-9 21-9 16-13 12-20 18-15 9-18 12-17 15-12 9-18 16-14
Pittsburgh 25-8 24-7 17-13 12-17 21-12 18-16 17-11 13-14 10-18 10-17 18-15
Providence 25-9 11-17 18-11 17-12 19-13 14-17 20-13 20-10 17-13 18-12 24-12
Rutgers 8-20 7-22 18-13 18-17 19-10 16-15 13-15 11-16 13-14 9-18 11-16
Seton Hall 15-14 22-13 31-7 12-16 25-9 23-9 28-7 17-13 16-14 12-16 10-18
St. John's 21-9 17-12 20-13 24-10 23-9 19-11 19-11 12-17 14-14 11-16 13-14
Syracuse 31-7 26-9 30-8 26-7 26-6 22-10 20-9 23-7 20-10 29-9 19-13
UConn 9-19 20-14 18-13 31-6 20-11 20-10 15-13 29-5 28-5 32-3 18-15
Villanova 15-16 24-13 18-16 18-15 17-15 14-15 8-19 20-12 25-8 26-7 24-10
Virginia Tech 10-18 19-10 11-17 13-18 13-16 10-18 10-18 18-10 25-10 23-6 15-16
West Virginia 23-8 18-14 26-5 16-12 17-14 20-12 17-12 17-12 13-13 12-15 21-10


97-98 98-99 99-00 00-01 01-02 02-03 Total Pct NCAA NIT Total
Boston College 15-16 6-21 11-19 27-5 20-12 19-12 266-251 0.514 5 4 9
Georgetown 16-15 15-16 19-15 25-8 19-11 19-15 365-183 0.666 11 5 16
Miami 18-10 23-723-11 16-13 24-811-17 259-242 0.516 437
Notre Dame 13-14 14-16 22-15 20-10 22-11 24-10 287-229 0.556 7 3 10
Pittsburgh 11-16 14-16 13-15 19-14 29-6 28-5 299-220 0.576 7 3 10
Providence 13-16 16-14 11-19 21-10 15-16 18-14 297-228 0.565 6 6 12
Rutgers 14-15 19-13 15-16 11-16 18-13 12-16 232-251 0.4672 5 7
Seton Hall 15-15 15-15 22-10 16-15 12-18 17-13 308-222 0.581 7 6 13
St. John's 22-10 28-9 25-8 14-15 20-12 21-13 323-203 0.614 10 3 13
Syracuse 26-9 21-12 26-6 25-9 23-13 30-5 422-149 0.739 14 2 16
UConn 32-5 34-2 25-10 20-12 27-7 23-10 401-160 0.714 11 5 16
Villanova 12-17 21-11 20-13 18-13 19-13 15-16 314-229 0.578 7 8 15
Virginia Tech 10-17 13-15 16-15 8-19 10-18 11-18 235-259 0.475 1 1 2
West Virginia 24-910-19 14-14 17-12 8-20 14-15 287-216 0.570 4 6 10

In those 17 years there were 21 Big East teams with 16 or fewer wins and the requisite .500 or better record. A whopping NINETEEN of them went on to play in the NIT. The only two that didn't were WVU in 1999-2000 and Miami in 1995-96. (Note that Syracuse in 1992-93 and Georgetown in 2001-02 did not go to any postseason play; both schools turned down an NIT invitation.)

Looking at the recent figures, over the past six years there are ten such teams; nine of them went to the NIT. Included in that total are such records as 15-16 (twice), 16-15 (twice), and 15-15. So Virginia Tech at 14-14 or 15-14 fits right in.

Those are the plusses for VT, but there are minuses. As discussed before, the Hokies suffered a few losses to low-ranked teams, and rang up a number of non-conference wins against the dregs of the NCAA. That will affect the committee. Further, the Hokies also suffered three lopsided losses, to Pitt, Syracuse, and Rutgers.

Next, while a 7-9 record in the third-best conference in the nation is certainly impressive, one can not ignore how it was achieved. The Big East this year used a weighted schedule, giving each team three home-and-home in-conference series based on last year's performance. For VT, that meant they played West Virginia, Georgetown, and Rutgers twice each. Hardly a murderer's row. VT's 5-1 record against those three went a long way in compiling that 7-9 overall ledger (the other two wins were the aforementioned Providence victory and a one-point win over pathetic St. John's).

Further, while the trend of .500 Big East teams making it to the NIT is extremely impressive, the RPI still remains a factor. According to the RPI archives, here are the rankings of the teams since 1998-99 that had 16 or fewer wins and a .500 record or better:

Villanova 02-03: 65
Miami 00-01: 74
Seton Hall 00-01: 80
Rutgers 99-00: 108
WVU 99-00: 97
Virginia Tech 99-00: 124
Providence 98-99: 64
Georgetown 98-99: 79
Seton Hall 98-99: 81

West Virginia and VT (when VT was a member of the A-10) are the only two that didn't get a postseason invitation. Notice anything there? Take out Rutgers in 2000 and the highest RPI is 81. The Hokies are a far, far cry from 81 in the RPI. Rutgers in 2000 is encouraging, however, as they got in with a .500 record (losing in the first round of the NIT) with that low RPI and the Big East's status as merely the sixth-best conference that season. I find it odd, however, that they were chosen over conference-mate West Virginia with the same conference record, an RPI eleven spots higher and a higher-ranked win. I found it even odder when I discovered that WVU swept the season series with Rutgers that year as well.

Also figuring to harm Virginia Tech is the glut of mediocre teams in this year's Big East. Prior to the Big East tourney, there are an amazing seven teams with between thirteen and sixteen wins. Ten of the fourteen teams look to be eligible for postseason play, with Georgetown and Villanova available to add to that, if they can win two or more games in the tournament. How many teams will the Big East send to the NCAAs? According to the March 6 Washington Post, they'll send six. That leaves Rutgers, Notre Dame, West Virginia, and VT fighting for NIT spots. That's not so out of the ordinary -- the Big East sent four or more teams to the NIT four of the last five years, including sending SIX teams twice in that span. But if the NIT decides to only select three, the Hokies could be in trouble because of that RPI.

So where does that leave the Hokies, then? And where does it leave Hokie fans? Who to root for?

To begin with, of course root for the Hokies in the Big East Tournament. Two wins in the tourney (and a 16-14 record) will almost certainly get Tech into the NIT. That will be a last-ten of 7-3, two more Top 50 RPI wins, a trip to the conference semifinals, and a certain-to-be-improved RPI. A first-round victory in the tourney with a second-round loss will makes things dicey. It would keep the last-ten record at 6-4, an overall record of 15-14, would add another Top 50 win to the ledger (with Rutgers, Tech's first-round opponent), and would "only" add a quality loss, as it would come to a top-four seed. A loss to Rutgers, along with the 14-14 record, and it starts to get even dicier.

As for who to root for, for a team on the NIT bubble you're rooting exactly opposite as with those on the bubble in the NCAA. You want the favorites to win the conference tournaments. You want the one-seed to win in one-bid conferences. Otherwise, that one-seed will take up an NIT bid where a three-seed or four-seed from that same conference would likely not. Favorites are your friend; the fewer surprises that sneak into the NCAA means the fewer bubble teams that burst into the NITs.

What's it all mean? Where does that leave VT? In all honesty no one can say for sure. On the plus side, VT is 6-4 in their last ten, has a win over a Top 25 team that not many others on the NIT bubble will have, and went 7-9 in the third-ranked conference. And they can point to the trend of Big East teams at .500 or better making the tournament over ninety percent of the time. For the detractors, VT feasted on patsies in non-conference play and took advantage of a weighted conference schedule, and has an RPI sure to be on the low end of NIT bubble teams. And they're a departing member of the Big East conference, which might play a part in a selection committee of five that includes a St. John's athletic department official.

My prediction: One or more wins in the Big East tourney gets the Hokies a bid. They'll be 15-14 minimum, have an improved RPI, and have an added Top 50 win over Rutgers. A loss to Rutgers, and I think the Hokies will be on the outside looking in. A 14-14 record with Tech's RPI will prove to be too much baggage to pass over teams with both a better RPI and a better record, but no Top 25 or Top 50 wins. The only way I think Tech gets an invite is if even in losing to Rutgers their RPI gets close to 100 and there are a bare minimum of surprises in other conference tournaments -- again, the more NCAA bubble teams that make it, the better.

Coach Greenberg has done a wonderful job with the Hokies this year. The next few years should prove to be extremely difficult, with losing Bryant Matthews and moving to the top conference in the nation. An NIT bid now would do nicely to whet the appetite of the Hokies' freshman and sophomore players and might prove to be just the motivation they need to make sure they return to the postseason before their time at Tech is up. Rutgers versus Virginia Tech, Wednesday at noon on ESPN. For the first time in years ... it's tourney time!!

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