Whereas Virginia Tech has narrowly missed the NCAA tournament each of the past four seasons despite averaging 21.8 wins a year, the Hokies may have to exceed expectations the rest of the winter simply to play their way onto the bubble.
A 69-61 home loss to Kansas State on Sunday dropped Virginia Tech to 5-3 and represented another wasted opportunity for the Hokies to secure a much-needed marquee non-league victory. They previously squandered a second-half lead against Syracuse in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals and failed to win at Minnesota last Wednesday even though the Gophers were without starting big men Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III.
A neutral-court win over struggling Oklahoma State is the best win Virginia Tech has so far, which isn't encouraging considering the rest of its schedule. The ACC won't have another Top 25 team besides North Carolina and Duke when the new polls are released Monday and the only remaining non-league games of note for the Hokies are a Dec. 31 rematch with Oklahoma State and a Jan. 25 matchup with BYU.
Virginia Tech's sluggish start isn't a complete shock since the Hokies graduated leading scorers Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen and lost high-energy forward J.T. Thompson to a November ACL tear. Nonetheless, the combination of returning guards Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson and promising newcomer Dorian Finney-Smith raised expectations once again that this would be the year Virginia Tech ended its NCAA tournament jinx.
The primary culprit for the Hokies' back-to-back losses has been inefficient offense aside from Green and freshman guard Robert Brown.
Virginia Tech shot 37.7 percent from the field against Minnesota and 33.8 percent against Kansas State. Dorenzo Hudson went scoreless against the Gophers and tallied just seven points against the Wildcats, while top big man Victor Davila managed just one point in 17 foul-plagued minutes on Sunday. Even Green struggled against Kansas State, scoring 14 points but on 4-for-17 shooting.
Quality interior depth may be a season-long issue for the Hokies, but the hope is that the perimeter unit can carry the team as Finney-Smith becomes more consistent and Hudson regains his previous form.
That it didn't happen Sunday gave Kansas State a chance to take some revenge on behalf of its football program. On the same day as Sugar Bowl officials made an unpopular choice by selecting Virginia Tech instead of Kansas State, the Wildcats handed the Hokies a hoops loss that may have ramifications in March.