Monday, March 15, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Exclusion shouldn't surprise Hokies

Outrage gets you nowhere. Not this year, with the field as weak as it is.

Go ahead: Blast the NCAA tournament selection committee. Rip Jay Bilas for saying on television that Virginia Tech didn't do enough. Laud Dick Vitale and Bob Knight -- the same Knight who advocated expanding to a ridiculous 128-team field at this time a year ago -- for sticking up for the Hokies, for saying they got jobbed, for pointing out the flaws of others who got in instead of Tech on Sunday night.

Feel better?

Didn't think so.

All noise. Worthless noise.

It's brutal to be told you're not good enough. But when that happens, you have two options:

1. Blame everybody but yourself, then go back to doing the same things you've always done, or

2. Swallow hard and make changes.

Let's deal in reality here. The Hokies knew they were a bubble team. And this year, simply being a bubble team meant your resume had at least one glaring flaw. Once the shock and disappointment fades in Blacksburg -- and that might take a while -- they would be wise to admit what theirs was and take steps to prevent a repeat.

The Hokies set a goal to make the NCAA tournament, but they scheduled like they weren't sure they were ready to meet it. Some of the nonconference slate was out of their control -- getting assigned woeful Iowa in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, for example -- but most of it was coach Seth Greenberg's call.

Longwood? UMBC? North Carolina Central? UNC Greensboro? Yes, you can play them. Yes, you will beat them.

But as selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero said on a conference call Sunday night, "it certainly leaves your team at risk."

It's a risk Greenberg was willing to take because he thought the heft of his conference would rescue him.

"We've got 16 chances to impress the NCAA committee -- plus Seton Hall," Greenberg said in December, when he was 11 games into a nonconference schedule that would wind up 344th in the RPI. "So it's not like we don't have opportunities to impress people."

He was right about that but wrong about the number. As it turned out, thanks to the unbalanced league schedule and the fates of other teams, the Hokies only got six meaningful chances in conference to send the committee a message.

So you could argue that N.C. State, Virginia, North Carolina, Boston College and Miami -- the teams Tech met twice apiece in the regular season -- all did a better job of hosing the Hokies than the selection committee, simply because they struggled so much this season.

There's a bitter, difficult lesson in all this, but Tech must heed it moving forward: You can't leave this stuff up to others. You can't leave yourself twisting in anguish on a March Saturday as another small-conference team grabs a bid you thought you were going to get.

The things you can control, you must. That includes crafting an ambitious nonconference schedule and defeating a banged-up No. 12 seed in the conference tournament, a loss that kept getting bigger as the upsets started rolling in across the country.

All that said, I attended 10 Tech games against ACC opponents this year, including the loss to Miami on Friday. Not once did I drive home believing the Hokies gave anything less than their best effort. That's rare. You go to that many games, you're bound to see a team sleepwalk through at least one of them.

So the Hokies are to be commended for the gallons of sweat they spilled trying to make this tournament. They have every right to be disappointed.

But outraged? No. The fact that the effort was good enough but the resume wasn't should tell them something they don't want to hear at the moment but should.

The system doesn't need to change. They do.

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