Posted March 5, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Nations: Looking ahead to March Madness

Jeff Nations

By Jeff Nations

Rather than snowflake gazing, I thought I'd turn my attention to something that doesn't promise to break my back with shoveling duties. Selection Sunday, the made-for-TV extravaganza breathlessly piping out this year's lucky NCAA men's basketball tournament invitees, is sadly still more than a week away.

Who wants to wait until March 17? Me neither, at least in terms of puzzling out which Virginia programs might make the cut. The past few years have seen the so-called "mid-majors" carrying the state banner in March, and programs like Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, Richmond, George Mason and Norfolk State have done an admirable job of representing Virginia. Is it time for the -- what, "major-majors?" -- to step back into the limelight.

Answer -- I have no idea!

Does that stop some good old speculation? No, no it does not.

Let's commence the speculating, then, by taking a peek at where all our state schools are now, and perhaps a bit of rumination on their best path to the "Big Dance."

• VCU: The Rams top our list, with a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 30 heading into Tuesday night. With a 23-6 overall record, VCU has tallied an impressive 8-6 mark against fellow RPI 100 members. Included are victories over top-50 opponents Memphis, Belmont and Butler. Barring a complete meltdown, VCU looks to be a shoe-in as an at-large selection.

• Virginia: Tougher call here, even with a slew of quality wins against the likes of Wisconsin, North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke. The Cavaliers sit are 62nd in RPI, with a solid 20-9 record so far. More impressive is their overall mark against the RPI top 100 -- 7-2. But Virginia also has a penchant for head-scratching losses, like following up that stunning win over top-ranked Duke with a demoralizing loss to a middling Boston College squad three days later. Still looks like a strong bet for the tournament, though.

• Richmond: Already starting to drop off. The Spiders are decent according to their RPI (81st), but that 17-12 overall mark isn't wowing anybody. Richmond has gone 4-10 against the RPI 100, with the best victory an 86-74 victory over VCU on Jan. 24. The Spiders get another shot at VCU on Wednesday night, and they'd better make the most of it and finish strong to avoid depending on an automatic berth to get in.

• George Mason: Speaking of automatic berths, that's likely what the Patriots are going to need to get into the NCAA field. Their RPI (155) and overall record (17-13) are both lackluster, but GMU does have nice wins over Virginia and Richmond this season, part of a 2-4 mark against the RPI 100.

• Virginia Tech: You can't help but pull for the seemingly lifetime members of the NIT field, but the Hokies have work to do to even get back there this season. Former Millbrook High School sensation Erick Green has done wonders in Blacksburg, but even his gaudy scoring hasn't helped Tech crack the .500 mark (13-16 overall). The Hokies have an RPI of 160, with a 3-11 record against the RPI top 100. They'll need to get red-hot in the ACC tournament -- as in, win it.

• Norfolk State: True, the Spartans haven't picked up any wins in five tries against the RPI 100 this season. But with a 19-10 mark including a sparking 14-0 record against conference opponents, Norfolk State (RPI 174) has taken care of business for the most part. I see no reason why that can't continue in the MEAC tournament, which they'll still need to win to get into the NCAA field.

• James Madison: Low RPI (208), 0-3 against the RPI 100 -- The Dukes will have to win the Colonial Athletic Conference tournament to get into the NCAA field. The 17-14 record is nice, though.

• William & Mary: Again, hope for conference tournament magic. The Tribe won't be getting in based on their RPI (264) or record (12-16).

• Hampton: Never count out the Pirates, I guess. That 13-15 mark and dismal RPI (288) makes it hard not to, however.

• The rest: VMI (10-16, RPI 310), Radford (10-18, RPI 312), Old Dominion (5-25, RPI 315), Liberty (8-20, RPI 324) and Longwood (5-24, RPI 334) are going to need a whole lot of madness to start taking place, and soon.

Out of the lot, I'm expecting three Virginia schools to get the call on Selection Sunday -- VCU, Virginia and Norfolk State. Anything less would be a disappointment, anything more a welcome surprise. We'll see how it all plays out.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>

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