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Virginia Tech used to tense finishes

ATLANTA -- Virginia Tech is facing an important meeting with Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon. A win would virtually make the Hokies a lock for the NCAA tournament. A defeat would put them on the hot seat in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

But while it will surely be a pressure-packed meeting here against the Yellow Jackets, Virginia Tech has become accustomed to such critical late regular-season games in recent years. There are plenty of examples from the past two seasons, both of which ended up with the Hokies making appearances in the National Invitation Tournament.

Two seasons ago, Virginia Tech had lost all six of its meetings against teams in the Rating Percentage Index top 50 entering its regular season finale at Clemson, which was among those top-rated teams. But the Hokies dropped a heart-breaker to the Tigers, 70-69, after Demontez Stitt made two free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining.

"It is just a damn shame that it came down to that," Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said afterward.

Prior to then, only two ACC teams have finished 9-7 in the league and missed the NCAA tournament: Virginia in 2000 and Florida State in 2006.

A win at Clemson, coupled with their win over Miami in ACC tournament five days later, would have almost certainly put the Hokies in the NCAA tournament. As it was, the Hokies fell to North Carolina in the ACC tournament quarterfinals and were left out.

But after the loss to the Tigers, Virginia Tech's Deron Washington summed up a night that changed the Hokies' season: "We let one get away."

Last season, Virginia Tech also had the chance to play its way into the tournament late in the regular season.

All of the Hokies' final five games were against teams in the RPI top 50. With a strong finish, Virginia Tech would have probably nudged itself in to the NCAA tournament. Instead, it lost all but one of those games against quality opponents.

Then the Hokies went to the ACC tournament and defeated Miami in the opening round before losing to North Carolina in the quarterfinals, mirroring the exact path they took a year earlier. And just the same, Virginia Tech ended up sitting out the Big Dance.

"I don't think we're going to get in," Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney said after the loss to the Tar Heels. "I believe we should, but I'm not looking forward to Sunday. I don't want to look forward to looking at teams getting in and we don't get in like last season."

Virginia Tech's current predicament most closely mirrors its predicament two years ago in terms of having an all-important regular-season finale in which it can, basically, make or break its at-large chances.

Meeting the Yellow Jackets, who rank 35th in the RPI, represents a chance at another needed quality victory for the Hokies; they are 2-4 against teams in the RPI top 50. But loss here would put Virginia Tech's NCAA tournament chances in jeopardy, as it would need to serious work in the ACC tournament in order to get back into the bracket.

It's the same story for the Hokies, but will it be the same ending for a third year in a row?

By Mark Viera  |  March 6, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
 
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