ESPN's Joe Lunardi gave us an early preview of what the new 68-team March Madness field is going to look like three months from now. While it's a little premature to start making predictions when conference play is barely underway - at the time of this article, Virginia and Virginia Tech are the only two teams to have played a conference game (in case you'd like to be reminded, the ‘Hoos took care of business in Blacksburg, 57-54) - Virginia fans are quick to note that the Cavaliers are currently a No. 12 seed in the Bracketologist's first round of predictions.
Whoa there, slow it down, cowboy. Virginia has precisely two quality wins so far this season - one against No. 13 Minnesota and one against Preseason ACC No. 3 Virginia Tech. By virtue of the conference victory, Virginia leads the ACC with a 1-0 record. Keep in mind, no other ACC team has played a conference game yet, which means that by default, Virginia receives the automatic bid from the conference.
Despite a 6-3 record, it's unclear whether Virginia would be in the field of 68 were it not for the 1-0 ACC record. This unabashed homer would like to think so, but it's by no means a guarantee at this point.
Virginia's three losses have come to Washington, Wichita State and Stanford. In Lunardi's Bracketology, Washington is given a No. 6 seed as the automatic qualifier from the PAC 10. Meanwhile, Wichita State is a No. 10 seed, as the automatic qualifier from the Missouri Valley Conference (the same conference that produced Northern Iowa last year). So all in all, not too shabby. Stanford is not even a bubble team (nor should they be).
Meanwhile, though Virginia fans were excited to see the Cavaliers defeat Jeff Capel's Oklahoma Sooners in Maui, Oklahoma is seating near the bottom of the conference with a 4-5 record. The same can be said of many of the other teams Virginia's beaten so far - William & Mary, USC Upstate and Radford, certainly.
I question whether Virginia Tech is even considered a quality win this season. Preseason rankings, as North Carolina knows, means nothing in terms of whether a team will make the NCAA Tournament come March. The Hokies own a 4-4 record, and while they've had a more challenging out-of-conference schedule as compared to last year (file this under, "Lessons Learned"), they've failed to win most of those key games (file this under, "Still Learning"). VPI's wins come from Campbell, UNC Greensboro, the mighty Cal State Northridge Matadors, and bubble team Oklahoma State, while losses come to No. 3 Kansas, UNLV, No. 18 Purdue, and UVA. The Hokies have not won the games they're supposed to, and that has an impact on Virginia's tournament chances.
The Bracketologist also breaks down the odds of some of the teams' making the tournament. Despite being an automatic qualifier at this point, Virginia is projected to only have a 35% chance of making the tournament come March. By comparison, Virginia Tech is given a 50% chance.
These next six games are all lose-lose for Virginia. It would be nice to head into the bulk of ACC play with a 9 game winning streak, but for the most part, wins over these six out-of-conference squads won't mean much, while losses could be devastating. Iowa State is currently 8-2 (without quality wins), but the other five teams (Oregon, Norfolk State, Seattle, LSU and Howard) combine for a 15-27 record. None of the next six teams are a projected bracket team at this point.
Here's the bottom line: Virginia is a No. 12 seed as of right this moment, according to Joe Lunardi. Fans should be proud of the team's successes, but they should be cautious in celebration, as the ups and downs of this team depends on the performance of the freshmen contingent on any given night. With senior big man Will Sherrill out indefinitely, there's all the more reason for Wahoo Nation to proceed with caution.