Virginia's Evan Nolte fouls N.C. State's T.J. Warren chasing a loose ball (Getty Images)If Virginia can remain in the upper third of the ACC standings a few more weeks, it may soon emerge as the nation's most fascinating bubble team.
The Cavaliers upset No. 19 NC State 58-55 on Tuesday night to improve to 15-5 overall and 5-2 in ACC play, behind only first-place Miami. Teams that are ahead of both Duke and North Carolina in the ACC standings typically have very little trouble reaching the NCAA tournament, but those teams also didn't suffer disastrous losses the way Virginia has.
In non-conference play, Virginia lost to George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion, three CAA teams well outside the RPI top 100. The 63-61 loss to Old Dominion is the heaviest anchor on the Cavaliers' NCAA tournament resume because the struggling Monarchs are just 2-17 this season and currently rank 322nd in the RPI.
Couple that with a damaging league loss to Wake Forest and six non-conference victories over teams ranked 200 and above in the RPI, and it's easy to see why Virginia's resume has suffered. The Cavs are No. 109 in the RPI, smack in between middling Evansville and Conference USA also-ran Tulsa.
What is working in Virginia's favor is it will have opportunities to notch some more quality wins and improve its strength of schedule. Not only have the Cavaliers already defeated Wisconsin, North Carolina, NC State and Florida State, they also have two games left against Maryland and one apiece against Miami, North Carolina and Duke.
The question is how many ACC wins it will take for Virginia to feel good about its chances of making the field of 68.
The only ACC team this century to earn 10 or more league wins and not make the NCAA tournament was star-crossed Virginia Tech, which finished 23-8 and 10-6 in 2010 yet landed in the NIT because of a woeful non-league schedule. Even 12 to 14 wins in a major conference are no guarantee of an NCAA bid, however, as Alabama discovered in 2011 and Washington and Oregon learned last year.
The bad news for Virginia is history suggests the selection committee will take its RPI into account when determining if it's worthy of a bid. The good news for the Cavs is history also suggests they have time to improve their RPI in the final five weeks of the regular season.
About this time last year, Cincinnati's RPI was above 100 because of a awful non-league schedule. Granted the Bearcats had more opportunities against elite foes in the Big East than Virginia does in the ACC, but they were able to go on such a tear to end the season they earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.
That type of meteoric rise is improbable for Virginia. The Cavaliers have a much better chance to be among the more hotly debated bubble teams approaching Selection Sunday.