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Virginia's case for an NCAA tournament bid grows even weaker
"Honestly," UVa point guard Jontel Evans said, "If we play like this, we don't deserve to get in."
Friday, March 15, 2013
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Here’s what Virginia lost Friday: The license to gripe on Selection Sunday.
The terrible nonconference schedule, the six-pack of bad losses, the struggles after the Duke win — no, the Cavs couldn’t erase all of that with one great performance against N.C. State in the ACC tournament.
But they could have made it fade just a bit. They could have strengthened the idea that they’re a much better team than the one that lost to Delaware and Old Dominion long ago, could have given themselves another day to play and make a more convincing case for NCAA tournament inclusion.
Instead, this: a 75-56 destruction at the hands of N.C. State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
“Honestly,” UVa point guard Jontel Evans said, “If we play like this, we don’t deserve to get in.”
Though you never can be sure, you’d have to think the 10-member NCAA selection committee will agree. Those folks like to see programs schedule tough teams, beat some good teams and show an ability to win away from home.
The Cavs haven’t done enough of that. Their nonconference schedule strength was ranked No. 303 . That could have been different if George Mason and Old Dominion had been more like they were a few years ago, but they weren’t.
It could have been different if the Cavs had beaten Delaware in the NIT Season Tip-Off and earned a trip to New York to face Kansas State and either Pittsburgh or Michigan, but they didn’t.
So the committee sees a nonconference schedule that suggests UVa wasn’t eager to face top competition. The Cavs forfeited their margin for error with that, but that alone didn’t bury them.
Coach Tony Bennett said a reporter recently looked at UVa’s resume, cited the combination of quality wins (Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina) and bad losses (six against teams outside the top-100 of the RPI) and dubbed the Cavaliers the “Dos Equis Bubble Team.”
In other words, they were the most interesting bubble team in the world.
Maybe the Cavs were on Feb. 28, that raucous night at John Paul Jones Arena when they defeated then-No. 3 Duke. That gave them 20 victories and at least four more chances — three regular-season games and an ACC tournament contest — to get more.
They got only one, against Maryland in overtime.
The Cavs lost one-possession games against middling Boston College and Florida State to reinforce the notion that they can’t win on the road.
And then this: a blowout loss to the Wolfpack in a game that Vegas deemed a pick ‘em.
“We didn’t make shots, and we didn’t play defense,” Evans said. “They punked us on the glass. We didn’t get back in transition. With those types of teams, you can’t play like that. You’ve got to be on your A-game.”
Most troubling to Evans was the feeling that the Cavs’ struggles on offense — they shot 39 percent from the floor — began to affect their effort on the other end of the floor.
“It starts with our defense,” Evans said. “That’s our identity. And when we don’t play it, we look foolish, just like that.”
Informed that he was being unusually candid for an athlete whose team was on the bubble — a team that entered the day among Joe Lunardi’s “Last Four In” — Evans didn’t backtrack.
“You’ve got to keep it real,” he said.
Yes. Let’s. The Cavs have had a pretty good season, and it’s not over yet. With only one senior (Evans) in the starting lineup, they got to 21 wins and a No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament.
But the road struggles doomed them after Duke. Their best player, first team All-ACC selection Joe Harris, fell into a slump at the wrong time. His 4-for-13 shooting performance against the Wolfpack left him 13 for 57 (23 percent) in the four games that followed his brilliant outing against the Blue Devils.
Add it all up, and the Cavs likely are the most interesting team heading to the NIT. Their one last chance to change that just eluded them.
And deep down, they know it.
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