If Virginia basketball has a primary goal this year, it really has nothing to do with the NCAA tournament. Of course, getting there would be quite an accomplishment for a program that was picked 7th in the ACC preseason poll, is the 35th-youngest team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy, and has dealt with injuries to four key players this season. But getting to the NCAAs would mainly serve as a launching point for next season (and be a nice recruiting chip besides), not give the Hoos any real opportunities this year.
It’s the ACC tournament where the real opportunity lies. UVA hasn’t played in the ACC semifinals since 1995, and if we’re being honest with ourselves as UVA fans, that’s kind of an embarrassing streak. More often than not, the Hoos have been one-and-done, with every win since then coming in what amounts to the play-in round. UVA is 0-for-the-quarterfinals (which are played on Friday of the tournament weekend) for going on 20 years now.
There’s nothing UVA can really do about that until the actual Friday arrives. But they can at least set themselves up for success. “Stay healthy” would be good advice; last year they earned a first-round bye, but a horribly depleted depth chart couldn’t muster enough shots or stops to get the win. Even more important, however? Seeding. The way the ACC has shaken out this year, there’s a clear line in the sand between its top five teams (Miami, Duke, UVA, UNC, and NC State) and everyone else. So with the fourth and fifth seeds on a collision course in the tournament, the third seed is crucial.
And it so happens the Hoos sit in the drivers’ seat there. Passing Miami is out of the question for UVA (the best they can hope for is a tie, but the loss to Miami means losing the tiebreaker). Wresting 2nd place from Duke is unlikely as well – even if they beat Duke this coming Thursday they’d need help from another team – but third place is UVA’s if they can take care of business. They hold an effective two-game lead on NC State thanks to owning the tiebreaker, and that tiebreaker is an insurance policy against UNC as well. Since UVA and UNC split the head to head meeting, the next tiebreaker is “how did you do against the ACC’s best?” If Teams A and B split the head-to-head, you start at the top of the standings and work your way down until you find a team that A beat and B didn’t or vice versa.
Neither UVA nor UNC beat Miami. UNC, therefore, needs to hope UVA loses to Duke and that the Heels can beat them, or else the tiebreaker drops all the way to – NC State. Whoops for UNC; they lost to the Pack, but UVA hasn’t and won’t. So UVA’s showdown against Duke on Thursday will have some major seeding implications, especially if UVA can win. That’s how you set yourself up for success in the ACC tournament. UVA must then go on the road and beat Boston College and Florida State, and then take on Maryland at home. There’s precious little margin for error – and even less if they lose to Duke – and the road has been a nasty place in the ACC this season, for all teams.
The reward, if the Cavs can finish the season strong, is that third seed, and a Friday date in the ACC tourney against a tough but much more beatable team than either of the Carolinians, who would likely have to play each other. UVA fans being nothing if not stubbornly resilient, the general belief is that if we can just put the Friday thing behind us, the whole tournament is winnable. Nothing of course, is guaranteed, but then, a quarterfinal win wouldn’t be a very good goal if it were.
Brendan’s bio: I’m just this guy … this ordinary Virginia graduate and fan who woke up one day realizing his opinions on everything UVA could no longer be contained in one space. Thus was born From Old Virginia, a labor of love where you can find obsessive opinionating on Virginia football, basketball, lacrosse, baseball, and whatever else when the mood strikes. And if that’s still not enough for you, go to the Twitster and follow @MaizeNBlueWahoo for the dumb stuff that pops into my head when I’m watching the Hoos.