Less than two weeks ago, Virginia topped the ACC rankings, advancing in the AP poll every week, and being a sneaky candidate who was slated to end up as 1-seed on Selection Sunday.
After three straight defeats – the last one arriving at home Wednesday with a 68-61 final against NC State – the Cavaliers see their NCAA tournament seeding quickly fade, and questions get asked how deep a run is is in Virginia. – a top 5 team from the preseason – can really make March come.
The first two losses in the three-game loss were understandable: on the street in Florida state and then in the last minute against a hot Duke team. But Wednesday’s loss to NC State was different. First, it was Virginia’s first home defeat of the season and the first since January last season. NC State was 10-9 overall and 6-8 in the ACC that came into play, with only one win over a team that ranked in the NET’s top 80.
So what’s wrong with Tony Bennett’s team? The most noticeable problem is the defensive end of the floor, the area where Virginia ranks among the nation’s elite annually. Florida State, Duke and NC State all scored at least 1.08 points per possession against the Cavaliers, a number they only allowed four times last season. While they are still the best defensive team in the ACC, they allow 0.99 points per possession in conference play – their highest number since the 2010/11 season.
Two things stand out on the offensive. First, Virginia struggles with getting baskets late in the games or late in the shot clock when the games crash. The Cavaliers don’t have players who can consistently beat their defenders by dribbling and creating scoring opportunities as they have in the past with Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Malcolm Brogdon. Kihei Clark has scored clutch shots in his career but is not expected to carry a crime. The second problem is perimeter shooting. Virginia gets a significant portion of her points behind the bow, but Florida State and Duke both made 3s more than the Cavaliers and then shot 7-on-25 in the perimeter against NC State.
Virginia’s Kihei Clark made it big at key moments, but the Cavaliers’ feeble fate could put him to the test. Rich von Biberstein / Icon Sportswire
Virginia needs to get the ship back in order quickly, just two games before the ACC tournament, as the Cavaliers’ NCAA tournament profile isn’t particularly impressive when you start peeling off the shifts. Virginia is very fond of metrics, including NET, KenPom, and ESPN’s Strength of Record and BPI. As long as these numbers are good, the Cavaliers won’t fall too far – but that’s their only salvation right now. Virginia is 3-4 against Quadrant 1 opponents with two Quadrant 3 losses (although NC State will likely advance to Quadrant 2 territory after beating the Cavaliers).
It’s a résumé that doesn’t contain anything like a marquee win. The Cavaliers’ best wins that season went over Clemson, Georgia Tech twice and North Carolina. Neither of these three teams is above a 7-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology, and Georgia Tech isn’t even in the planned range yet. Their quality gains just aren’t cheap compared to Texas, Kansas, USC, Creighton, and teams in this area. Given that Virginia was a solid 2-seed a few weeks ago, it would have been hard to fathom falling to a 5 or 6 seed three games later.
Virginia will still be a side no one wants to face in the NCAA tournament – the Cavaliers are still the reigning national champions, after all – but because they lack playmakers on offense and their defenses are nowhere near as stingy as In den in recent years their error rate seems to be much lower.