If Virginia has its sights set on a second straight NCAA tournament appearance, it sure has a funny way of showing it.
After a resounding win over North Carolina to begin the ACC season Sunday night, the Cavaliers regressed once again Wednesday in a 55-52 loss at Wake Forest. Virginia hasn’t won a game at Lawrence Joel Coliseum since 2000, and this latest defeat — against a team picked to finish 11th in the 12-team ACC — has left it little room for error the rest of the season.
The Cavaliers (11-4) have now lost three games to teams that sported a Ratings Percentage Index of 153 or higher at the time. Perhaps more importantly, it has muted any benefits Virginia may have earned from its impressive wins over the Tar Heels, Wisconsin and Tennessee.
The Cavaliers currently sit at No. 141 in the RPI, ninth among ACC teams. Seven of their 11 victories have come against teams with an RPI of 200 or worse. Before Wednesday’s loss, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had Virginia as No. 10 seed in his projected NCAA tournament bracket. Neither CBS Sports nor Sports Illustrated had the Cavaliers in their most recent field of 68.
The Cavaliers do have at least eight games remaining against teams currently in the RPI top 100 to improve their resume. But because of the ACC’s unbalanced schedule, Virginia only faces Duke and North Carolina State – the only two conference teams currently among the RPI top 15 – once apiece. Both games, however, are at John Paul Jones Arena.
With 18 league games this year, chances are the Cavaliers will need double-digit conference wins to even be considered part of the bubble. Virginia’s nonconference schedule is ranked No. 323 in the nation.
Against Wake Forest, which moved up to No. 116 in the RPI Thursday as a result of its win, Virginia fell because of an offense that committed 17 turnovers and couldn’t hit a three-pointer until a furious charge in the final minute.
Still, the Cavaliers had a chance to tie the score on the final possession when guard Jontel Evans (two points, three assists, four turnovers) dribbled to the wing for a set play. But despite being open for a three-pointer, he tried to dish the ball to shooting guard Joe Harris (13 points on 5 of 14 shooting) and, fittingly, it resulted in another turnover.
“This is going to be a tough one to watch,” Coach Tony Bennett told reporters after the game. “We were outplayed for a majority of that game.”