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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 03/02/2012

Sorting out Virginia’s path to an ACC tournament first-round bye

Here’s what we know for certain following Virginia’s 63-60 loss Thursday night to Florida State: The Cavaliers will possess the No. 4, No. 5, No. 6 or No. 7 seed in next week’s ACC tournament in Atlanta.

Heading into Virginia’s regular season finale Sunday at Maryland, the Cavaliers sit in a four-way tie with Clemson, Miami and North Carolina State for fourth place in the conference standings. The top four teams, as many of you know, receive first round byes in the conference tournament, and that would be a critical achievement for the Cavaliers for several reasons. But more on that in a minute.

Among the four teams that currently own 8-7 conference records, Virginia owns the best mark in head-to-head match-ups. The Cavaliers are 3-1 against Clemson, Miami and N.C. State. Clemson and N.C. State each are 2-2 against that group, while Miami is 1-3.

So if Virginia defeats Maryland and Clemson loses Sunday at Florida State, the Cavaliers will secure the No. 4 seed. That is the simplest scenario by which Virginia can earn a first round ACC tournament bye.

There are two other scenarios by which Virginia can earn the fourth seed. One involves Virginia defeating Maryland, Clemson defeating Florida State and Miami defeating Boston College on Saturday. The other involves losses this weekend for all four teams currently locked in the four-way tie.

Virginia will not be seeded lower than fifth in the ACC tournament provided the Cavaliers defeat Maryland on Sunday.

But Virginia wants to avoid that No. 5 seed at all cost. The No. 5 seed faces the team that finished last in the ACC, which will be either Wake Forest, Boston College or Georgia Tech. A victory over any of those squads won’t do anything to boost Virginia’s NCAA tournament resume, as none of them are ranked higher than No. 162 in the RPI.

Ideally for the Cavaliers, they would earn the No. 4 seed and get an extra day’s rest for an injury-depleted lineup that is down to seven scholarship players. At this point, for this team, that’s worth more than a relatively worthless victory over Wake Forest, Boston College or Georgia Tech.

Besides, let’s say Virginia ends up the No. 5 seed and loses to one of those three teams. That’s not likely, but would anyone argue that it’s entirely out of the realm of possibility considering the team’s current roster limitations? How do you think the NCAA tournament selection committee would view such an outcome?

The bottom line is that Virginia is best served by winning Sunday. It’s not a must-win game, but it sure is a lot more important in light of Thursday’s results. Control what you can control, as Tony Bennett would say, and then hope the rest shakes out favorably.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 03/02/2012

 
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