Virginia has dropped four in a row for the first time since coach Tony Bennett’s first season in Charlottesville and lost six of its last eight. It’s also been competitive in all but one of those games, Saturday’s bludgeoning at North Carolina.
The Cavaliers find themselves right in the middle of the ACC standings with three games to go in the regular season. It also is pegged as a No. 5 seed in this week’s Washington Post bracket projection.
Those with the tendency for knee-jerk reactions will likely see this treatment as overly kind, but all the games count the same and Virginia has done quite well over the course of the season. It swept Louisville, has won at California and Notre Dame, split with Virginia Tech and owns no inexplicable losses. On paper, Virginia is fine. It’s not as good as it was a couple weeks ago, but that’s what a few losses will do to a team.
On the court, the Cavaliers face serious questions as March fast approaches, most of them in the vein of, “Dude, where’s my offense?” Virginia played well enough through late January to ensure it will probably be treated well by the NCAA basketball committee when the field is seeded. It’s also lacking consistent scoring options — which became a question mark the second center Austin Nichols was booted from the program in November — and might not have a lengthy postseason stay.
If Virginia fans want to be anxious, that’s the thing to fret about. For selection and seeding purposes, the Cavaliers are well-situated even after their struggles since losing at Villanova on Jan. 29.
Miami just won three games in a row with point guard Ja’Quan Newton suspended, including Monday’s 54-48 slugfest at Virginia. The Hurricanes aren’t a complete lock yet, but it’s getting close. … Maybe Purdue has the best shot of any Big Ten team to land as a No. 4 seed or better. The Boilermakers have more top-50 victories (six) than Maryland and Wisconsin combined (five). …
If not Rhode Island, then who? Of course, the Rams don’t have much margin for error, either. … Southern Methodist owns only one top-50 victory, but it is 7-4 against the top 100 and has no befuddling losses. Maybe it won’t end up as a No. 6 seed, but there’s a case to be made. … Minnesota checks every box. Barring a five-game skid to end the regular season, the Golden Gophers are tourney-bound.
Northwestern has looked wobbly since its victory at Wisconsin, losing to Maryland and Illinois and scraping past Rutgers. The Wildcats aren’t in trouble, but they still have a little work still in front of them. … UCLA and Princeton haven’t met since 1996, when the Tigers’ late-night backdoor cut felled the defending national champions at the old Hoosier Dome in the first round of the tournament. …
I’m not sure Saint Mary’s can stick to the No. 6 line, especially if the West Coast Conference tournament is predictable and the Gaels fall to Gonzaga in the title game. But for now, the case can be made Randy Bennett’s team belongs there. … As frustrating as Michigan State is, it still swept Minnesota and beat Northwestern and Wichita State. The Spartans aren’t out of the woods by any stretch, but a solid finish will get them into the field.
There wouldn’t be a much better story in the tournament than New Orleans, which is less than a decade removed from planning to drop to Division II before changing course. … Between Notre Dame–Michigan and Butler–Valparaiso (a pair of old Horizon League rivals), the Milwaukee subregional would not lack for interesting games in this scenario.
Duke–Maryland in the round of 32? Yes, please. … Xavier–California sounds like a 7-10 game from the past, but the teams have never met in the NCAA tournament.
Here’s a toast to the late, great Metro Conference, of which both South Carolina and Virginia Tech were members. … Creighton–West Virginia could be a great game without Maurice Watson Jr., but the thought of the Bluejays guard navigating the Mountaineers’ press makes you wonder how well he would have done had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury. …
Even when you scour teams’ profiles for a month, a number occasionally springs up as a surprise. Wisconsin’s nonconference schedule checks in at No. 236 thanks to four opponents outside the top 300. … Arkansas earned a much-needed victory last week at South Carolina and then followed it up by defeating Mississippi. The Razorbacks appear to be back on track for an NCAA bid.
Last four included: Marquette, Seton Hall, Texas Christian, Rhode Island
First four just on the outside: Alabama, Tennessee, Georgetown, Syracuse
Next four just on the outside: Wake Forest, Georgia, Mississippi, Georgia Tech
Moving in: East Tennessee State, Marquette, North Dakota
Moving out: Furman, Syracuse, Weber State
Conference call: Atlantic Coast (8), Big 12 (7), Big Ten (7), Big East (6), Pac-12 (5), Southeastern (4), Atlantic 10 (3), American Athletic (2), Missouri Valley (2), West Coast (2)