My name is Matt Mandell and I am contributing to the Locker Room Access Blog. Take a look at my thoughts on the UVA FSU game and what this means for the 'Hoos going forward:
In what was an absolutely wild day of college basketball around the nation, UVA’s Senior Night matchup against FSU was no exception. The Top 6 teams in the country all lost as well as 9th ranked Texas Tech. In a much lower-profile matchup, the ‘Hoos lost on the most improbable of buzzer beaters, after the Seminoles connected on a full-court baseball pass and a turnaround desperation three-point shot by Matthew Cleveland to stun UVA 64-63.
Before I sugar coat this loss, I want to get one thing out of the way: That sucked. It seems Leonard Hamilton is Tony Bennett’s Kryptonite, and we’ve endured more than our fair share of late game heroics from FSU. The names Dwayne Bacon, Michael Snaer, and now Matthew Cleveland may make some UVA fan’s blood boil.
Losing on a buzzer beater hurts. Add in the fact that it was Senior Night and the last basketball in John Paul Jones Arena for 9 months only makes it worse. It’s going to take some time to get that bad taste out of our mouths. Well, either time or an ACC Title. That will definitely do it.
With this loss, the path for Virginia 17-12 (11-8) to get into the NCAA tournament becomes a lot simpler: We need to win the ACC Tournament and receive an automatic bid. At this point, our resume does not stack up against other Bubble Teams, and our few elite wins over Duke, Miami(?) and Providence simply aren’t enough to weigh out the losses to a reeling Florida State, Clemson, JMU, Navy and more. That being said, even if Florida State’s last second shot had rimmed out, this UVA team leaves a lot to be desired in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Had UVA held on by the skin of their teeth against FSU, they likely would have needed to make the ACC Tournament Final in order to feel optimistic going into Selection Sunday.
As much as that sucked, the reality is we need to win one more game than we had to before this loss. That one last win may have to come against Duke, but outside of the Blue Devils, there’s no team in this Conference I’m genuinely scared of when we’re playing well. We just have to, you know, play well.
The ‘Hoos are not the only team with big plans for the ACC Tournament. There are many ACC programs in the Bubble conversation, such as North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech that will all be battling for NCAA Tournament Rights in Brooklyn. If the season ended today, 6 seed UVA would play the winner of Boston College and NC State. The winner of our first game would go on to play Miami, whom the ‘Hoos have beaten twice. UVA would then likely play Notre Dame or Virginia Tech in the semifinal. All in all, I think most UVA fans would consider that to be a pretty favorable draw.
This is the worst ACC regular season performance from a Tony Bennett team since the 2016-17 season when UVA finished 11-7 in conference. If the ‘Hoos do not make the NCAA Tournament, it would be the first time the Cavaliers don’t make the Big Dance since the 2012-13 season.
I bring up all of this context not to put on more pressure or to add salt to our collective wound. Rather, it’s important to realize the standard we’ve been fortunate enough to expect as UVA basketball fans. Between the years 2002 and 2012 UVA made the NCAA Tournament once. Now, making the tournament is the expectation, as it should be for any healthy college basketball program. It’s cool that we can call this a down year. And, it’s important to remember that “Blue Bloods” have down years. Duke didn’t make the NCAAT field last year, and UNC would not have made the 2020 NCAA Tournament if it had occurred (they finished 14-19 overall that season).
Unfortunately, this probably isn’t our year. I have grown to love this team. They play the type of tough, unselfish, team basketball that makes the college version of this sport so loveable. We’ve had the chance to see young players like Kadin Shedrick and Reece Beekman blossom, our transfers Armaan Franklin and Jayden Gardner successfully settle into Tony Bennett’s system, and Kihei Clark have what is the best season of his already illustrious career.
The Cavaliers travel to the KFC Yum Center (JPJ South) to take on Louisville this Saturday, and will then head up to Brooklyn with one goal in mind: Winning 4 straight and punching their ticket to the Big Dance.