CHARLOTTESVILLE — A routine thrashing of its last-place rival complete,
Are the Cavaliers
Virginia certainly looked the part Tuesday night, routing
But the Hokies are an easy mark these days. They have one credible player, Erick Green, and Tuesday was their seventh consecutive defeat, the program's worst skid since a 10-gamer in 2002 under Ricky Stokes.
Green leads the nation in scoring and managed 22 points Tuesday, but he missed 13-of-17 shots from the field while harassed by Jontel Evans.
When Green struggles, Tech (11-13, 2-9
But as Hokies coach James Johnson told me as he strolled toward the team bus, the game was more about Virginia than Tech.
"That's a real good basketball team right there," Johnson said. "Real good."
Indeed, Virginia (18-6, 8-3) is a half-game behind second-place
The Cavaliers, per usual, defend fiercely, and now a balanced inside-outside offense that also includes the occasional fast break has elevated them far above the seventh-place status media predicted during preseason.
With a career-high 26 points and five 3-pointers, Joe Harris provided the perimeter component Tuesday. Akil Mitchell's 17 points and eight rebounds, plus four driving buckets by Evans, were the interior complement.
And don't look now, but the allegedly transition-averse Cavaliers outscored the Hokies 8-0 on fast-break points.
"A nice blend of offense going on," Virginia coach
"Joe finally has that killer mindset that we've wanted him to have since last year," Evans said.
The ACC's most accurate 3-point shooter, Harris is building a strong case for first-team all-conference. If he makes it, he and Mike Scott, a first-teamer last year, would become the first different Cavaliers to make the squad in back-to-back seasons since Richard Morgan in 1989 and
Both of those Virginia teams advanced in the
By mid-February of most seasons, the ACC's third-place team is virtually secure. This is not most seasons.
Indeed, for Virginia, Tuesday was virtually must-have.
Sure, the Cavaliers are 6-0 against the Rating Percentage Index's top 100. They bested Wisconsin and
Good luck finding another so-called "bubble" team unscathed against the top 100. There aren't any.
But nor are there any tournament contenders with six losses to opponents outside the top 100 and with a non-conference strength-of-schedule rating in the 300s — Virginia's is 320th among 347 Division I teams.
Hence, the Cavaliers began Tuesday at No. 81 on the RPI. New Mexico, 74th in 1999, is the lowest-rated team to receive an at-large bid.
Given its resume, the most peculiar I can recall in more than a decade of bracket forecasting, the last thing Virginia could afford Tuesday was a home loss to the ACC's lowest-rated team — Tech is No. 169.
The prevailing Twitter/message board question among U.Va. faithful is: How many wins do the Cavaliers need? Would 11-7 in the ACC be enough? What about 12-6?
Anyone who purports to know at this early date, more than five weeks before Selection Sunday, is jerking your chain. It's simply impossible to tell what credentials other contenders will have.
It's also impossible to project bid thieves, the unexpected conference tournament champions that relegate top-shelf teams to the at-large pool.
Virginia's case, or lack thereof, will become clearer starting Saturday at North Carolina (the Cavaliers beat the Tar Heels 61-52 here last month). Three days later, Virginia ventures to first-place Miami.
A Feb. 24 home date with
There you have it. The stretch that figures to determine Virginia's fate.
Bennett's strategy for Carolina and beyond is quite simple: "Hopefully keep playing the way we're playing."