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Cavs, Terrapins headed to NIT
As the Virginia men’s basketball team gathered to watch the NCAA tournament selection show Sunday, head coach Tony Bennett didn’t have a good feeling about the Cavaliers’ chances.
Virginia lost three of its final four games, including a 75–56 defeat to N.C. State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals Friday.
“I told our guys at the outset of it, ‘I think we’re on the outside looking in,’” Bennett said.
The fourth-year coach proved prophetic.
The Cavaliers (21–11) were denied their second straight NCAA tournament appearance. Instead they’ll host Norfolk State on Tuesday at 9 p.m. in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament. Virginia is one of four No. 1 seeds in the NIT.
Maryland also earned a bid to the NIT. The second-seeded Terrapins will host Niagara on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in a first-round game.
Bennett said the Cavaliers should be thankful for the opportunity to play in the postseason, but not earning an NCAA bid “stung” because of the way his team faltered down the stretch.
“I said, ‘In some ways we deserve to be strongly considered but in some ways we couldn’t finish out strong,’” Bennett said of his message to his team. “I said, ‘If that’s the reason we don’t get in, we had our chances to play our way in and we didn’t.’”
NCAA tournament chair Mike Bobinski said on CBS that a lack of road victories also hurt the Cavaliers. Virginia finished 3–8 on the road.
It wasn’t enough when stacked against a bubble team like Middle Tennessee State, which earned 11 wins away from home.
Virginia lost consecutive road games to Boston College and Florida State by a combined three points following a home victory over Duke.
“That’s the sign of a real good team, to go on the road and be successful,” Bennett said. “We had our chances in the last two. We got it down to the last possession or two and couldn’t finish it out. That’s probably what cost us.”
Bennett also lamented a perceived lack of respect for the ACC. He said he was stunned to learn North Carolina, which finished third in the conference, earned a No. 8 seed.
He also mentioned the fact mid-major conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West earned more bids than the ACC’s four.
“I think it’s a really good conference and I was just hoping it would garner a little more respect than that,” Bennett said.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas believed the Cavaliers deserved consideration because of its eight victories over teams ranked in the RPI top 100.
He said on ESPN the selection committee appeared to reward teams for not losing to bad opponents instead of for earning quality victories.
The Cavaliers picked up wins over Duke, Wisconsin, North Carolina and N.C. State. But they also suffered losses to Delaware, George Mason, Old Dominion, Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
“It came down to the committee saying, ‘Are we going to take the team with the quality wins or are we going to look at the hard losses’” Bennett said, “and we had those.”
The Cavaliers now turn their attention to Norfolk State. The Spartans finished 16–0 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference during the regular season. But they suffered a 70–68 loss to Bethune–Cookman in the tournament quarterfinals last week. As a No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament in 2012, NSU upset Missouri in the first round.
Bennett knows how tough the Spartans can be. The Cavaliers earned a 50–49 win over them in December 2010 on a tip-in by former center Assane Sene with 4.8 seconds remaining.
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