STL Basketball Roundtable: Are the Virginia Cavaliers a NCAA Tournament Team This Year?

Eric Francis

Does Virginia have what it takes this year, or is the out-of-conference and ACC just too tough for a rebuilding squad?

As Hurricane Sandy blows near, the Streaking The Lawn staff sat together in a circle as we discussed whether the internet still exists when there's a power outage. After concluding that so long as Al Gore is safe, the internet will go on, we decided to turn our attention to equally pressing matters on Virginia Basketball. Specifically, is Virginia a tournament team this year?

Schwartz: I could say with confidence that Virginia is a tournament team. The question will be: Which tournament? (Aha!) If UVA doesn't make the Big Dance, an NIT spot awaits!

The ACC is improving, and with the Hoos' strong OOC schedule (I wrote a post on that!) and favorable conference schedule, a record around 10-8 and a middle-of-the-ACC finish seems like the right area to challenge for a March Madness spot. I think the team is capable of accomplishing this, as Coach Bennett has the pieces for a strong team. I expect a rocky start, while he puts them together. The question will be, "How long until he does so?"

If I am forced to take a position on "In or Out," I will put on my orange and blue-tinted glasses and say that we sneak into the NCAA Tourney. Either way, I don't expect too stray far from either side of the "last 4 in" or "first 4 out" area. I wouldn't dream of minimizing what Mike Scott did for last year's team, but I think this edition has even more potential to gel as a team and play a balanced style of offense...while Bennett's strongest defensive lineups yet will make the difference.

Leung: I also say in. Mike Scott was, of course, critical to our team last year, but even in games where he was effectively taken out -- foul trouble or just well-guarded -- Virginia played a close, tight game. He had only seven points against Towson, a game we eked by 57-50. Yes, it was Towson. But he had just 10 points against Virginia Tech, where we lost by two, and six points against North Carolina, a game lost 54-51 on account of Carolina refs. The Carolina game is the one most convincing to me that this team can gel just fine with Scott -- by then, Zeglinski was largely not a major contributor (11 points on that specific game).

Zeglinski falling into a rut and teams effectively guarding Scott meant that Virginia got a really nice look at what this year's team would look like, without the incoming freshman phenoms, and without having the benefit of the offseason to work together without their go-to player. A middle-of-the-ACC finish certainly seems likely for this team, and the beauty of Bennett's system is that Virginia is never really out of the game (except for the one against Florida last year).

Justin: I don't really expect this team to make the tournament this year. And that's okay. This team loses Mike Scott, a huge part of last season's success. Virginia also loses Sammy Zeglinski and Assane Sene, two key contributors. I'm really high on the freshman class that Tony Bennett brought in, but they ARE freshman. If UVa has any chance at making waves and going dancing, Jontel Evans needs to return ASAP (and I don't think he'll be out long). Without him and Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia doesn't have much depth at point guard. The makeup of this team is really young. Of the wing players (Jesperson, Nolte, Harris, Anderson), there isn't a ton of game experience outside of Joe Harris. The schedule sets up decent, with Virginia getting some of the better teams in the conference at home and only once. If the Hoos stay totally healthy and the freshman come in and make a big impact in their first year, I think it's possible that the Cavaliers sneak in to the tourney with a 10-8 ACC record and a strong showing out of conference. I wouldn't bet any money on it though, and I'll put the odds of a tourney birth at 35%.

Leung: The freshmen-being-freshmen issue is valid. It looks like Evans is making a speedy recovery, and I'm skeptical about getting Brogdon back. But the way Sammy struggled last year, can you call him a key contributor, truly? Unless you're counting his intangibles, I don't see how that can be. Sene didn't even PLAY in the final 15 games of the season. I like both of them a lot and think that, in theory, they both bring a lot. But simply, last year we couldn't rely on either of them, so this year should be an improvement in that regard. Replacing Mike Scott is the only challenge, and it's not one that can't be overcome.

Trivia Question! How many current UVA basketball coaches played at UVA? Question Code: PLAYED. Submit your answers here!

Matt: I think Virginia has a puncher's chance, but I don't expect an NCAA tournament appearance this year. I don't think the Mike Scott loss can be overstated. With Sene out, Sammy underperforming, and Harris and Brogdon hurt, Scott literally put Virginia on his back down the stretch to salvage a tournament berth. If he doesn't score 35 against Maryland, Virginia loses that game, finishes 8-8, and finds themselves squarely on the tournament bubble in 2012. The ACC is better this year and the nonconference games are more difficult. Virginia will likely need another 20 wins to have a shot at getting back to the Big Dance. With the early-season injuries and the need to get the freshmen up to speed fast, I can see Virginia digging an out of conference hole that will make the climb to 20 wins too steep. I hope I'm wrong.

Tiki: While I would love to see us in the NCAA tourney this year, I simply don't see it. Even with a veteran team and one of the best players in the country, we barely made it last year. Yes, injuries were a part of that, but injuries are already a part of this year's team. If Jontel was 100% and Brogdon was 100%, I would say that maybe we're a tourney team (actually, no probably not even then). As it is, I think I'll be happy to be over .500 and in the NIT.

WahooMetrics: I think they'll miss the Tournament, and could struggle to get into the NIT. My reasoning is quite similar to Matt's; 22 wins got the team in last year, but 20 (or even 21) would probably have left them on the wrong side of the bubble. There is a relatively small win difference between Tournament-bound and CBI. The team went 16-15 under Bennett in 2010-11, 7-9 in ACC play, and missed the NIT. This small margin of error is magnified for a team like the Hoos who played 10 games last year with a final score margin of 3 points or less. The less influential Sene was worth at least one extra win over the occasional mess of Mitchell and Atkins prior to his injury, as the team only went 7-7 without him in ACC play. If Sene was worth one win in half a season, Scott was at least worth 3-4 over assorted members of the incoming class. Four to five fewer wins seems reasonable for a season with significant turnover. I'm expecting an 18-13 or 17-14 record this year.

What do you guys think? Does Virginia have what it takes this year, or is the out-of-conference and ACC just too tough for a rebuilding squad?

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