Virginia earns #1 NIT seed, falls short of Big Dance

Streeter Lecka

It's been a wild year of UVA hoops...and it's not over yet. The Hoos aren't dancing, but will compete in the National Invitational Tournament.

The Virginia Cavaliers finished its 2012-2013 campaign just short of a second straight NCAA bid. Pegged as one of the last two or three squads out by most analysts, the NCAA Committee failed to call the team's name, opting for mid-major bubble competitors like Boise State and Middle Tennessee State.. Instead, the Hoos earned a #1 seed in the NIT and will open up Tuesday at 9 PM against Norfolk State. UVA finished the regular season at 21-10 (11-7 ACC), then lost to NC State in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

The "Virginia" region of the NIT also features #2 UMass, #3 Iowa, #4 St. Joseph's, #5 St. John's, #6 Indiana State, #7 Stony Brook, and #8 Norfolk State. The other NIT 1 seeds are Kentucky, Southern Miss, and Alabama. Teams will play three rounds of games at the site of the higher seeded team. Then, the Final Four and Finals will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York. The full NIT bracket is available here.

Norfolk State went 21-11 in the MEAC, including a perfect 16-0 in conference play, and is ranked 224th in the nation on KenPom. The Spartans had won 15 straight games before they were upset 70-68 by Bethune Cookman in the MEAC quarterfinals, but earned an automatic NIT berth by virtue of their regular season title. Still, they have just one win against a team better than 200 in KenPom's rankings, against #191 Rhode Island in November. Also of note, NSU lost 84-62 at NC State back in December. Virginia and NSU last matched up in 2010, a 50-49 UVA win on a last-second Assane Sene tip-in.

UVA has won 17 straight home games to finish at 18-1 at John Paul Jones Arena this season. With the chance to play three more home games, the Hoos have to be the favorite to emerge from the region and advance to New York. Still, the road won't be an easy one; Virginia's region, which includes bubble teams Iowa (#29 KenPom) and UMass is arguably the toughest of the four.

Second round games will be played between March 21st and March 25th, Quarterfinals are the 26th and 27th, and and the Final Four and Championship matchups are on April 2nd, and April 4th, respectively. Exact dates and times of potential future games have yet to be released.

Ultimately, as Wahoo fans had feared, a weak non-conference strength of schedule (314 on KenPom) and poor road record (3-8) ended Virginia's run at the Big Dance. In a post-selection interview with CBS, Committee Chair Mike Bobinksi explained that it was Middle Tennessee State's ability to win on the road (together with their veteran makeup and lack of rough patches) that warranted their inclusion in the field. The Blue Raiders went 8-3 on the road, though their best win away from home came against KenPom #138 Central Florida.

Virginia may have had two very high quality road wins, at Wisconsin and Maryland, but the volume of road losses was punished by the Committee. The group also continues to emphasize non-conference SOS, where UVA was victimized by a bad loss against ODU and especially its home defeat against Delaware, which kept it away from two quality games in the Preseason NIT.

Surely, the overemphasis of these two metrics is an inane way of determining who the best 37 at-large teams in the nation are. Road wins are nice, but there is no evidence that they are a more valid predictor of a team's strength than home performance. And attempts at "punishing" teams for scheduling out-of-conference games that don't pan out to be against quality teams seem outside of the Committee's charge, especially when the results of these games don't appear to be major factors. Regardless, the Selection Committee has been quite consistent in insisting that teams win on the road and play challenging OOC games, and the Hoos failure to do both was weighed more heavily than the team's other positives.

The world will go on without us - here is your NCAA bracket. And look out for an STL March Madness Challenge coming soon!

While UVA fans went into Selection Sunday largely pessimistic about the team's NCAA hopes, the finality of not seeing the team's name called after a long, roller coaster season probably hits hard. Thankfully, Virginia has a mature representative to take things in stride, put everything in perspective, and act with dignity and grace. First-year Justin Anderson, you are the best.

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