In a game with heavy NCAA Tournament implications, the Hoos crumbled, allowing a rejuvenated Wolfpack team to breeze into the semifinals
Wahoo fans knew the implications of their ACC quarterfinal bout with #5 seed North Carolina State. A loss would likely send the team to the bad side of the bubble, while a win would have fans feeling pretty good come Selection Sunday, and give the team a chance to play regular season champion Miami. Fans are also acutely aware of UVA's ACC Tournament history; Virginia has just one conference championship, from 1976, and hasn't won a game in the round of 8 since 1995. History repeated itself against the Wolfpack, as NC State out-muscled the Hoos on their way to a 75-56 win, putting UVA in severe bubble peril.
Nothing seemed to go right against a Wolfpack team that looked closer to the talented one picked to win the conference in preseason polls than the one that under-performed all season. NC State got off to a quick start, jumping to a 9-4 lead and holding it the majority of the first half, then quickly pulled away in the second period. A red-hot Scott Wood nailed 7 of his 12 three point attempts, including three on consecutive possessions, to bury the Hoos.
After the game, Coach Bennett emphasized that the result wasn't based on an effort gap, but an execution gap. This showed on both sides of the ball. Offensively, a litany of early turnovers quickly took the air out of the ball, with Joe Harris finishing with 5 of the team's 10. Despite NCSU's sudden interest in the defensive side of the ball, the Hoos did get their share of open looks; they simply failed to knock them down. UVA shot 39% overall, including 5 of 20 from behind the arc.
Akil Mitchell was a lone offensive bright spot for UVA, finishing with 19 points on 7 of 11 shooting. Jontel Evans also added a game high 7 assists to 0 turnovers.
However, even when Virginia appeared poised to make a run, the team was stymied by NC State's ability to score. Besides Wood's big game, TJ Warren scored 18 on 9 of 11 shooting and CJ Leslie added 17 points. When the Wolfpack failed to hit a shot, they simply grabbed the rebound and tried again. NC State pulled in 30% of their misses, while UVA grabbed just 15% of its own missed shots.
If you skimmed the past couple paragraphs, suffice it to say, things went poorly in pretty much all aspects of the game.
Where does this all leave Virginia, as Selection Sunday nears? To keep it simple, "Not in good shape." Losses around the bubble by Tennessee and La Salle, and a big RPI win by Wisconsin over Michigan likely give UVA fans some reason for hope. The selection committee is just a group of people that sometimes acts in unpredictable ways; stranger things have happened than UVA's hearing its name called Sunday night.
However, the most likely scenario now is surely an NIT bid. If that's the case, the Hoos will play in Charlottesville next Tuesday or Wednesday. With the NIT consisting of 3 home games before a potential trip to Madison Square Garden, Virginia would be a popular favorite to at least advance deep into the tournament; the program has two past NIT titles, in 1980 and 1992.
It's been an exciting season from an exciting group that, picked to finish 7th in the ACC, wasn't expected to do much this year. While we aren't expecting a chance to Dance, we'll surely be watching when the bracket is released this Sunday at 6 PM. DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?!