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Bubble Banter: Virginia outpacing other Tournament hopefuls

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NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

You ever been chased by a bear?

Me neither.

But I’m prepared for that exact scenario thanks to this piece of free advice jewelry:

“You don’t need to be faster than the bear. You just need to be faster than the slowest guy running from the bear.”

I wonder if someone gave that advice to the Virginia Cavaliers as they try to make the NCAA Tournament. In this tortured analogy, UVA isn’t the best team trying to run away from the edge of the NCAA Tournament Bubble. It just happens to be playing better than a lot of the teams running alongside it.

Virginia went 2-0 again last week, pairing a pretty win over Boston College before partly imploding against Pitt. Other bubble teams across the country faltered: Georgetown and South Carolina both lost twice. VCU has dropped four in a row. Alabama and Mississippi State each lost to Texas A&M.

The result? The Hoos, winners of seven out of their last eight, have a seventh-straight tourney bid within their grasp.

It’s a far cry from the mid-January tailspin that put UVA’s postseason hopes in jeopardy.

Schedule Analysis:

For another week, the Hoos moved up in the NCAA tournament pecking order not because they collected good wins — but rather because they avoided bad losses. Virginia’s NET ranking has improved just slightly to 51, but that’s not much reason for excitement. Coach K’s one-and-done parade comes to town Saturday and will give Virginia a chance at a much-needed signature victory.

As a reminder, here’s how I originally categorized Virginia’s schedule:

  • Must-Wins: Boston College (February 19) Win
  • Favorables: Notre Dame (February 11) Win
  • Toss-Ups: at UNC (February 15) Win, at Pitt (February 22) Win, at the Commonwealth Cup losers (February 26), at Miami (March 4)
  • Unfavorables: The school where Richard Nixon learned the law (February 29), Louisville (March 7)
  • Long-Shots: N/A

Last week, I suggested that UVA would need to win four of its six games to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday. So far so good. Two more wins, and the Hoos should be good to go.

What do the Bracketologists Say?

As of Monday evening morning, 94 of America’s 96 bracketologists had Virginia in the field. The majority of those projections have the Hoos as either a 9-seed or a 10-seed, meaning that UVA would be well clear of the First Four if the tournament started today.

These are pretty comfy digs compared to two weeks ago, when a number of projections had the Hoos as the last team in the field. For now, just call ‘em George and Weezy.

What to Watch:

Virginia has two more important games this week: on the road in hell on Wednesday night, and then at home against Satan on Saturday. While UVA would do well to win both games, it’d still be in the field with a loss. A win over that school where Kyrie Irving played 6 games would likely punch a ticket to the Big Dance.

Elsewhere, the following games could have big-time bubble implications across the country:

Tuesday - Oklahoma has lost three in a row and desperately needs a win to make the field. The Sooners host #22 Texas Tech. NC State, which is Joe Lunardi’s last team in, heads to Chapel Hill in hopes of a rare sweep of UNC.

Wednesday - Richmond has won four in a row and moved to the edge of the field. The Spiders must dispatch lowly George Washington in Foggy Bottom to keep their momentum rolling.

Thursday - Indiana got a huge win against Penn State this weekend. The Hoosiers travel to in-state rival Purdue.

Saturday - Good vs. Evil in Charlottesville is the only game that matters on this day.

Sunday - Stanford has steadied itself with two wins after losing 7 of 8. The Cardinal face #21 Colorado in what could be a make or break home game.

As always, we’ll have a better sense of where things sit this time next week. Keep your heads up until then, Wahoo fans. Your Cavaliers are almost there.