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Virginia men’s basketball barely misses AP Top-25 despite strong week

Statement wins over #14 Texas A&M and Syracuse couldn’t earn Virginia a spot in the rankings

Syracuse v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

A big week for the Virginia Cavaliers wasn’t enough to reestablish their spot in the AP Top 25 poll. Despite a dominant 12-point home victory over a Texas A&M team ranked #14 and a 22-point shellacking of ACC foe Syracuse, Virginia was the first team out of this week’s AP Poll. They received 148 votes, the highest mark among teams outside the top 25.

The Cavaliers couldn’t have done much more this week to earn their spot in the AP Top 25 back following a disappointing showing in their Feast Week tournament. First, they dominated their biggest game of the season against a strong Texas A&M squad. A 17-2 run spanning the end of the first half and start of the second half gave the Cavaliers a 13-point cushion which they never relinquished. The Aggies entered the game in KenPom’s top 10 for offensive efficiency, but scored just 47 points against the ‘Hoos — 26 fewer points than their previous season low of 73.

While the defense stood out against Texas A&M, Virginia’s offense took center stage in their ACC opener against Syracuse at JPJ. Fueled by an absolutely unconscious outing by Isaac McKneely, whose six made threes were the most by a Hoo since Kihei Clark went nuclear in the first half against Duke two years ago, Virginia put their foot on the gas pedal after a sleepy start and flew past an outmatched Syracuse roster. Reece Beekman shut down a star opposing guard for the second time in two games and Virginia scored 40 points in a 13-minute span of white-hot shooting for a statement win to begin conference play.

However, the best efforts of the ‘Hoos couldn’t move the squad back into the Top 25. Perhaps AP voters haven’t yet forgiven Virginia for a disappointing 24-point loss at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers — though that Wisconsin team’s 11-point win over #3 Marquette this week might suggest that they were a bit underrated. Virginia won’t face another strong opponent until Memphis on December 19 due to their finals break, so they’re dependent on other teams losing to climb into the poll over the next two weeks of games.

Around the ACC

North Carolina climbed eight spots to #9 in the rankings following an impressive 100-92 victory over Tennessee at home in the ACC/SEC Challenge. The Tar Heels embarrassed one of the nation’s top defenses and look to have more offensive firepower than Hubert Davis’s previous rosters, with portal addition Harrison Ingram standing out.

Miami dropped seven spots to #15 after getting boatraced on the road against Kentucky in their own ACC/SEC Challenge game. They jumped out to an early 29-23 lead, but standout Wildcat guard Reed Sheppard led a torrential 44-14 comeback run and handed Kentucky an easy 22-point win.

Somehow, Duke remained in the Top 25 despite back-to-back losses against unranked opponents (Arkansas and Georgia Tech). They’re one of only two three-loss teams in the top 25 along with Tennessee. However, Tennessee’s played the sixth-toughest schedule in the country, while Duke’s strength of schedule ranks 149th. The worst loss for the Volunteers came against KenPom #12 North Carolina, while Duke’s already lost to KenPom #45 and #120. The commitment of AP voters to keep a name brand team in the rankings despite a lack of in-game results would make the College Football Playoff committee jealous.

Speaking of teams that have actually produced in-game results: undefeated Clemson checks in at #24 following an impressive road win over Alabama and victory in their ACC opener over Pitt. Brad Brownell’s actually got this Tigers roster firing on all cylinders, and while they continue to pull off narrow escapes in close games (Clemson beat UAB and Davidson by a combined four points) an undefeated ACC team deserves a spot in the rankings.

Georgia Tech received two votes in the poll, probably a recognition of their impressive victory over Duke and an almost-as-impressive win against Mississippi State earlier in the week. Don’t fool yourself into thinking the Yellow Jackets are good (they lost a buy game to UMass Lowell at home), but the vibes under Damon Stoudamire are positive.