NCAA countdown: No. 24 Virginia
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: Virginia presented one of the biggest conundrums for the NCAA tournament selection committee last season with a head-scratching resume that featured wins against Duke, North Carolina and Wisconsin yet seven losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 and four losses to the Atlantic Coast Conference’s basement teams.
Ultimately, a 19-point loss to North Carolina State in the ACC tournament doomed the Cavaliers’ hopes for an at-large bid. Virginia went on to play in the NIT and finished with 23 wins, one more than 2012′s NCAA tournament team.
While last season wasn’t a step forward in the program’s methodical climb under coach Tony Bennett, it’s unfair to label it a step backward given a strong postseason and a regular season littered with injuries.
The influx of new teams and staple teams Duke and North Carolina will surely draw all the early ACC headlines, but Virginia brings back the most talent behind one of the conference’s best players in Joe Harris as well as top returners Akil Mitchell and Justin Anderson.
Staying off the bubble will be an obvious priority in 2013-14, but aspirations and expectations should be higher in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers for a change enter the season with the key ingredients — experience, depth, healthy players — to jump into the title-contending conversation.
2012-13 in review: 23-12 overall (11-7 in Atlantic Coast Conference), lost in the NIT quarterfinals.
Tournament projection: No. 6 seed.
Coach’s corner: “Guys being the ninth, 10th or 11th guy and being patient and waiting are harder to come by. It’s not just here. It’s everywhere. It’s more of the immediate gratification of society nowadays. You hate that. …You want guys to dream of playing professionally. but sometimes that’s not the way it’s going be. That’s not a specific indictment of all the guys who transferred from Virginia. It happened for me. I thought I was going to play forever. but I got hurt and got cut short.” — sixth-year coach Bennett on the abundance of transfers. Paul Jesperson, who started 33 games, and Taylor Barnette both transferred this offseason.