The eighth seed appears energized. The sixth seed appears gassed. The top seed is where it is in part due to one of the season's ugliest games.
Welcome to the ACC tournament, where three teams already are assured NCAA tournament bids, three more require some work to improve their inscrutable postseason chances, and everyone else rests somewhere between hopeful and coaching search.
"The beautiful thing about tournament play is if you can win one … you feel good," said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, whose Cavaliers won four of their last five games to climb up to the No. 8 seed. "There's a chance, momentum. But to get ahead of yourself and say we can run the table or get it, I think that's not wise."
The Cavaliers (16-14, 7-9 ACC) open the 58th annual tournament at the Greensboro Coliseum on Thursday at noon versus No. 9 Miami.
Two of Virginia's four wins during its final push came on the road, including last Saturday's 74-60 win at Maryland in the regular season finale.
The perimeter-oriented Cavs have received a boost in the past few weeks from 7-foot center Assane Sene, who is averaging 10.2 points in his past four games.
"You take care of business or take care of what's in front of you, get as ready as you can," Bennett said. "If you're fortunate enough to advance, that's where you gain your confidence and your momentum. And certainly, yeah, if you've played well in the past few games, you've got to carry that and keep trying to do the things that have made you successful."
Should Virginia get past the Hurricanes, top-seeded North Carolina awaits in Friday's quarterfinals. The Tar Heels won 12 of their final 13 games to overtake Duke for the regular-season title and the No. 1 seed.
Asked about the season's turning points, Carolina head coach Roy Williams mentioned a 20-point loss at Georgia Tech in January and Larry Drew II's mid-season departure after he lost his starting job to Marshall.
"I think the Georgia Tech game really opened our eyes as to what can happen if you're not completely focused everybody completely together," Williams said. "Larry's deal really shocked us, and we realized that we had to pull together even more, and everybody had to do just a little bit more with their effort and with their concentration and with their emphasis on how the team was doing."
The other event he pointed out: a 62-56 win at Virginia on Jan. 8, a post-Mardi Gras hangover of a game in which the Tar Heels erased a double-figure second-half deficit. UNC shot a season-low 37 percent from the field and endured a stretch in which it managed two baskets in 13 minutes.
"I would say what we showed in the first game at Virginia," Williams said, "when things were about as ugly as they could be, but we found a way to make some plays down the stretch and win the game. I think that toughness is something that I talked about after that game and I've talked about it a great deal during the course of the whole season."
It would behoove Virginia Tech to make plays and rediscover some toughness this weekend. The Hokies (19-10, 9-7 ACC) dropped their final two games in disheartening fashion to fall to the No. 6 seed.
Not only did they lose the opportunity for a much-needed first-round bye, they find themselves squarely on the NCAA bubble for the fourth consecutive year as they prepare to face No. 11 Georgia Tech, with whom they split a pair of games this season.
Tech is down to seven scholarship players, with the suspension of freshman forward Jarell Eddie announced late Wednesday after his arrest for marijuana possession last month. Eddie came with the team to Greensboro, but Tech coach Seth Greenberg -- after previously being vague about his availability -- announced the suspension less than 24 hours before the Hokies' game.
The Hokies' chances of success rest with veteran leaders Malcolm Delaney, Terrell Bell and Jeff Allen, himself hobbled with an ankle injury that requires daily treatment and limits his practice time.
"If we have to re-invent ourselves this week, we're really in trouble," Greenberg said. "We've got to make some shots, we've got to be a little bit better (protecting) the ball. At Clemson, we were not as patient getting the ball to the second side of the offense; (against) Boston College, we didn't check anyone. One time it's a root canal, the other time it's just getting a couple of teeth pulled.
"We've got to get stops, and we've got to be advantage-disadvantage, make good decisions in transition, but then we've got to move the defense."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun