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Even after giveaway to Florida State, Virginia's NCAA tournament credentials solid

Virginia CavaliersCollege BasketballBasketballFlorida State SeminolesMike ScottMaryland Terrapins

Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski were having a scrapbook senior night Thursday. Save the tape, print the online testimonials, mount the old-school newspaper clips.

Virginia was not only beating 22nd-ranked Florida State. The Cavaliers were doing it in style with a furious second-half comeback that had John Paul Jones Arena stoked.

Bigger picture and most important: Virginia was about to secure its first NCAA tournament bid since 2007.

Then the Cavaliers played giveaway, squandering an 11-point lead in 2:21. Finally, with the game clock inside one second, Seminoles reserve Ian Miller made a contested 3-pointer from the right wing over Zeglinski to give Florida State a 63-60 victory.

"I'm still trying to comprehend it," Zeglinski said afterward. "I'm still in shock."

Little wonder.

Twice Virginia failed to get the ball inbounds. Akil Mitchell and Zeglinski missed connection on an interior bounce pass that could have produced a layup. Miller scored nine of his 18 points in the final 3:17.

"We just gave that one away," Scott said.

Yes they did.

But this is not time to sulk or lament. This is time to man-up, head north and beat Maryland in Sunday's regular-season finale.

The 24th-ranked Cavaliers (21-8, 8-7 ACC) are better than the Terps (16-13, 6-9). They battered Maryland 71-44 here Feb. 18.

In short, Sunday is a game an NCAA tournament-caliber team should win.

That said, there's no need for hysteria, no need to make Sunday into a win-or-else proposition. Because it's not.

Forecasting the whims of a 10-member committee is hopeless, but even after Thursday's defeat, Virginia compares favorably with other NCAA tournament aspirants.

There are 37 at-large bids available, and having scoured every conference, I can assure you there are, presently, not 37 teams more qualified than the Cavaliers.

Are four losses in the last six games troubling? Sure. And another at Maryland would add to the doubt.

But the committee has made clear in recent years that a team's final 10 or 12 games have become less vital. The "body of work" is paramount, from November to March.

Virginia began Thursday 47th on the Rating Percentage Index updated daily at CollegeRPI.com, and the 46 teams ahead of U.Va. include many conference champions that won't be in the at-large pool. The Cavaliers are 2-5 against the top 50 on the RPI, 7-6 versus the top 100.

Many so-called "bubble teams" have losing records against the top 100.

That doesn't mean Selection Sunday would be anxiety free were Virginia to lose Sunday and again in its first ACC tournament game. But it does mean that the Cavaliers shouldn't be nervous.

"I can't tell you what exactly is required for us (to make the field)," coach Tony Bennett said.

Nobody can, not even Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, a former selection committee chairman. But if the Cavaliers prevail Sunday, on the Terps' senior day, I'd like their chances in a big way.

Senior nights are fickle. The emotions of a final home game can energize or paralyze.

How, in a large game against a ranked opponent, would Scott and Zeglinski respond?

Zeglinski recovered from a scoreless first half with eight points after intermission. Scott had game-highs of 28 points and 10 rebounds, the former his career-high in an ACC contest.

But Virginia trailed 29-20 at intermission after an opening 20 minutes that could charitably be called grim. It was the Cavaliers' largest halftime deficit of the season, caused by 33.3-percent shooting and an 18-9 rebounding deficit.

Only the Seminoles' typical carelessness, in the form of nine turnovers, kept the margin manageable for the Cavaliers. Florida State (20-9, 11-4) leads the ACC in turnovers at 16.5 per game and finished with 18 Thursday.

Virginia stormed back, erasing an 11-point deficit in less than five minutes. When officials Les Jones, Roger Ayers and Mike Eades ejected Florida State's Bernard James for kicking Joe Harris, and Scott hit two technical foul free throws, the Cavaliers led 58-47.

The game appeared in-hand.

"We wanted to lay it all on the line for our seniors," junior point guard Jontel Evans said, "and we failed to do that."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

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