Sitting between fifth-year seniors Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski, Virginia coach Tony Bennett wanted to will his team's name to appear on the screen Sunday night as he watched the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection show with his players and coaches in Charlottesville.
Commercials popped up on the television screen as U.Va.'s players and coaches watched the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection show in John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. Groans echoed throughout the room.
Finally, after a few tense minutes, the destination and opponent were revealed — and players and coaches could exhale.
U.Va. (22-9) earned the No. 10 seed in the West Region and will play Friday in Omaha, Neb., against No. 7 seed Florida in the second round of the tournament. It will be a matchup with which Bennett is familiar, as his calculated, defensive-style will be matched up against a team that loves to run. But Bennett's initial reaction to learning his team's tournament hopes had been fulfilled had nothing to do with X's and O's.
"I could feel the nervous energy kind of flowing back and forth," said Bennett of what he observed from Scott and Zeglinski. "I think they were really excited and hoping it would come up. … Those guys being fifth-year seniors, I know how happy they were. It's always special to be a part of that."
It'll be U.Va.'s first trip to the NCAA tournament since 2007, when it lost in the second round to Tennessee. Florida (23-10) will meet U.Va. for only the second time, after losing to the Cavaliers 62-56 in the 1992 National Invitation Tournament semifinals.
"It's always an honor to be part of the NCAA tournament, and we're excited about playing," said Billy Donovan, who is in his 16th season as Florida's coach, and led the Gators to national titles in '06 and '07. "We know we have a great challenge ahead of us in Virginia and look forward to competing on this stage."
In addition to U.Va., Norfolk State will be making the trip to Omaha to play in the tournament as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's automatic bid. Norfolk State, the 15th seed in the West Region, will play its first NCAA tournament game against No. 2 seed Missouri, which features Kecoughtan High graduate Ricardo Ratliffe.
Florida, which finished tied for second in the Southeastern Conference and lost to Kentucky in the SEC tournament semifinals, features a high-octane offense with all five starters averaging between 10.3 and 16.3 points per game.
Florida attempts 25.5 shots from 3-point range per game, which is more than any of U.Va.'s opponents in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and connect on 39 percent of their 3-point attempts. Kenny Boynton, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, leads Florida with 16.3 points per game while shooting 42.7 percent from 3-point range.
U.Va., which is second in the nation in scoring defense (53.7 points per game), lost Friday to North Carolina State in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. It created some apprehension for the Cavaliers heading into the NCAA tournament selection. U.Va. has lost three of its past four games, but Bennett is ready to put that behind him as his team preps for Florida.
"They've been there, they've done that," said Bennett, who compared Florida's 3-point shooting prowess to what Oregon and Michigan did this season in terms of spreading the floor against U.Va.
"They're not just only a 3-point shooting team. They shoot a lot of them, but they have an attack inside. Those guys that shoot them are very quick into the lane, so it's going to test your defense."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun