ACC champ Virginia remains humble entering NCAA tournament

Cavaliers play Chanticleers on Friday in NCAA tournament.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Long before his current Oscar acclaim, Matthew McConaughey starred in a quirky little film, "Edtv," about a television show that chronicles an average person's life 24/7. The concept would be a miserable failure with Joe Harris, Virginia's two-time All-ACC guard.

"It would be the most boring movie in the country," Cavaliers associate head coach Ritchie McKay said. "He lives a quiet life and is so humble, it's inspiring."

As an honored and revered senior, Harris' humility has a profound effect on his teammates, in whom McKay observes no sense of entitlement entering Friday's NCAA tournament game against Coastal Carolina here at the PNC Arena.

The Cavaliers (28-6) have every reason to admire what they see in the mirror. They won the ACC tournament for the first time since 1976, claimed the regular season outright for the first time since 1981 and earned a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed for the first time since 1983.

Virginia is about a three-touchdown favorite against 16th-seeded Coastal (21-12), which feels about right. Three of the Chanticleers' victories were against non-Division I opponents, and they lost by 29 at Clemson in their lone ACC incursion.

Moreover, Coastal played only five games against the top 150 teams on the Rating Percentage Index, without a win. Conversely, Virginia is 19-6 versus the top 150.

Then there's history. The Chanticleers qualified for the NCAAs by winning the Big South tournament, and Big South teams are 2-23 all-time in the NCAAs. The victories were UNC Asheville over Texas Southern in the 2003 play-in game, and Winthrop over Notre Dame in '07.

The latter win was then-Eagles coach Gregg Marshall's springboard to Wichita State, where, you might have noticed, he's enjoyed some success.

But Winthrop was a solid No. 11 seed that year. Since the NCAA field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, No. 16 seeds are 0-117 against No. 1s, including Albany's 67-55 loss to Florida on Thursday.

There have been many narrow escapes — Gonzaga-Southern last year, Michigan State-Murray State in 1990, and Oklahoma-East Tennessee State and Georgetown-Princeton in '89 were especially harrowing — but most were lopsided.

Virginia graduate Chuck Culpepper's amusing, fatalistic, worth-a-read piece for Sports on Earth duly noted, the Cavaliers don't appear vulnerable Friday. They're not the privileged royalty that most No. 1s are, and, most important, they defend too well to allow a comparably inferior team to thrive.

"Let's knock on wood that there isn't a hangover from the ACC tournament," assistant coach Jason Williford, "but I think they're ready to make that next step."

With ESPN and other national media lovesick over Big Ten tournament champion Michigan State, Virginia is virtually unnoticed in the East Region. But I like the Cavaliers, who haven't reached a Sweet 16 since 1995, to make the Final Four, in large measure because they are so difficult to prepare for, especially given the tournament's one-day turnarounds.

Sure, George Washington and Memphis, Virginia's possible opponents here Sunday, are credible. But with just Saturday to introduce players to the Cavaliers' atypical defense, I think either will struggle to adjust.

Same holds for next week's East Regional at New York's Madison Square Garden. If the Cavaliers prevailed in a Friday semifinal against, say, Michigan State — and that's an XXL "if" — they would present considerable preparation challenges for an Elite Eight opponent such as Iowa State or Villanova.

"I think offensively you can see what we do," McKay said, "and it's just, Can you stop it? But defensively, we're a little different. … I think it's hard to know what we're doing really well until you play against it a few times. I think you're right. I hope we have that difficulty to present to opponents."

Harris, Akil Mitchell, Malcolm Brogdon, Justin Anderson, London Perrantes, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Darion Atkins: The Cavaliers' rotation is replete with defenders effective in their own ways but steeped in Bennett's crowd-the-paint, pack-line philosophy.

I asked McKay if he expected the same intensity Friday that Virginia showed against Duke in the ACC championship game.

"If it's not, it will be because we've had five days between games," he said. "We were clicking until the Maryland break, and that eight days was hard. … Our practices after days off have been very average, and I hope we're not average tomorrow.

"But (if) it takes us a little time to reacquire that edge, that discipline, that laser-like focus, I don't think it will take long."

David Teel can be reached at 757-247-4636 or by email at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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