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ACC All Access: Virginia's shooters struggle, contribute to it being "the most interesting bubble team in the world"

By the time Sunday evening comes around, Virginia coach Tony Bennett may not have such a glib opinion of the task that sits before the NCAA tournament committee when it comes to evaluating his team’s chances of gaining entry to the tournament.

Yet, to his credit, he was able to find humor in the situation his program is suddenly in after Friday’s 75-56 loss to North Carolina State in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.

With apologies to the producers of a certain Mexican beer (but in keeping with a theme), U.Va. (21-11) may not always find itself on the tournament bubble, but when it does…

“We’re the ‘Dos Equis’ bubble team,” said Bennett, whose team was 67th in Ratings Percentage Index projections coming into the day. “We’re the most interesting bubble team in the world. We gotta stay thirsty, right?

“We do have some quality wins, absolutely, have some bad losses, have the injuries. They’ll have to make those decisions. It is a unique situation, and that’s where it’s at.”

It’s true. Based on its whacky collection of wins and losses, U.Va. is something of a mystery.

How do you evaluate a team that came into the quarterfinals with four wins against team rated in the RPI top 50, but also had seven losses to teams rated 113th or worse? Furthermore, Maryland may be on the verge of complicating matters even more.

Maryland beat Duke on Friday in the quarterfinals. On Saturday, Maryland will get a chance to improve a resume that wasn’t anywhere near NCAA tournament-ready coming into the ACC tournament when it faces North Carolina in the semifinals.

So, let’s say Maryland has wins against Duke and UNC by Saturday night. At that point, could Maryland really be considered a more attractive NCAA tournament candidate than U.Va., considering U.Va. has beaten both Duke and UNC and swept Maryland in two regular season meetings?

That’s a conundrum for the committee to figure out. One thing that’s clear is how thoroughly beaten U.Va. was against N.C. State.

In a matchup that figured to be fairly even (at least the fine folks in Las Vegas thought so), N.C. State grabbed control early in the second half thanks to the deadeye shooting of Scott Wood (N.C. State ACC tournament-record seven 3-pointers) and some determined offensive rebounding.

It also didn’t help U.Va. that its cold-shooting of late continued to be an issue. U.Va. shot 38.9 percent from the floor. In losing three of its last four games, U.Va. has failed to eclipse 42.6 percent shooting in any of the games.

“We came out lackadaisical on both ends of the floor,” said U.Va. guard Jontel Evans, a Bethel High graduate.

“I know we’ll get a chance to play in the NIT or NCAA (tournament). This loss right here will open our eyes.

“We let our offense dictate our defense. Just because we didn’t shoot the ball well, we weren’t getting back on defense, either. We let guys get to the basket at will. We weren’t getting back in transition. They actually annihilated us on the glass, so we can’t play like that. We have to be on our ‘A’ game for the full 40 minutes.”


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U.Va. has picked a terrible time to collectively lose its shooting touch. Every player not named Akil Mitchell – and  to a certain extent Mike Tobey – that has averaged more than five minutes of playing time per contest in at least the last five games has struggled.

Mitchell has been very steady in the last six games, averaging 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game while shooting 60.3 percent (41 of 68) from the floor.

In U.Va.’s loss at Florida State and win against Maryland immediately prior to the ACC tournament, Tobey was strong off the bench, averaging 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds off the bench while shooting 64.7 percent (11 of 17). He couldn’t sustain his recent success against N.C. State in his second start of the season, finishing with six points on 3 of 9 shooting and three rebounds in 19 minutes.

Every other player that has gotten significant minutes for U.Va. of late has been inconsistent on the offensive end.

Joe Harris was certainly worthy of All-ACC first team distinction this season, but he hasn’t played like an all-conference pick in the last four games. He was 4 of 13 shooting, including 2 of 9 from 3-point range, against N.C. State.

In the last four games, he’s made just 17 of 57 shots (29.8 percent), including 7 of 26 (26.9 percent) from beyond the 3-point line. Those aren’t exactly numbers indicative of a guy that’s third in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (43.2) for the season.

Freshman Justin Anderson has started the last 11 games. He scored 14 and 17 points, respectively, in wins against Clemson and at Maryland in his first two starts during that stretch. Since then, he’s averaged just 5.6 points per game while shooting 40 percent from the floor (20 of 50).

Freshman Evan Nolte has missed 14 of his last 17 shot attempts. Paul Jesperson is 11 for his last 35 (31.4 percent) shooting from the floor in his last six games. Evans is 8 for 30 shooting (26.7 percent) in his last five games.

Regardless of whether U.Va. earns a bid to the NCAA tournament or the National Invitation Tournament, there needs to be a serious change in shooting fortunes, or it’ll be a short postseason for the Cavaliers.

“I think we’ve got a lot more fight in us,” Evans said. “I think we could’ve been sounder on both ends of the floor, but you know, maybe we need this. Maybe this is the wake-up call that we have to be on our ‘A’ game to play against teams like that.”


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