Coming into this season, most people, including yours truly, had the Virginia Men’s Basketball team squarely in the NIT. The loss of Mike Scott, who gets as much attention around Hooville as ESPN gives Tim Tebow, seemed to be too much to overcome. Couple that with early season injuries and the best the Cavs could have hoped for was the second-tier bracket. But news out of Bristol from Jay Bilas to Joe Lunardi paints a slightly different story.
The ESPN Bracketologist, which I gathered was granted to him after a 3-day seminar at a Holiday Inn Express, has this team IN the field of 68 as a 12-seed, play-in game team and at the bottom of the “Last Four In”. The Dukie concurs. Bilas has Virginia as his 46th ranked team, just ahead of FSU and UVa-vanquished Wisconsin, putting them squarely on the proverbial ‘bubble’. Now I’m not going to start jumping up and down like a guy…that…jumps…up…and…down (not even going to try), but I can see how the Hoos can get into the Tourney, and, at the least, where we thought they could be.
Let’s take a look at where they are now. Entering the exam break, Virginia sits at 8-2 with an RPI right around 138. It is right about where we would have thought they would end up, but, in true UVa fashion, in a different way. Early losses at George Mason and Delaware kept the Hoos at home most of November and December. The extended home stand proved beneficial to Virginia, as they beat Wisconsin on the road, which never happened under Bo Ryan, and a “struggling” Tennessee team that could have gone either way at the beginning of the year. So now the Hoos are riding a 7 game winning streak at the expense of RPI and SOS. To a team heading to the NIT, not that big of a deal, but to a team thinking of bigger things, it leaves zero room for error.
So, for argument’s sake, let’s say Virginia has a very safe and productive rest of December. The Cavaliers remaining opponents are 3-3 Morgan State (who lost by 11 to ODU), 1-8 ODU in Richmond (see Morgan State), and 4-6 Wofford. With that lineup, the RPI probably is not going up, but they should enter 2013 with a 11-2 record. That would be above our 10-3 prediction. Part 2 comes in the expanded 18 game ACC slate. Now the Hoos have a great draw that is looking better every day. Realistically, you can break down the schedule into three sub groups:
Teams: #2 Duke, #21 UNC, #25 NC State
Total Games: 4
Win Range: 0-1
The good thing is that we only play Duke and NC State once, and both are at home. The downside is, at this point, they are the only ranked teams left on our schedule. Going 0-fer against these teams aren’t the worst, but with 3 home games, a win can go a long way for the NCAAs.
Teams: Maryland, Virginia Tech, Miami, Georgia Tech
Total Games: 7
Win Range: 3-5
These teams are playing good ball early on in the season, but against about the same talent the Hoos are. Only 3 home games in this group, but 2 are rivalries and the Hoos have GT’s number of late so a mix of Ws and Ls in this group.
Teams: Clemson, Florida State, Boston College, Wake Forest
Total Games: 7
Win Range: 5-7
These teams are not playing well. At all. Home or away, if we play to our potential, we can beat these teams every time. But this is UVa and we won’t be that lucky and I don’t think FSU is going to stay down for very long. So a majority of wins to sweep is likely.
Best Record: 13-5, 24-7
Worst Record: 8-10, 19-12
It’s a pretty wide range, and one that could see the Hoos, based on the past year’s teams, as high as a 7 seed or fighting for the NIT. Take the average, and they are a bubble team, needing a little help.
So there you are. Hoos need to shake the exam break off with some weaker talent and get ready for UNC to open up the ACC season.