Virginia basketball fans should be jumping for joy. They have been ranked nearly the entire season and entered this week with their best overall record since 1982-83. Before the North Carolina game, Virginia had not lost a game by more than three points and were comfortably building an NCAA tournament pedigree.
Well, one game has turned a growing fear into full out panic for the Cavaliers heading into the final stretch of their season.
After a 60-48 loss at Clemson, the well-oiled Virginia machine has fallen off the track and appears to be running out of steam completely.
The combination of turnovers and fatigue turned a 33-32 game into a painful loss for a program that has now lost three of the last four and fallen apart in the past two games.
For the Cavaliers to still be in contention is a miracle in and of itself.
Virginia was predicted to finish fourth in the ACC, and the Cavaliers have not been to the Big Dance since 2007.
Virginia had to deal with two transfers in the middle of the season when sixth man K.T. Harrell and redshirt freshman James Johnson left for more playing time elsewhere.
Harrell was replaced in the rotation by true freshman Malcolm Brogdon, and James Johnson's loss was minimal considering his lack of playing time.
Starting center Assane Sene went down with an ankle injury in just the third game of the ACC season, taking him out for the regular season.
Virginia was down to eight scholarship players after head coach Tony Bennett had to burn the redshirt of Paul Jesperson.
Then, senior point guard Sammy Zeglinski, a man who is fifth all-time at Virginia in career three pointers, went into one of the biggest shooting slumps in program history.
Zeglinski is shooting 14-of-58 from behind the arc in the ACC as opposed to the 29-of-67 he was hitting prior to conference play.
Still, despite all these detriments, Virginia was still finding ways to survive.
They defeated North Carolina State by one on the road, beat Clemson by four at home and lost to the Seminoles by a single bucket despite 20 turnovers and a 2-of-7 shooting day from Zeglinski.
Now, the final ingredient has been added to a disastrous recipe.
Joe Harris fractured a bone in his non-shooting hand against North Carolina. The second leading scorer on the Cavaliers now wears a cast throughout the day, removing it for games.
On Tuesday, Harris proved that he is in no condition to play. His shooting is off, but most importantly, his ball-handling is a liability.
Harris made Virginia's offense viable with his ability to attack the basket, an attribute he picked up this off-season.
Without his offense, teams can literally smother fifth-year senior Mike Scott with defenders, and Virginia's supporting cast can do very little about it.
If Virginia wants to make the NCAA tournament, even at 19-6, things need to turn around quickly.
The Cavaliers still have home dates with Florida State and North Carolina. In fact, three of the final five games are against teams Virginia has already lost to.
The other two are against Maryland, the only team Virginia has yet to play in the ACC this season.
Health is the one thing Virginia fans want more than anything else, but it seems those cries will go unheard.
The Cavaliers prove that having talent, strong coaching and a clear identity are not always enough. Teams need luck to not only survive but thrive.
Unfortunately, Virginia fans have experienced bad luck before.
The devastating injury to Majestic Mapp may have cost Pete Gillen his job at Virginia.
J.R. Reynolds hurting himself at the end of the Tennessee game cost former coach Dave Leitao a chance at the Sweet Sixteen.
Even Mike Scott's injury last year derailed a team that was turning things around.
All teams have to deal with adversity, but every team also has a breaking point. Virginia must look in the mirror and see if they have reached that point.
Fans cannot help but be scared about what the answer may be.
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