Virginia Basketball: 5 Things the Cavaliers Must Do to Reach the NCAA Tournament
Despite putting up their second highest point total of the season, the Virginia Cavaliers were unable to keep up with the North Carolina Tar Heels and suffered a 93-81 defeat this past Saturday.
The Cavaliers now have an 18-7 record and are 8-4 in the ACC, which has many believing they are sitting on the bubble for the NCAA tournament.
Will Virginia be able to finish the season strong and earn a spot in the Big Dance? Or will the Cavs struggle down the stretch and become a favorite to win the NIT?
Here are five things UVA must do to reach the NCAA tournament.
1. Upset a Top 10 Team
The Cavaliers will likely get two opportunities at this with upcoming games against No. 2 Miami and No. 6 Duke.
Virginia travels to Coral Gables, Fla., on Tuesday night to take on a Miami team that is facing a quick turnaround after having played a physical game at Clemson this past Sunday night.
The Hurricanes struggled against Clemson's rugged defense, which could provide Tony Bennett the blueprint for success.
If Virginia is unable to get the upset on the road, it will have another opportunity when Duke comes calling on February 28. The game will be played in John Paul Jones Arena in what should be raucous environment, which could give the Cavaliers the extra boost they need to knock off the Blue Devils.
A victory over one of these teams would give Virginia a great signature win to add to its tournament résumé.
2. Avoid an Upset at Boston College
A road trip to Chesnut Hill, Mass., to take on Boston College has been no easy task for ACC teams this year.
The Eagles nearly knocked off Duke and Miami in the Silvio O. Conte Forum, and I'm sure Steve Donahue's team would like nothing more than to spoil Virginia's tournament chances.
This could also be a bit of a trap game for Virginia as it will come after the game at home against Duke, which will almost certainly be an emotional contest.
Even though Boston College is underrated and a team with some promising young players, a late season loss to the Eagles would not look good to the selection committee.
With losses to George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion already on the résumé, the Cavaliers cannot afford another bad loss.
3. Get Back to Playing Excellent Defense
The Cavaliers are at their best when they can slow down the game and force the opposing team to execute its half-court offense.
Against North Carolina, Virginia allowed the Tar Heels to speed up the pace of the game and turn it into an offensive shootout, which did not bode well for the Cavaliers.
According to StatSheet.com, Virginia only allows 54 points per game, which is fourth in the nation and first in the ACC. The Cavaliers must rely on this strong defense to help them finish the season strong.
Even though Virginia's offense has improved as of late, the key to getting back to the NCAA tournament will be slowing down games and playing hard-nosed defense.
4. Win One Game in the ACC Tournament
Virginia is currently in third place in the ACC standings with a one-game lead over North Carolina and NC State.
If the Cavaliers can finish the regular season in third place, they will earn a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament and draw the winner of the No. 6 seed vs. No. 11 seed. Currently, that game would feature Maryland and Boston College.
Regardless of whom the opponent is, the Cavaliers need to win one game in the ACC Tournament to complete their tournament resume.
A win would put Virginia in the semifinals of the conference tournament while a loss could leave a bad taste in the mouths of the members of the selection committee.
5. Finish the Season with 23 Wins.
Twenty-three wins is the magic number for Virginia to reach the 2013 NCAA tournament.
The Cavs currently sit at 18-7 and have at least seven remaining games on the schedule. Regardless of how it gets there, Virginia will be dancing if it can go 5-2 over these next seven games.
For a team that was picked to finish seventh in the preseason conference poll, Tony Bennett has done a remarkable job with this squad.
If Bennett can guide his team to five more wins, it will be packing its bags for another trip to the NCAA tournament.