With Saturday's 75-56 win over Syracuse, the Virgina Cavaliers men's basketball team clinched the ACC regular-season title and matched an ACC record with 16 conference wins in a season. The 1998-99 Duke Blue Devils were a perfect 16-0 in conference play, while this year's Cavs are 16-1, with a game against Maryland (15-14, 7-9 ACC) still to come.
Virginia was ranked No. 24 in the Associated Press preseason poll, and the Cavaliers essentially played to their ranking until conference play began. A modest 9-4 start was highlighted by losses to Wisconsin, Virginia Commonwealth and Tennessee, with the Cavs' best out-of-conference win coming Nov. 29 against a then-unranked SMU team that is now No. 18 in the country.
Virginia then opened 3-0 in ACC play, before falling 69-65 to Duke (23-6, 12-4 ACC) at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 13. Since that tough loss, the Wahoos have ripped off 13 consecutive victories, all in the ACC.
Of course, as impressive as their season has been, the Cavaliers have benefited from a relatively easy conference slate that features Maryland, Notre Dame (15-15, 6-11), Florida State (17-11, 8-8 ACC) and Virginia Tech (9-19, 2-14 ACC) as the only repeat opponents. The aforementioned four teams own a combined 23-42 record in ACC play.
The favorable schedule shouldn't hurt Virginia too much come Selection Sunday, as a relatively easy ACC slate is still more difficult than what teams in most conferences face. Ranked No. 5 in the latest AP poll, the Cavaliers are firmly in the mix for a No. 1 seed and can lock one down with an ACC tournament title.
After winning its first outright regular-season ACC title since 1980-81, Virginia will be looking to capture the conference tournament for the second time in school history and the first time since 1976. Assuming the Cavs beat Maryland on Sunday in their final regular-season tilt, a deep run in the conference tournament should be enough to capture a No. 1 seed.
Ending a 37-year conference tournament drought would be icing on the cake, but it probably isn't necessary to lock down one of the top seeds for March Madness.
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