At first glance it would be extreme to think that Virginia could find themselves on the wrong side of the bubble given their play for much of the season. But as the injuries have increased for Tony Bennett's team so have the struggles, with the Cavaliers having now dropped four of their last six games.
Thursday's loss may have been the toughest to stomach, as Florida State used the ejection of their best big man as a spark that resulted in a game-ending 16-2 run. Ian Miller's three-pointer with eight tenths of a second remaining gave the Seminoles a 63-60 victory, and it also means that unless they get another shot in the ACC tournament Virginia went winless in games against teams above them in the ACC standings.
"We just gave that one away. That was our last chance to play one of the top teams in the ACC," lamented Mike Scott after the game. "That was our last chance to beat one of the best teams and we had it, but we gave it away."
Scott led the Cavaliers with 28 points and ten rebounds and Jontel Evans added ten, but they would be the only double-figure scorers for the home team as Joe Harris and Sammy Zeglinski shot a combined 5-for-16 from the field. Not having Malcolm Brogdon due to injury essentially cut the Virginia rotation down to six players with Darion Atkins being the sixth man, and with two of their most important players struggling Virginia was unable to close the door.
The ejection of Bernard James, who kicked Joe Harris following a scramble for a loose ball, ended up sparking the visitors as opposed to the home team. Following four Scott free throws to make the score 58-47 Virginia with 4:33 remaining, Florida State executed better offensively while clamping down on the defensive end of the floor. Virginia would tally more turnovers (four) than shot attempts (two) over the final 4:33, with a pair of Evans free throws with 3:01 remaining being the final points of the night.
"Verbally they were saying that we've got to pick it up, we've still got enough time to win," said FSU head coach Leonard Hamilton. "Any time you hear those types of things coming out of your kids' mouths, their body language and communication changed totally realizing that we lost our big guy and so now everybody else had to step it up." (quotes courtesy of VirginiaSports.com)
One a solid option in the "third-best team in the ACC" conversation, Virginia now finds themselves in a four-way tie for fourth place with a trip to Maryland remaining before the conference tournament. But earning a first-round bye is probably of little concern for the Cavaliers, as their resume is devoid of any victories over Duke, Florida State or North Carolina.
Virginia has just two Top 50 wins (Michigan and Miami) on the season and two of their losses came against teams ranked below 100 (Virginia Tech and Clemson) in the RPI. Is Virginia one of the 37 best teams? They likely are, even with the recent personnel issues, but they need to make sure their resume can make that case. Thursday night's loss most likely magnified the importance of next week's ACC tournament for Virginia.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Tim Hardaway, Jr. (Michigan)
25 points and 11 rebounds in Michigan's 72-61 win at Illinois.
2. G Johnny Dee (San Diego)
30 points and five rebounds in the Toreros' 76-54 win over Pepperdine in the second round of the WCC tournament.
3. F Mike Scott (Virginia)
28 points and ten rebounds in the Cavaliers' 63-60 loss to Florida State.