College Basketball Nation: ACC

Virginia, the underdog favorite

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27

NEW YORK -- They put Virginia in the New York Knicks' locker room. It’s the cushiest space, bigger than the visitors' rooms in Madison Square Garden, lined with plush carpeting and tricked out with wooden stalls.

It’s meant to be a reward, an honor reserved for the highest seed competing in the regional.

Of course, the joke is that they put Virginia in the Knicks’ locker room ... as in the home of the woebegone, train wreck of an NBA franchise, a backhanded compliment if ever there was one.

Because it is, after all, Virginia, the George Harrison of No. 1 seeds, the Rodney Dangerfield of hoops, the insert-your-cliched-or-hackneyed-name-about-some-chronically-disrespected-entity-here squad of this NCAA tournament.

The Cavaliers are a living, breathing, dribbling oxymoron -- an underdog favorite.

Or is it a favorite underdog?

Whatever the case, no one believes in the Cavaliers.

More than 11 million people entered ESPN’s Tourney Challenge. A grand total of 413,115 (or 3.75 percent) picked the Hoos to win the national championship. People had more faith in each of the other three No. 1 seeds, one 2-seed (Kansas), a No. 3 seed (Duke, which, by the way, lost by nine to Virginia in the ACC tournament just two weeks ago) and two 4-seeds (Michigan State and Louisville).

In fact, according to James Quintong, an editor at ESPN Fantasy, Virginia is officially the underdoggiest of the most recent favorites. Every other 1-seed in the past four years received at least a 5 percent good-faith vote to cut down the nets.

[+] EnlargeTony Bennett
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsDespite celebrating ACC regular-season and tournament titles this year, Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers remain the Rodney Dangerfield of college hoops.
Heck the president of the United States, whose office sits 115 miles from UVa’s Charlottesville campus, went with Michigan State.

The Cavs won the ACC regular-season title. They won the ACC tournament.

They blew out Memphis in the round of 32.

What else do you need, people?

“I think maybe if we win the national championship people will believe in us," Malcolm Brogdon said.

“Yeah, except then they won’t pick us for the next year," Akil Mitchell added.

Truth is, the Cavaliers might be a little closer to earning respect than they think. Somewhere around the middle of the second half of the Big Ten tournament title game, about when Michigan State started its systematic drubbing of Michigan, the Spartans went from injury-beleaguered question mark to the smart choice to win it all.

And now the hot pick meets Dangerfield in the Sweet 16. If you polled 50 people outside of the Garden, odds are 48 (provided they weren’t wearing Virginia gear) would pick the Spartans. Vegas has set Michigan State as a two-point favorite, which isn’t much, but remember, the Spartans are the 4-seed.

It’s all something of a running joke in the Virginia locker room, this no-respect theme that has been dogging the team all season. The players don’t care.

Seriously, they don’t. They’ve won 30 games, lost just six and aren’t terribly worried about proving anything to anyone.

“It’s kind of funny," Anthony Gill said. “We know we’re overlooked, but that’s fine. We know what we’re capable of."

So why doesn’t anyone else?

For starters, this is Virginia, home to Thomas Jefferson, blue blazers, khaki pants and really good lacrosse.

The basketball history books exist, but they are in six inches of dust, dating back to the short-shorts era of Ralph Sampson in the 1980s. It’s been 19 years since the Cavaliers played in a regional semifinal, 30 since their last Final Four.

Now compare that to Michigan State, where the regional semifinal is like the warm-up act. If Adreian Payne and Keith Appling don’t make it to the Final Four this year, it will be the first senior class under Tom Izzo to not play in a national semifinal in his 19-year career.

“Earlier in the year, they got beat by Tennessee by 30, but look at what they’ve done and who they’ve beat since," Izzo said. “They shouldn’t be underdogs, but I think it’s more because they’re a program in the making. Ours is more established."

Tony Bennett is changing at least that part of the image. This is Virginia’s third consecutive postseason (two NCAA tourneys surrounding last year’s NIT) under him.

The man has now won at Washington State and at Virginia, which is perhaps slightly easier than balancing a teacup on the end of a pencil while riding on the back of a charging elephant.

But Bennett is also both the solution and part of the (perceived) problem for the Cavaliers. In a sport where he with the most points wins, the man does not care if his team scores.

“Well, that’s not said, but it’s sort of implied," Brogdon said.

And the general fan simply cannot get all in a lather about a good defensive crouch. We are a country that actually cares to keep up with the Kardashians.

We don’t want substance. We want flash.

The Cavaliers are about as flashy as Rand Paul.

Mitchell came into the Knicks’ locker room, searching out Carmelo Anthony's locker. The senior was hoping to get it for himself. Teven Jones beat him to it.

“I’ve always been a fan of Carmelo’s," he said. “I always pictured myself guarding him."

Guarding him, not being him. Who says that?

No one, at least no one in a Knicks locker room recently. Phil Jackson’s hot mess scores an un-Virginia 98.8 points per game; it gives up 100.3, or 19 fewer than the Cavaliers have allowed in two NCAA games.

Surrounded by media in a corner of the locker room entrance, Bennett joked that he might steal a peek at the Knicks’ whiteboard while he was in town, maybe garner a play or two.

Anywhere else (well, except maybe Philadelphia) that wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Not here, of course. No, here that would be akin to risking a bad case of basketball cooties.

And that is just so Virginia, treated like favorites but living like underdogs.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- While Virginia coach Tony Bennett huddled with his assistants at halftime the Cavaliers players actively discussed their dilemma. Trailing 35-30 to No. 16 seed Coastal Carolina, the phrase that kept being repeated was, “to get back to doing what we do.”

There was frustration, yet it didn’t lead to finger pointing. Senior forward Akil Mitchell said he didn’t even yell.

“There was no reason to yell; I yell out there on the floor when everybody needs to hear me and when it’s time to get excited,” Mitchell said. “We needed to settle in and we needed to know that we’d be fine.”

The Cavs know that if they play Sunday against Memphis like they did in the first half Friday, their NCAA tournament stay will end in the Round of 32. They agreed the best thing to come out of their 70-59 win over Coastal Carolina was the relief of getting that first win.

“It’s only two or three players on our team that’s played in the NCAA tournament,” said sophomore forward Justin Anderson, who was scoreless in his NCAA tournament debut. “The expectation level is high; everyone expects you to go out and make every shot. You never factor in the adversity that you may see.”

[+] EnlargeAnthony Gill
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsVirginia's Anthony Gill shows some emotion in the victory over Coastal Carolina.
Virginia got tested more than it expected in the first half when Coastal shredded its vaunted defense. The Chanticleers had eight assists on their first 13 field goals en route to shooting 52 percent for the half. The Cavs twice got caught sleeping on back-door cuts and more often than not had slow rotations that left shooters open.

Halftime allowed them to regroup. They shed their fears of being on the wrong side of history -- becoming the first No. 1 seed in 120 games to lose to a 16-seed -- that guard Malcolm Brogdon admitted was in the back of their minds.

They’ve seen or heard about all of the upsets in the first two days of the tournament and it had an impact on their start.

“We came out with some jitters and it took us a whole half to shake them off,” said Brogdon, who had 14 points. “The jitters are gone. We’ll play a very good team on Sunday like we did tonight and we can’t come out like we did. We have to come out like we did in the second half and impose our will from the beginning.”

Getting back to what the Cavs do best meant playing better defense. Virginia held the Chanticleers to just two field goals for nearly the first 10 minutes of the second half. Those open shots Coastal got with ease were nonexistent after halftime.

Offensively it took sophomore forward Evan Nolte, nicknamed Nol-trey by his teammates, knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers to expand a three-point lead to 56-48 with 7:11 left. Nolte played just two minutes in the first half, but in the second scored all eight points of his points within a two-minute stretch that broke the game open for the Cavs.

“That’s just kind of my game,” Nolte said. “People ask me where it comes from; that’s what I do in practice.”

Mitchell said Nolte’s baskets “opened up the floodgates” as the Cavs’ lead never dipped below six after that. As they begin preparation for Memphis, Virginia hopes to start on Sunday the way it finished.

“Everyone is here to win,” Nolte said. “The margin of error is so small. We came out flat, and I think we learned from that. On Sunday we’ll come out with an edge and try to punch people in the mouth -- figuratively.”

ORLANDO -- Florida hardly looked like the No. 1 overall seed Thursday night in its opening-round game of the NCAA tournament.

And Louisville didn’t look much better in its first NCAA tournament game in defense of its national championship.

Both will be looking for redemption when they play round-of-32 games Saturday, with another trip to the Sweet 16 on the line:

South Region: No. 1 seed Florida (33-2) vs. No. 9 seed Pittsburgh (26-9), 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

[+] EnlargeCasey Prather
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackCasey Prather and No. 1 seed Florida must play better in order to beat No. 9-seeded Pittsburgh.
Florida, which has won a school-record 27 games in a row and hasn’t lost since Dec. 2, had to work much harder than expected in a 67-55 win over No. 16 seed Albany in a second-round game of the South Region.

The surging Panthers walloped No. 8 seed Colorado 77-48 Thursday.

“It was good enough to win, but is it good enough to play against a team like Pittsburgh? Probably not,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “But I’m proud of our guys because they found a way to win when they didn’t play their best. And you know what? They’ve always been really good at being able to learn valuable lessons in a lot of ways. So hopefully they’ll be able to come back and correct that and do a little bit better.”

The Gators will probably have to be much better against Pittsburgh, which is a lot bigger and more physical than the Great Danes. Albany, which had to win a first-round game against Mount St. Mary’s on Tuesday night to earn the trip to Orlando, trailed UF by only six points at the half and tied the score at 39 with about 14 minutes to play. The Gators finally pulled away with a 9-0 run in the final 10 minutes.

“I think in this tournament you have to be aware that every team is fighting for their life, and the goal is just to survive,” Gators center Patric Young said. “Moving forward, we have to make sure we do whatever it takes just to survive and every team is going to be trying to keep that same mindset of just moving on to the next round. Hopefully, we can keep it going, as well.”

Pittsburgh, which led Colorado by 28 points at the half and committed only three turnovers in the game, seems to be hitting its stride. The Panthers won 16 of their first 17 games this season, then dropped six of 10 after losing sixth man Durand Johnson to a season-ending knee injury.

Pittsburgh has played better lately, though, winning four of five, including an 80-75 victory over North Carolina in the ACC tournament.

Pitt was 1-7 against ranked opponents this season and is 2-15 all time against the country’s top-ranked team.

“I think we feel like we’re playing really good basketball,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “We think we’re playing our best. We played well in the ACC tournament. We didn’t win it, but we thought we were playing better and we played good the other day. I think all that matters is not so much the seed but how you feel like you’re playing and how you are playing.”

Midwest Region: No. 4 seed Louisville (30-5) vs. No. 5 seed Saint Louis (27-6), 2:45 p.m. ET Saturday

Louisville and Saint Louis were in even more trouble than Florida on Thursday night.

[+] EnlargeRuss Smith
David Manning-USA TODAY SportsRuss Smith and fourth-seeded Louisville struggled against No. 13 seed Manhattan. The Cardinals face No. 5 seed Saint Louis on Saturday.
The Cardinals trailed No. 13 seed Manhattan 58-55 with less than 3˝ minutes to go. But then Louisville stars Russ Smith and Luke Hancock bailed out their team by scoring 14 of their final 16 points, leading the Cardinals to a 71-64 victory over the upstart Jaspers.

The Billikens trailed No. 12 seed NC State by 14 points with 5 minutes to go, and eight points with 90 seconds to go, but somehow won the game 83-80 in overtime.

Louisville and Saint Louis will meet on Saturday, with the winner advancing to next week’s Midwest Region semifinals in Indianapolis.

“We won the game, but any team in this tournament [can win],” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “Albany played Florida to the mat. Because of everybody leaving so early, that’s what makes March Madness so much fun. I think we’re a very good basketball team. I thought Manhattan was the better team [Thursday night] until 4 minutes to go in the game, and then we were the better team.”

Manhattan’s familiarity with Louisville -- Jaspers coach Steve Masiello played for Pitino at Kentucky and coached under him at Louisville -- made things more difficult for the Cardinals. Louisville missed 13 of its first 17 shots in the second half.

But Saint Louis and Louisville also are very similar. The Billikens have started five seniors in all but three games this season, and they’re built on defense. Saint Louis ranks eighth nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 91.4 points per 100 possessions. Louisville, which starts three seniors, ranks sixth in adjusted defensive efficiency (90.6 points).

"It's like watching one of [SMU] coach Larry Brown's teams," Pitino said. "You weren't quite sure whether his team executed better on offense or defense, and that's indicative of Saint Louis and Jim [Crews]' teams. They execute at both ends of the floor in a terrific fashion. Obviously they've got seniors, and seniors execute very well, and they're very impressive."

One group of seniors will be together on the court for another chance Saturday.

“We’ve been the underdog pretty much my entire time at Saint Louis, so it’s nothing new,” Saint Louis forward Dwayne Evans said. “But to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and obviously Louisville won it last year. I think we have the team to do it."
Virginia kicker Alec Vozenilek is prepared to lose sleep over the NCAA tournament -- literally.

With his younger brother, Rob, a junior walk-on guard for the No. 1- seeded Hoos, playing against one of their best friends and the starting center for No. 16-seeded Coastal Carolina on Friday night, Vozenilek is going to do everything he possibly can on Friday afternoon to drive from Charlottesville, Va., to Raleigh, N.C., to see the 9:25 p.m. ET tipoff.

[+] EnlargeAlec Vozenilek
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyVirginia kicker/punter Alec Vozenilek will watch on Friday his brother play against his a foreign exchange student who lived with him.
And then drive back four hours for spring football practice at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.

And then turn around again for what he hopes will be a second tourney game for Virginia.

Talk about family ties.

Vozenilek, one of five children, also has an extended family -- one comprised of foreign exchange students who lived with the Vozenileks at their home in Richmond. (One summer, Vozenilek says, there were nine kids living in their house.) Coastal Carolina starting center El Hadji Ndieguene, of Senegal, spent two years with the family and became so close to them that parents Tom and Betty Baugh Vozenilek skipped Virginia’s hoops game against Syracuse -- one of the biggest games of the season -- to drive eight hours to attend Ndieguene’s Senior Night at Coastal Carolina.

“It’s really ironic and amazing that Virginia ended up playing Coastal in the NCAA tournament,” Alec said. “My dad was trying to figure out how he was going to fly to watch El Hadji play and fly to see Rob. It was getting complicated. We were sitting in the car on the way back from Greensboro, and we had a wireless hotspot set up in the van, we had the TV on and were listening on the radio, and we were like, ‘Oh my God. We’re about to get matched up against Coastal Carolina.’ Really, he’s a part of the family.”

And they’ll all be reunited Friday night in Raleigh -- yet another road trip in the books for the sports-loving family.

Betty played tennis at North Carolina, and Tom played tennis at Pacific Lutheran. Basketball, though, was the first sport both Alec and Rob fell in love with. They trained together throughout high school, used the facilities at the University of Richmond, and spent countless hours travelling to AAU basketball games together throughout the Richmond area. With two younger brothers and a younger sister -- plus the rotation of foreign exchange students -- the average minivan wouldn’t cut it.

They call it their “limo van,” a 15-passenger Ford van that had all of the back seats removed to make room for a luxury ride. There’s a table in the middle, with six reclining bucket seats and a TV. The whole family piled in to travel to the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C., last week, where Virginia captured the school’s first league title since 1976.

It’s a non-stop schedule, as Rob and the rest of the family go to all of the home football games to watch Alec, who in turn finds his family at every home basketball game to watch Rob. The years of dedication are now paying off.

While Rob gets to experience the NCAA tournament, Alec is entering his second season as the Cavaliers’ starting punter and placekicker.

Last season he averaged 41.2 yards per punt, which ranked No. 9 in the ACC. He had 13 punts of more than 50 yards, and led the ACC with 23 punts inside the 20. He made 12 of 15 field goal attempts, including the final six of the season.

“I definitely think it’s been humbling, seeing everything that we did in high school at such a young age paying off for both of us,” Alec said. “I think we really owe a lot to our parents for giving us the opportunities, and our high school had a great strength and conditioning program, great facilities, really just pushing us. We owe a lot to each other, just for every time we were tired and didn’t want to work out or do whatever, we pushed each other to the next level. I definitely appreciate that from him. I really think that’s why this has all panned out the way it has.”

Some things are worth losing sleep over.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- North Carolina State led No. 5 seed Saint Louis by 14 points with five minutes to play in regulation in Thursday night’s second-round game of the Midwest Region at Amway Center.

“We just didn’t want to give up,” Saint Louis forward Rob Loe said. “We didn’t want to end on that kind of note. We just wanted to keep playing.”

The No. 12-seeded Wolfpack led by eight points with 90 seconds to go and by six points with one minute left.

[+] EnlargeJordair Jett
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSaint Louis guard Jordair Jett scored 18 points and hit four 3-pointers in the win over NC State.
“We had to keep fighting,” Billikens guard Jordair Jett said. “It was all or nothing. If you lose, you go home. If you win, you advance in the tournament. We had to keep playing.”

Somehow, the Billikens fought until the very end, erasing the aforementioned deficits in regulation in one of the most memorable comebacks in recent NCAA tournament history, and then pulling away from the Wolfpack for an 83-80 victory in overtime.

Saint Louis, which dropped four of its previous five games after winning 19 straight, including a 71-68 loss to St. Bonaventure in the A-10 tourney, advanced to play in Saturday’s third round, where it will meet the winner of Thursday night’s game between No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 13 seed Manhattan.

“I can’t salute these guys enough in terms of how they just stayed with it,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “I don’t know how many we were down late, but we were down plenty late. They just stayed with it. Obviously, our press gave us a little energy. We got a few buckets out of that, and that picked up things for us and we had guys making big plays down the stretch.”

Saint Louis fans won’t forget the Billikens’ comeback anytime soon, but they certainly had plenty of help in erasing NC State’s wide margin. After the Wolfpack took a 59-45 lead on ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren’s layup with 5:03 to play, NC State came apart at the seams. The Wolfpack missed 12 of 21 foul shots and had three turnovers in the final five minutes of regulation.

“Well, it’s heartbreaking,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “Obviously, we’re going to always feel like we let one slip away.”

With the Wolfpack holding a 65-57 lead with about 1½ minutes left in regulation, Loe drained a 3-pointer and then Grandy Glaze stole the in-bounds pass and scored on a layup to cut NC State’s lead to 65-62 with 1:14 remaining. After NC State pulled back ahead 68-63 in the final minute of regulation, the Wolfpack missed two straight foul shots and then Saint Louis’ Jake Barnett made a long 3-pointer to make it 68-66 with 47.2 seconds left.

“We knew that we were right there, and coach has been saying all week, it doesn’t matter if you’re up 10 or down 10,” Barnett said. “Obviously, we were down a lot, but we kept fighting and kept battling. The thing that was cool is guys came in off the bench and made great plays. Everybody stepped up, made big shots, and we were just able to cash in down the stretch.”

[+] EnlargeDwayne Evans
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBillikens forward Dwayne Evans had 11 points and six rebounds vs. the Wolfpack.
After Barnett’s deep 3-pointer in front of the Saint Louis bench, the Billikens fouled NC State’s Anthony Barber, who made one of two foul shots to make it 69-66 with 45 seconds left. Loe quickly made a layup to cut it to 69-68 with 35 seconds remaining, and then the Billikens fouled Warren, who made one of two foul shots for a 70-68 lead with 28 seconds to go.

Jett tied the score at 70-70 on a layup and was fouled by Warren with 18 seconds left, but he missed a free throw that would have ended the game in regulation.

“That’s probably the weirdest turn of events that I’ve ever been a part of,” Loe said.

In overtime, the Wolfpack trailed 81-80 when Warren missed a foul shot for a three-point play with 38 seconds left. Earlier in overtime, one of Warren’s foul shots was wiped out when he committed a lane violation.

The Wolfpack made only 20 of 37 foul shots in the game.

“It’s hard to explain,” Gottfried said. “We’re a good foul-shooting team. We’ve been a good foul-shooting team here recently, and it kind of steamrolled on us there from the foul line.”

Once the Billikens were rolling, NC State seemingly could only watch.

“It was definitely tough,” NC State guard Ralston Turner said. “At one point we had the lead and things were going our way. We had a 10-point lead and they started fouling. They just extended the game. We started missing a lot of free throws, and a lot of uncharacteristic things started happening.”

Experience not in Duke's favor

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Mercer is making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985, and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski figures it’s been at least that long since he’s had a team configured like this.

[+] EnlargeJabari Parker
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJabari Parker will be playing in his first (and maybe last) NCAA tournament game on Friday against Mercer.
Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, the Blue Devils' two most gifted players, are as inexperienced as the Bears when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Krzyzewski said he can’t remember the last time his two best players were both in their first year of playing. The names he brought up -- Johnny Dawkins and Mark Alarie -- were part of his first recruiting class that made a Final Four.

“Rodney and Jabari, this is their first NCAA tournament just like for the guys at Mercer,” Krzyzewski said. “For a number of our guys, for almost half our team, it’s our first NCAA tournament. So I hope it’s a good one for us.”

It could actually be the only tournament moment for Parker and Hood, as both could end up turning pro at the end of the season.

“[Mercer is] kind of looking forward to the game too, because it’s their first appearance for a long time,” Parker said. “So we’re going to try to treat it like them, because this may be the last time we might play together with the guys on the team.”

Mercer uses seven seniors in its top nine rotation, including its five starters. Krzyzewski said the Bears won’t be intimidated and that this group of Blue Devils had to prove something to themselves.

“It’s not given to you, you got to keep earning it,” Krzyzewski said. “But because of what we’ve done [as a program], a lot of people think that this group of guys have done that. They haven't done it.”

Mercer coach Bob Hoffman has been quick to point that fact out to his players. Hoffman doesn’t want his team focusing on the Blue Devils’ Final Fours and national championships when only Andre Dawkins remains from their 2010 national title team.

“We’re not playing all those other guys who have made runs,” Hoffman said. “We’re playing the team that’s going to walk on the floor tomorrow.”

Mercer has an edge about it. The Bears -- not Florida Gulf Coast -- were supposed to amaze the college basketball world in last season’s tournament after winning the Atlantic Sun regular-season title. But a loss in the conference tournament sent FGCU to the tournament and its improbable, yet endearing, run to the Sweet 16. Mercer was relegated to the NIT.

“We were right there, had won the regular season, and then they beat us on our floor, cut the nets down,” Hoffman said. “And for 365 days, our guys worked harder than any team in the country individually to get a chance to get back to the same moment.”

Five things: ACC championship game

March, 16, 2014
Mar 16

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Virginia matched its ACC regular-season championship with a conference tournament title after a 72-63 win over Duke on Sunday. It may have also put an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed in play for the Cavaliers, but for now they’ll savor winning just their second ACC tournament title ever.

Here are five observations from Virginia's win over Duke:
  • Need any more proof that the Cavaliers are for real? They have the three areas that generally lead to long NCAA tournament runs, starting with a tough defense that held Duke below 40 percent shooting from the field. They also have a playmaking point guard in London Perrantes. And they have multiple go-to players in Malcolm Brogdon and Joe Harris for those close-game situations where they absolutely have to have a basket. Brogdon almost single-handedly disproved the theory that the Cavs can't score. He led the team with 23 points and always had an answer when the Blue Devils were making a charge.
  • Jabari Parker is being way more assertive than earlier in the season. At one point in the second half, the freshman forward scored eight straight points for the Blue Devils. One basket came when he stole an entry pass in the post and took it coast-to-coast for a dunk. The next possession he followed with a 3-pointer and -- what’s becoming his trademark -- kissed his fingers. He finished with 23 points but was just 9-of-24 shooting from the field.
  • It’s tough to get to the rim against the Cavaliers. It seems like few teams protect the basket better without a dominant 7-footer in the middle. (Mike Tobey is 6-foot-11 but is not exactly an intimidator.) Their rotations are always timely, and Akil Mitchell and Anthony Gill will surprise you with their shot-blocking ability. Parker and Rodney Hood are used to driving and scoring around the rim, but they found the going a lot tougher against the Cavs.
  • That said, Mitchell could have easily been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year. At one point in the first half, Parker squared him up and attempted to shoot a jumper, but Mitchell blocked the shot with his left hand. In the first half, Parker found the going so tough against Mitchell that he resorted to shooting jumpers.
  • Duke sorely needs a consistent backcourt scorer to emerge. With Parker and Hood struggling from the floor, the Blue Devils didn’t have a third option to take over the scoring. Rasheed Sulaimon was held to two points and Quinn Cook had five. Andre Dawkins did have nine off the bench, but Duke will need more in the NCAA tournament.

Duke, Virginia keep focus within

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The possibility remains that the winner of Virginia and Duke in the ACC tournament title game will produce a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Yet neither team wanted any part of that discussion.

Both teams have maintained an edge by keeping their focus within.

Only Quinn Cook readily answered that the Blue Devils were deserving of a top seed if they claim a record 20th ACC tournament title on Sunday. His teammates were all eager to deflect the question after their 75-67 win over NC State in the semifinals.

“You know me coming from Mississippi, I’m not sure how all the seeds and stuff works,” joked Duke forward Rodney Hood. “I’m just happy to be playing for a championship right now.”

The Cavaliers are happy too, they just won’t let anyone know it. Cue the Aretha Franklin sock-it-to-mes. They’re too busy feeling disrespected.

[+] EnlargeQuinn Cook
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesQuinn Cook and the Blue Devils aren't worried about their NCAA tournament seed. They are focused solely on Virginia and the ACC title game.
Despite holding the league’s regular-season title and the league’s top seed in the ACC tournament, the Cavs play like they’re still out to prove something. No one can tell them that they already have because it’s what works for them. Virginia has a Jordanesque way of picking out perceived slights.

“We always talk about at the hotels and in our houses, it’s funny because we’re doing well and we’re never on ESPN, we never have our own tab on ESPN,” said Virginia sophomore Justin Anderson. “It’s easy to understand that we’re still the underdog and that’s where we want to be. We don’t have any McDonald’s All-Americans. We don’t have any guys who came out top five in the country. We’re just a bunch of blue-collar guys who want to work together to achieve something great.”

That may be the case, but Duke’s Amile Jefferson promised the Cavs have gotten five-star treatment within the conference.

“I don’t think anyone in our league would overlook them or doubt how good they are,” Jefferson said. “They’re an amazing basketball club -- they won our league. I think they deserve all the respect because they’re a really good team.”

The Cavs claimed their first outright conference title since 1981. Some wondered how legitimate their title was this season because of the league’s unbalanced schedule. Virginia only played the league’s other top four teams once each.

Should they beat the Blue Devils it would be just their second ACC tournament title. They won their first in 1976.

“It’s been a while,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “There’s only one, right? You can ask our [beat] writers that we’ve won one and I get reminded of that quite a bit.”

See what he did there?

Bennett gets reminded of that one title. His pregame speech is practically written for him. If that wasn’t enough, Bennett said he received a text from Wally Walker, who was the team captain on that ‘76 title team whose message said, “We want some company.”

The way Duke players sounded, their regular-season win over the Cavs on Jan. 13 was an eternity ago.

Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon hit a go-ahead 3-pointer that needed a friendly bounce before going in the basket with 22 seconds left. He went so far to call it “irrelevant” in relation to Sunday’s title game. But the win was arguably the turning point for the Blue Devils’ season.

They had just lost road games at Clemson and Notre Dame when returning home to face Virginia. They nearly blew a 13-point lead in the final eight minutes, but held on for a 69-65 win.

“We were coming off being 1-2, a disappointing loss to Clemson,” Cook said. “I think we were fighting for our life.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in his postgame interview against the Cavs that his team should be judged by how it played from that moment forward. Outside of an inexplicable loss at Wake Forest, the Blue Devils have been consistently good since.

Sulaimon said Duke was still trying to find out who it was back then.

“We know everybody’s strengths and weaknesses and we know what we have to do to be successful now,” Sulaimon said. “... We had a tremendous amount of growth since that time, but that was two months ago so I’m pretty sure Virginia has too.”

While that sounds like respect, Virginia probably won’t let it play out that way. Anderson said the loss to Duke, “was the game that definitely crushed my heart.”

Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon added it didn’t matter how much they’ve won, they play better when they find an angle.

“I think so, that’s what we pride ourselves on and that’s how we try to play every game regardless of how far we go in whatever tournament or in the ACC,” Brogdon said. “We try to pride ourselves in having a chip and being hungry every game.”

Video: Duke into ACC tourney finals

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15

Jabari Parker scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lift Duke past NC State in the ACC semifinals.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Pittsburgh’s defense, like Virginia’s, is tough enough to keep it in any game. It’s the Panthers' offense that will dictate how long their NCAA tournament lasts.

The Panthers fell to Virginia 51-48 in the ACC tournament semifinals and the difference between advancing to their first ACC title game came down to the Cavaliers having more offensive firepower. The Cavs had more players who could score in more ways, which is why they never trailed in the second half.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Gill
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeAnthony Gill had 10 points and five rebounds, hitting late clutch shots and sending Virginia to the ACC title game.
“It just shows what we have to do to get better come NCAA tournament time,” said Pitt guard James Robinson, who had seven points. “I think a couple of possessions down the stretch we let get away from us. Not saying we could have scored on them but we could have got better looks. And just knowing situations like that will help us going forward.”

One possession with around 1:45 left in the game came when guard Josh Newkirk got the ball in transition. He had senior Lamar Patterson, the team’s leading scorer, open to his right to take a potentially game-tying 3-pointer. Instead the freshman pulled up and launched a shot that missed off the front of the rim.

The game wasn’t won or lost on Newkirk’s missed shot. But the Panthers don’t have a big margin of error when it comes to scoring.

Robinson can create off the dribble. Center Talib Zanna scores mainly off layups or whatever he can clean off the glass. The offense centers around Patterson running off screens and getting his shots. When he struggles like he did against the Cavs -- he scored 15 points on 6 of 15 shooting -- the Panthers will also struggle.

“We knew we had to be more solid, our mistakes had to be at a minimum against Virginia because they weren’t going to make any,” Patterson said. “…We knew what we were getting into this game. There were going to be less possessions, slow scoring. That’s exactly what it was.”

Virginia used to be that team. Last season it was Joe Harris carrying the offensive load playing in a similar way to Patterson. But the Cavs have diversified their offense this season, and Harris is taking fewer shots.

“This team has versatility, but we have things we hang our hat on,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said. “The soundness and the toughness and getting good shots. We do it collectively. The right guys want to play that way and it’s fun to win.”

When Pitt shoots 36 percent as it did against Virginia and go nearly six minutes without a field goal in the second half, it’s surprising it managed to make it a one-possession game. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said their shot selection had to improve in the NCAA tournament.

“We didn't shoot well, I think our offense wasn't exactly what we needed to do, but we battled,” Dixon said. “We did some good things. When it got down to the end, we got better defensively and got stops.”

Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon remarked it was a game where a four-point lead felt like a huge advantage. So when the Cavs stretched their lead to eight points midway through the second half, it felt insurmountable.

That’s where the Pitt defense kept it in the game. The Panthers also held the Cavs without a field goal for nearly six minutes.

“There’s a point where we felt like we were beating them down and getting in their heads a little bit,” Brogdon said. “That’s not a team that you really can break their back. They keep coming, they keep coming because their defense is so good.”

Pitt’s defense almost proved good enough to force overtime. Robinson had a clean strip on a Brodgon drive and took in in for a layup with 10 seconds left. Robinson appeared to be fouled by Virginia’s Akil Mitchell and even admitted he was “somewhat” trying to bait the body contact when he jumped, but Robinson didn’t get the benefit of the call.

“It’s not a foul if they don’t call it,” Robinson said.

Pitt had a final chance to tie the game with three seconds left, but Robinson’s shot was blocked by Justin Anderson to send the Cavs to the title game.

“They capitalized on the few mistakes we had, which definitely benefitted them, but at the end of the game,” Robinson said, “we had a chance to win, it just didn't go our way.”

5 thoughts from Duke's win

March, 15, 2014
Mar 15
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Duke advanced to the ACC semifinals with a 63-62 win over Clemson on Friday despite allowing the Tigers to shoot 51 percent from the floor. Here are five observations from the Blue Devils’ win:
  • Duke may have finally learned from its losses how to finish off a team down the stretch. In the loss to Wake Forest, the Blue Devils got away from driving to the basket and lost their focus defensively. Even though Clemson rallied from a 10-point deficit to take the lead late, Duke stayed with the game plan. "We’re a quick learner,” guard Rasheed Sulaimon said. “It’s March now and we can’t do the same things that were unsuccessful in the beginning. That’s just dumb. We have to capitalize on our opportunities and learn from our mistakes and turn our weaknesses into strengths.”

  • Rebounding was one such weakness, but the Blue Devils have had a rebirth in that area. Against North Carolina, they turned around a 14-rebound deficit from their loss to a 13-rebound advantage in their win. The Tigers beat Duke 48-30 on the boards in their 72-59 win back on Jan. 11. The Blue Devils enjoyed a 34-25 edge in Friday’s semifinals. “It’s that feeling that you remember having after you got your butt kicked,” forward Amile Jefferson said. “After you got killed on the glass, after guys were dunking on your rims. As a team our bigs made it set that that’s not going to happen.”

  • Tyler Thornton was probably the only Duke defender who could make the final play. Clemson’s Rod Hall gathered full-court steam and was headed for a game-winning score when Thornton stripped him to seal the win for the Blue Devils. “He was coming at me so fast there was no way I could stop him without hitting him and getting a foul,” Thornton said. “He had a step on me and I had an opportunity to get my hand in. When he ripped the ball through, I just got my hand on it.”

  • Rodney Hood has his own break time. Once again he had to leave a game in order to throw up. He said he doesn’t know why it happens, but he said it’s not nerves. He’s probably right because the first time it happened in a game this season was against Eastern Michigan. “I don’t know what it is, we’ve been taking medicine and stuff like that,” Hood said. “I feel great after so if that’s what has to happen then I’m fine with it.” Hood said as long as it doesn’t happen in the final minutes of a close game he can live with coming out of a game to take care of it.

  • Duke destroyed NC State 95-60 in their regular-season meeting on Jan. 18 in Cameron Indoor Stadium. But the Blue Devils can expect a very different game in the ACC tournament semifinals. Duke outscored State 33-2 in points off turnovers; State committed a season-high 21 turnovers back then, but in its past seven games it’s only reached double figures in turnovers once. “They’re a completely different team,” Hood said. “T.J. Warren is playing out of his mind right now and his teammates are responding. If we take them light, they can beat us.”

Wolfpack riding on Warren

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Syracuse had the ball with 21 seconds left and shot after potentially game-tying 3-point shot kept missing.

And missing.

And missing.

When Trevor Cooney’s 3-pointer sailed out of bounds with 0.4 seconds remaining it finally sealed No. 7 seed North Carolina State’s 66-63 upset win over the No. 2 seed Orange in the ACC quarterfinals on Friday.

That final possession brought four 3-point attempts that actually began with a Tyler Ennis miss at the rim and Jerami Grant’s failed attempt to dunk it off the rebound. Six shots in all and every one brought out a different kind of fear for NC State, which lost its regular-season meeting with the Orange in agonizing, last-second fashion.

NC State guard Tyler Lewis admitted he felt the doubt creep through his mind with every heave.

“Just don’t make it, just don’t make it, I swear,” Lewis said. “The ball bounced our way today. Normally you don’t always have that but today was our kind of luck.”

[+] EnlargeT.J. Warren
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesT.J. Warren had 28 points for NC State on Friday.
The Wolfpack are feeling lucky these days, but it has little to do with superstitions. Their faith comes from knowing they have T.J. Warren, the ACC’s player of the year, on their roster.

“We realize that T.J. is the best player on our team, we realized that since Day 1,” Pack freshman center Beejay Anya said. “When T.J.’s scoring the chances of us winning go higher and higher. … We know he can’t do it by himself but at the same time we look for him more because we know he’s going to deliver if we get him the ball.”

The Pack feel like a serious contender because T.J. Warren finally realized he’s the best player.

Since their loss at North Carolina on Feb. 1, coach Mark Gottfried told Warren he had to be more assertive for the Wolfpack to win games. Warren responded with six games of 30 or more points in the 11 games since -- he had four in the first 21 games of the season. Warren always had the capability to post 41 and 42 points like he did in consecutive games against Pittsburgh and Boston College. Until Gottfried’s talk, he never would have tried to keep scoring.

“Coach Gottfried, he’s been pushing me to take tough shots and have the ball in my hands at the right time,” Warren said. “My teammates do a great job of finding me. It’s pretty cool being able to lead this team.”

Warren had 28 points against the Orange. He led the league in scoring and is likely to become just the sixth player in league history to lead it in field goal percentage for consecutive seasons.

But it was his defense that had Gottfried singing his praises. Warren matched up with Syracuse leading scorer C.J. Fair and held him to just nine points on 3-of-16 shooting.

“T.J. gets a lot of praise for his offense and he is a great offensive player, but I thought tonight T.J. Warren locked in defensively and made every shot that C.J. took tough,” Gottfried said. “Every single one of them. I don’t know that he had an easy shot all night long.”

State certainly didn’t make winning easy. The Pack squandered a 10-point lead and watched the Orange go ahead 59-57 with 3:41 left. It was starting to feel like their 55-54 loss at the Carrier Dome when an Anthony Barber turnover led to Fair’s game-winning layup with 12 seconds left.

But the Pack held firm this time despite whatever mistakes they made down the stretch.

Barber took an ill-advised layup when the Pack could have been running out more clock with 35 seconds left, but it was his free throws that had earlier tied the game at 59-59.

Ralston Turner gave State the lead for good when he banked a 3-pointer from about 25 feet. Turner joked that he called glass “in his mind.”

Gottfried said it took the Pack a while this season to figure things out, especially because they lost so much from last year and dealt with injuries early. Now they feel like they have a successful formula for March. Warren is going to score baskets and garner all the attention. The remaining players have to be prepared to fill in when they can.

“T.J. is a great player, he does what he does,” Turner said. “The main thing for the rest of us is we just need to help him making plays in whatever way we can to help the team, and tonight we did that.”

It’s given NC State the confidence that it can win the whole thing on the back of Warren.

“We grew as a team, we’ve got the ACC Player of the Year,” Barber said. “People are not expecting us to do what we’re doing. We just stay together no matter what to push forward to get to that next level, that next game.”

Pitt too tough for North Carolina

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Pittsburgh players entered their locker room for the final time during pregame warm-ups before taking on North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals Friday when Durand Johnson erupted, yelling to no one in particular as the door closed behind him.

“They soft,” said Johnson, a redshirt sophomore who played 16 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

North Carolina did little to prove Johnson wrong for most of the Panthers’ 80-75 win that set up a semifinal matchup with No. 1 seed Virginia on Saturday.

“We got all the pieces, I believe, and we got the guys who are hungry,” Pitt fifth-year senior Lamar Patterson said. “That makes any team in March dangerous.”

Pitt’s veteran leadership provided the template that the Tar Heels were too young and inexperienced to duplicate. Pitt played with the urgency of a postseason team. Carolina played like a team that planned on calling “next” after the loss.

Early on it was clear the Heels just didn’t match the Panthers’ intensity. They missed point-blank shots inside en route to shooting just 1-of-10 from the field to start the game. Lazy passes were made. Defensive assignments were missed.

“I just felt like maybe our preparation wasn’t there, a lot of young guys,” UNC junior forward James Michael McAdoo said. “So I don’t think that necessarily should explain how we play, especially how we start the game off. They kind of hit us in the mouth.”

And kept hitting.

None hit harder than Pitt center Talib Zanna, who had a career-high 21 rebounds and 19 points. Five of Zanna’s eight baskets were on putbacks. He tied a tournament record with 10 offense rebounds.

Carolina coach Roy Williams tried a little bit of every post player he had to box out and control the boards against Zanna. None worked. When Desmond Hubert got his chance, Zanna threw him off, grabbed a missed shot and dunked in front of him.

[+] EnlargeTalib Zanna
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesTalib Zanna had a career-high 21 rebounds and 19 points in Pitt's win over North Carolina.
Zanna, who entered the game averaging 12 points, said he wasn’t out to be a part of the offense. His focus was on defense and rebounding.

“I was trying to be a workhorse down in the paint,” Zanna said. “I think that’s what I did today and that’s why we win the game.”

The 6-foot-9 Zanna, who is from Nigeria, speaks softly and is plainspoken. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon throughout the season has implored Zanna and Patterson to be more vocal.

“They’re both kind of quiet and reserved,” Dixon said. “We’ve been trying to get them to be more vocal and talk and I think even a little bit shows something to their teammates.”

They showed plenty with Zanna grabbing rebounds and Patterson making timely shots.

Carolina trailed by 20 with 7:20 left in the game. The Heels, with their partisan crowd in the Greensboro Coliseum, made smaller spurts only to watch the Panthers get a basket to stop their momentum.

“It was just frustrating to watch them get rebound after rebound, that was the thing for me,” said Marcus Paige, who led Carolina with 27 points. “There were possessions where we’d play some good defense and then Zanna would just come over everyone and put it back in. That’s just so deflating.”

The Heels used full-court pressure to get back in the game. They pulled within 77-73 with 1:03 left and still trailed by four when they made two mistakes that spoke to their postseason inexperience.

Paige, who scored 20 points in the second half, lost count of how many fouls he had and purposely committed his fifth thinking he still had one to give.

“I didn’t remember the fourth one that I picked up during the press out of the trap when James [Robinson] turned into me,” Paige said. “That was the fourth one. I didn’t remember that one so when I committed the fifth that was my mistake, I should have been more aware of that.”

Freshman point guard Nate Britt had to handle the load with Paige fouled out for just the second time this season. Carolina had a chance to make it a two-point game with 17 seconds left. Britt had gained a step on his man and drove to the basket when Patterson flashed from the right side.

Britt attempted a double-clutching, twisting layup that hit the bottom of the rim.

“I was trying to draw contact,” Britt said. “Coach told me afterward I should have just gone up strong. I feel like if I would have just gone up strong instead of trying to draw the foul that I could have made the layup and put us in a better position to win the game.”

Pitt is in a much better position with the win over Carolina, its first over a ranked team this season. The Panthers needed to prove themselves after losing all five of their regular-season games against the top four in the ACC. Some were even questioning if the Panthers had done enough to be considered for an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.

“I already knew what this team was capable of, today just confirmed it,” Patterson said. “That’s what this Pitt program is built on, is toughness.”
Here’s what’s bubbling now. First the ACC, where Pitt is now a lock.

At this point, any team with a cat-related mascot and a couple of close games in their rearview gets slapped with the "Cardiac Cats" nickname. Pittsburgh actually earned it. All season, the Panthers have played close games. Its losses to good teams have been close, its wins over bad teams closer. And then there's the slow-burn bubble drama: On a per-possession basis, Pittsburgh should have wrapped up its NCAA tournament bid months ago. Instead, its lack of quality wins and a couple of home slugs down the stretch (to Florida State and NC State, respectively) put Pitt and its questionable nonconference schedule into legitimate bubble jeopardy.

Friday was another exercise in self-induced anxiety. Leading 50-31 with 11:43 to play, Pitt should have put North Carolina away with room to spare in the second half. Then, of course, the Panthers gradually let UNC close the lead, and when Talib Zanna -- who put together a brilliant 19-point, 21-rebound game -- fouled out with 1:03 left, and Marcus Paige's free throws cut the lead to four, things looked grim. But Pitt regrouped and survived, thanks to free throws and careful ballhandling down the stretch (and maybe one or two missed calls, which were legion in this game), and as such we can officially lock the Panthers into a tourney slot. Adding another noteworthy top-50 win was really all this team needed to do to make sure the committee didn't look askance at its unspectacular profile. Mission accomplished.

Meanwhile, over in the Atlantic 10 …

Alongside Providence-St. John's and La. Tech-Southern Miss, Friday's Saint Joseph's-Dayton clash in the A-10 quarterfinals was the best example the weekend had to offer of two bubble teams, both in need of wins, clashing in the conference tournament. The result was a thriller. Thanks to a Langston Galloway 3, Saint Joe's escaped victorious, and now the question is what it all means.

St. Joseph’s: Notching a win over a fellow bubble team on a neutral floor is the kind of thing that just might make the difference -- a tiny difference, but a difference -- between getting in the tournament and getting snubbed on Selection Sunday. The Hawks got what they needed Friday, thanks to Galloway's 31 points and a clutch 3 with 20 seconds to play in Friday's 70-67 win over the Flyers. It was the Hawks' third win over Dayton, which helps, because it looks like both teams are in a dead-heat on the cut line. The question is what might happen Saturday when the Hawks play St. Bonaventure. What should have been a crack at Saint Louis has suddenly turned into a bad-loss opportunity. Would St. Joe's take a hit if it lost? We're honestly not sure. But Friday's win was major regardless.

Dayton: On Friday morning, before broadcasting St. Joe's-Dayton -- he is a man of many talents, after all -- ESPN's own Joe Lunardi offered up his latest last four in update: St. Joe's, Dayton, BYU, Providence. That squared with our own reckoning starting the day, and it's not clear Dayton should be downgraded much along the cut line after the loss. The next four teams on Joe's S-Curve are Minnesota, FSU, Southern Miss, and Arkansas, followed by Cal, Missouri, St. John's, and Green Bay. Both in the short-term movement and overall resume sense -- FSU, Arkansas, Cal, and St. John's have all lost in the past 24 hours -- Dayton rates well against most of those teams. And again: what happens if St. Joe's loses to the Bonnies? Don't tear up your season programs just yet, Flyers fans. If anything, a #daytonindayton play-in game looks likelier than ever.

And let’s not leave out the Big Ten …

Illinois needed, at the very least, a win over Michigan on Friday (and then probably another against Ohio State on Saturday) to get anywhere near the bubble conversation, and the Illini gave it a real run. (And inspired the Watch's Illinois-based friends to send a flurry of second-half texts. Hey guys!) But Michigan held on to a 64-63 lead down the stretch, and the Illini's sudden long-shot hopes vanished just as quickly.

By our admittedly dim lights, Nebraska entered the day with a little space between itself and the cut line -- one of the last four byes, maybe higher. After the loss to Ohio State? It's hard to say. Résumé-wise, Nebraska has a solid-enough RPI (41) and an even better overall schedule (26), plus an 11-7 record in the Big Ten, which might count for something. The committee should see a good, hot team that knocked off Wisconsin five days ago, that outplayed Ohio State for much of Friday's game, that won at Michigan State in mid-February, and that finished the Big Ten season 8-2 over the final 10 games. But if the committee pays as much attention to the sweep vs. Penn State, or the neutral-court loss to UAB -- and if it doesn't like the sight of a good team crumbling under the postseason glare -- maybe Nebraska's case won't be cut and dry. We think they'll get in, but we're not positive about it.

Off in the SEC ...

Missouri: The Tigers played Florida to a draw in the first half and completely crumbled in the second; that's what happens when you let Texas A&M take your nonexistent defense to double-overtime a day before playing the best team in the country. Barring a major surprise, the Tigers' punishment will take the form of a Selection Sunday snub. Arkansas isn't in much better shape after Thursday's loss to South Carolina. In the end, it looks like the SEC is going to be a three-bid league. Finally, Tennessee finally has emerged as a willing third wheel.

Tennessee: No team in the country enjoyed a wider gap all season between what advanced metrics said about them -- that they were one of the best 15 or 20 teams in the country -- and what their wins and losses, and their resulting RPI, indicated. A lot of that had to do with an uncharacteristic-for-all-parties 30-point blowout of Virginia in late December, but still: Tennessee has been one of the nation's best offensive rebounding teams in the country with the returning SEC player of the year (Jordan McRae) roaming the perimeter. But losses to Vanderbilt, Missouri and Texas A&M in February put Cuonzo Martin's team on the bubble and kept it there since. But after avoiding a bad loss on Friday to South Carolina, the Vols are 20-11 overall with a top-15 strength of schedule number by their name and an all-upside matchup against Florida on deck for Saturday.

Check out full details on teams on the bubble here.

Video: UVa plays with chip on its shoulder

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14

Virginia's London Perrantes says the Cavaliers don't get the respect they deserve and they are focused on the ACC tournament.