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UVA Will Need More Backcourt Firepower Next Season

If one thing jumps out at me in reviewing the Virginia men's basketball season, it would be the lack of offensive firepower at the guard position, most notably from the 3-point line and beyond.

Of the three players who led the Cavaliers in 3-point attempts, only one, Trey Murphy III, is listed as a guard, and he's 6-foot-9.

For the season, more than 60 percent of Virginia's 3-point attempts were launched by three players -- Sam Hauser, who is listed at 6-8; Murphy and 7-2 Jay Huff.

Hauser's team-leading 63 made 3-pointers were more than guards Kihei Clark, Reece Beekman, Tomas Woldetensae and Casey Morsell combined.

None was bigger than the 3-pointer Reece Beekman nailed at the buzzer in a 72-69 victory over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament, but he was 0-for-5 until that point, including 0-for-3 on 3-pointers.

Clark and Beekman were 1-2 on the team in assists, but Clark, for one, doesn't hesitate to shoot. He was 16-of-52 from the field in the last six games, including a 3-for-10 outing against Ohio in UVa's first-round NCAA Tournament loss.

Allowances made by the NCAA as the result of COVID-19 would suggest that almost everybody could return next year, although that would be a sixth year for Huff and a fifth year for Hauser, who almost assuredly would test the NBA waters.

In that event, where would Virginia go for its offense? Murphy, a transfer from Rice who didn't know that he would be eligible this year until the last moment, would be a start.

Woldetenesae is an interesting case in that he spent two years in junior college, but if I'm reading that situation correctly, he could be back. He was seventh on the team in minutes played this year, but he seemed to disappear at times.

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These Shining Moments Brought Back Great Memories

Today, it all begins.

The play-in games are done (Texas Southern, Drake, Norfolk State and UCLA were the winners), and Virginia Tech gets it all going shortly after noon from Hinkle Fieldhouse when the Hokies face Florida.

To commemorate the tournament, the NCAA has released a 3-minute all-time video of the Big Dance, and I have to say, it both made me feel old AND made me feel goosebumps, as it captures just about all the great moments I’ve come to remember about the tournament.

My first memory of the tournament - when it was only two weekends - was the historic victory by then-unknown Texas Western, winning it all at Cole Field House up at College Park. A black and white snippet of the team is in the early seconds, then – to the music of One Shining Moment – the memories start coming one after another.

There’s Dell Curry’s son Steph, showing the world that there is no shot too long that he can’t make, Gary Williams getting his hair tousled after winning a national championship (I have a basketball here in the house signed by Gary), and Jim Valvano, running around the court in search of someone to hug after the "Survive and Advance" miracle in Albuquerque. I was lucky enough to cover that N.C. State team in about a dozen games that season.

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UVa Not Worried About How Much They're Favored By

One topic that Virginia is likely to shy away from this week is the betting line.

The Cavaliers (18-6) are 10-point favorites over first-round NCAA West Region opponent Ohio (16-7) at 7 p.m. Saturday in Bloomington, Ind.

If you don't believe in betting lines, consider that Virginia is a No. 4 seed and Ohio is a No. 13 seed.

That's giving Ohio more credit than UVa opponent Maryland-Baltimore County received prior to its 2018 game with Virginia, which was a number one seed at the time.

In the first instance of a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed, UMBC defeated the Cavaliers 74-54 at the Charlotte Coliseum.

 Jay Huff and fellow fifth-year UVa senior Austin Katstra were on that UVa team, although neither played against the Retrievers.

Almost as memorable as a No. 1 seed losing to a 16 seed was the Cavaliers coming back to win the 2019 NCAA championship one year later.

The most prominent returnees from that team are Huff and point guard Kihei Clark, starters on this year's team.

There was a question whether the Cavaliers would play this week after it was reported that a Virginia player had tested positive for COVID-19 following a 72-69 victory over Syracuse in an ACC Tournament quarterfinal.

Virginia's scheduled semifinal game with Georgia Tech was called off and a number of issues had to be resolved prior to Sunday's announcement of the pairings.

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Take Note Virginia: Don't Take Ohio University Lightly

Virginia's first-round NCAA Tournament match-up with Ohio University should not be taken lightly.

The teams have played three times, with the Bobcats winning twice, including a 94-83 victory at University Hall on Nov. 15, 1994.

That Virginia team would go on to finish 25-9 with Jeff Jones as head coach and reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Jones was 0-1 against the Bobcats and successor Pete Gillen was 1-1.          

Ohio U. coaches during that time included Danny Nee, Larry Hunter and Tim O'Shea. Nee later was the head coach at Nebraska for 14 years.

Ohio has been a  steppingstone for coaches like John Groce, who went from Ohio U. to Illinois, and Jim Christian, the head coach at Boston College before his recent in-season dismissal.

Current head coach Jeff Boals, who played at Ohio U., was the head coach at Stony Brook until 2019. Boals' mentors include Ohio State head coach Thad Motta.

The most celebrated player to come out of Ohio U. is Gary Trent, who was known as the Shaq of the MAC and was a three-time, first-team Mid-America Conference pic, as well as a first-round NBA Draft pick.

His son, Gary Trent Jr., played at Duke.

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Virginia In West, Plays Ohio; Hokies In South, Face Florida

The pairings for the NCAA Tournament were just announced, with Virginia Tech dropping to a 10th seed in the South Region and will face No. 7 seed Florida. Virginia's COVID issues in the ACC Tournament did not affect their ability to play in the NCAAs, and they enter the tournament as a 4th seed in the West Region and will open with No. 13 Ohio.

Should the Hokies get past Florida, they would then have to play the winner of Ohio State-Oral Roberts, which more than likely will be the No. 2 Buckeyes. Baylor is the top seed in the South. Technically, since there was no tournament last year, this is the fourth straight year the Hokies have made the NCAA's. The No. 10 seed, however, is the lowest Virginia Tech has ever received. 

The committee seems to want a rematch of Virginia and Gonzaga, as they are both in the West. The Cavaliers would face the winner of Creighton-UCSB in the second round should they advance. Gonzaga is the top seed in the West and the No. 1 seed in the entire tournament.

Florida had a ho-hum 14-9 season where they were only ranked for one week all season, coming in at No. 22 the first week of February. This came after an 85-80 win over then No. 11 West Virginia, but the Gators then lost their next two games to South Carolina and Arkansas respectively, and fell out of the rankings.

Virginia Tech, conversely, was only unranked one week in December, coming into the NCAA Tournament being ranked 12 consecutive weeks. But they will be the lower seed at No. 10.

Florida lost its last two regular-season games to Missouri and Tennessee, then beat Vanderbilt in the first round of the SEC Tournament before being eliminated by Tennessee.

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Tonight's Game 1st Time Since 1990 There's No NC Team

Tonight will be the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, and one thing will be missing from the tradition-rich event.

A team from North Carolina.

With Georgia Tech playing Florida State in this COVID-affected tournament, it will mark the first time since 1996 that neither Duke nor North Carolina are in the championship game, and will also be the first time since 1990 that a team from the Tar Heel state is not in the event.

Oddly enough, Georgia Tech has involvement in all three games, and coming into tonight’s game, is 1-1 in ACC Tournament finals that don’t involve either Duke/North Carolina or any team from Tar Heel state.

In 1996, it was Wake Forest beating Ga. Tech 75-74 for the ACC Tournament title in Greensboro. Wake was led by big man Tim Duncan, along with double-figure scorers Tony Rutland and Rusty LaRue, while Georgia Tech had Stephon Marbury, Matt Harpring and Drew Barry as their leading scorers. Duncan was the tournament Most Valuable Player.

Six years before that in Charlotte, Georgia Tech won the tournament by a 70-61 margin over Virginia. Virginia was led by Bryant Stith, John Crotty, Kenny Turner and Anthony Oliver, while The Ramblin’ Wreck had three players who averaged over 20 points per game for the season: Dennis Scott, Brian Oliver, and Kenny Anderson. Oliver was named the tournament MVP.

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COVID Issue Hasn't Necessarily Ended UVa's Season

Reports of a COVID issue that has ended Virginia's ACC Tournament run haven't necessarily ended the Cavaliers' season:

From UVa Head Coach Tony Bennett: “We went from an exhilarating game-winning shot to beat Syracuse to a gut punch regarding the positive COVID-19 test within our program. I’m hurting for our players, especially our seniors. I told our young men they have every reason to be disappointed, but it is still very important how they choose to respond. We are exhausting all options to participate in the NCAA Tournament.”

From UVa Athletic Director Carla Williams: “This is incredibly disappointing for our players. They have done what has been asked of them in very challenging circumstances. It is unfortunate the ACC Tournament has concluded for us, but we have turned our attention to the NCAA Tournament. We are in communication with the appropriate officials regarding our participation.”

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Reece Beekman Now Has His Signature Moment

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Despite starting 19 games and logging close to 700 minutes for Virginia this season, Reece Beekman entered postseason play without a signature moment.

He has one now, and it's not likely to be forgotten any time soon.

Beekman, a freshman guard, had missed all five of his field-goal attempts before letting loose from the right wing for a 3-pointer as time expired Thursday in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals.

At that point, top-seeded Virginia was looking at overtime against a Syracuse team that had won six of its previous eight games, the last three in a row. Instead, UVa prevailed 72-69.

As the Cavaliers held for a final shot, nobody was more open than Beekman, who was 2-3 steps outside the 3-point line before taking a pass from Kihei Clark.

That gave UVa (18-6) a spot in the semifinals against fourth-seeded Georgia Tech at 6:30 p.m. tonight at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Yellow Jackets (16-8) advanced with a 70-66 victory over Miami.

At 5 foot-9, Clark, a junior, is nominally the Cavaliers' point guard and has a team-leading 110 assists but, with an average of 9.5 points per game, is more of a scorer than his taller backcourt mate, Beekman, who is averaging just 4.7 points per game.

At 6-foot-3, Beekman has shown the ability to defend taller lead guards who otherwise might tower over Clark. Beekman has 29 steals and no other Virginia player has as many as 20. It didn't appear as if he was calling for the ball on his game-winning shot.

"It's crazy," said Beekman, who took off downcourt and was mobbed by teammates as the final horn sounded. "That was my first-ever, like, game-winner.

"It was just a lot of energy that came over me. And a lot of joy. That's what I can say about that."

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With Duke Cancellation, FSU Now Gets Triple Bye

It wasn’t 24 hours ago that there was some hope Virginia Tech might get an easier draw in the ACC Tournament.

Notre Dame was facing North Carolina, and since the Irish had only lost by one point the last time the two teams plays, there was hope they could either upset the Tar Heels or at least wear them out. Instead, they went to sleep when it was only a 12-point game, UNC went on a 42-4 run, and Notre Dame turned to roadkill on the side of the highway leading to the ACC Championship.

The final was 101-59, but the second half wasn’t even that close. It’s rare these days to even see a team score over 100 points in the ACC Tournament (last time UNC did was 1993), and 42-4 runs are just about impossible unless half the team is injured and only four players can continue. The Tar Heels should now be comfortable and confident for tonight's game with Virginia Tech.

But now the road is even tougher.

Should the Hokies pull off the upset tonight (which would technically not be an upset since Virginia Tech is the No. 3 seed), they would then have to face a Florida State team receiving an unheard of triple bye. It was reported this morning that a Duke player received a positive COVID test, and because of that, the Blue Devils will forfeit their next-round game in the tournament against the Seminoles.

“The Atlantic Coast Conference announced today that the Duke vs. Florida State ACC men’s basketball tournament quarterfinal game has been canceled,” the ACC posted on its website. “The postponement follows a positive test, subsequent quarantining, and contact tracing within the Duke men’s basketball program.”

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If Duke's A 20-1 Favorite, Then I'm A Unicorn

Today it begins.

Three games in the ACC Tournament are on tap, with Pitt playing Miami at 2, it's Duke versus Boston College at 4:30, and Notre Dame against Wake Forest at 7:30. All three games are on the ACC Network, meaning a heck of a lot of basketball fans who get their cable television from Comcast won't be watching.

None of these games are very compelling, so I decided to take a look at the betting odds to see which ones may be closer than I think. In the the course of doing this, it became apparent as to which team to pull against.

Starts with a "D", ends with an "e." Likes the color blue.

According to BetMGM, and posted in a story today in the Athletic, Virginia is the top favorite at 5-2. The Cavaliers should be, as they are the top seed and until someone tells me otherwise, have the last national championship trophy awarded sitting somewhere inside John Paul Jones Arena. Florida State is barely behind the Cavaliers at 11-4, and that’s understandable too, since they led the league down the stretch, and hammered Virginia in the last game between the two teams before laying an egg the size of Plymouth Rock against Notre Dame in the regular-season finale.

Virginia Tech and Louisville are both 7-1 favorites, and that seems fair too, considering how they finished the season.

But then you scroll down to Duke. They are 20-1 favorites.

Excuse me sir, you must be new here. You’re playing in the first-round play-in games on a Tuesday. You finished in 10th place in a 15-team league. Your odds should be 1000 to 1, as no one wins 5 games in 5 days in a tournament. Plus it’s not like Duke didn’t earn that appearance on day 1, either. Duke doesn’t even have a winning record, finishing the regular season at 11-11. The Blue Devils lost their last three games in a row to finish the regular slate, including a 91-73 thrashing at the hands of North Carolina.

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Virginia Defense Made Jones Earn Every Point He Scored

Followers of men's college basketball from southwestern Virginia and beyond were no doubt aware of the threat Virginia faced from Louisville guard Carlik Jones, who was named the Big South Player of the Year as a redshirt junior at Radford in 2019-20.

Jones subsequently entered the NCAA Transfer Portal and elected to spend his final season of eligibility at Louisville, where he is averaging a team-leading 17.0 points per game and has a Louisville-high of 82 assists.

Louisville, the host team, entered Saturday's game as a two-point favorite over the Cavaliers, who never trailed in a 68-58 victory at KFC YUM! Center, where UVa has won five of the last six games between the teams.

Jones entered the weekend as an ACC player-of-the-year candidate and would go on to make the All-ACC first team Monday as the third-leading vote-getter.

That followed an unexpected performance against Virginia, which held Jones to six points. He was 2-of-15 from the field and did not attempt a 3-pointer. That was not his specialty during a season when he averaged fewer than three 3-point attempts and one made 3-pointer per game.

"I think he's one of the best penetrators in the country," Louisville coach Chris Mack said after Saturday's game. "And, he does so much for our team … he lives in the lane. I'd probably have to go and watch the film, but he was in the lane a lot.

"Now, in the lane against the 7-1 guys [like UVa's Jay Huff] is a little different and so a few of his touch finishes that we’ve all seen go in, went in and out."

At 6-foot-1, Jones has a couple of inches on UVa point guard Kihei Clark, whom the Cavaliers list at 5-9, but Virginia also has a freshman, Reese Beekman, who is listed at 6-3.

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