By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — There’s one scenario in which UVa would be the No. 7 seed in next week’s ACC men’s basketball tournament. In another, the Cavaliers would be seeded No. 10.
Neither one is likely. No matter what happens in its regular-season finale in College Park, Md., Virginia (6-9, 15-14) almost certainly will seeded No. 8 or No. 9 in Greensboro, N.C.. Even so, UVa won’t lack motivation Saturday afternoon against Maryland (7-8, 18-12) at Comcast Center.
Not only do the Wahoos want to avenge last month’s humbling loss to the Terrapins in Charlottesville, they’re hoping to enhance their postseason résumé. If the Cavaliers can’t play in the NCAAs — to get there second-year coach Tony Bennett’s team would have to win the ACC tournament — they would happily accept an invitation to the NIT.
And so the Maryland game looms large for Virginia.
“If we can get another win, that just helps our record, and you never know what all that means when it all shakes out,” Bennett said after practice Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena. “And I think, knowing how [the Terps] outplayed us here, that we’re really trying to put our better foot forward in this game. They really had us in that second half, and we didn’t have answers for them.”
With 18 minutes to play, Maryland led Virginia 26-24 at JPJ. The final score was 66-42. The Terps’ margin of victory was their largest in Charlottesville since 1930, when they romped 54-20.
“Obviously we had a poor effort when they came into our place, so we want to go up there and compete and be tough,” UVa guard Sammy Zeglinski said Thursday. “We know they’re a physical team, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
Virginia has won three of its past four games. The Terrapins, meanwhile, have dropped four of their past six, and their hopes of reaching the NCAAs without winning the ACC tourney have nearly been extinguished.
But there’s little chance the Terps will overlook UVa. Not on Senior Day at Comcast Center. Not with Gary Williams, a Maryland alumnus, on the home bench.
The ‘Hoos haven’t won in College Park since Feb. 6, 2007. To do so Saturday, they know they cannot succumb to the Terrapins’ full- and three-quarter-court presses.
“They want to play fast at home,” Bennett said.
UVa, which turned the ball over 15 times against Maryland last month, spent considerable time in practice Thursday and Friday working on breaking the press.
“Most of it’s, I would say, mental,” Zeglinski said. “Obviously we have to be in the right spots, but you just gotta be able to make the right decisions and be strong with the ball.”
And if a turnover occurs?
“You can’t let it get to you,” Zeglinski said. “There’s going to be mistakes. You gotta have a short memory, especially on the road, just being able to go to the next play.”
Virginia played its final regular-season home game Tuesday night, beating NC State 69-58. Frontcourt injuries have limited Bennett’s options this season, and he has often gone with a lineup that includes four perimeter players, with 6-6 freshman Joe Harris at power forward.
Against NC State, however, 6-9 senior Will Sherrill was healthy enough to play a career-high 37 minutes, and he proved an excellent complement to 7-0 junior Assane Sene. Sherrill finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds; Sene, with 7 points, 5 boards and 4 blocked shots.
Bennett said he would prefer to play a traditional lineup, with two post players, against Maryland.
“But the nice thing, I guess, we have is that we can always go to a four-guard rotation if need be, or if we need to change things up,” Bennett said. “But I would [like to have two post players on the court]. Because I think that’s where we have our best chance, where we’ve played our best games, our best basketball.”
After the NC State game, Bennett noted with frustration that he still didn’t know what to expect from his team. UVa had played well in wins over Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, only to collapse in a one-sided loss to Boston College at JPJ.
“Then we came out with a solid game against NC State,” Bennett said Thursday.
It helped that the Cavaliers made 17 of 20 free throws against the Wolfpack. In the loss to Maryland, UVa was 6 for 13 from the line. Two days later, in a loss to lowly Wake Forest, the ‘Hoos were 7 for 14. A week after the game at Wake, Virginia missed 13 of 22 free throws in an overtime loss to Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.
“The games that we haven’t shot well, it’s cost us,” Bennett said Tuesday night. “We probably would have some more wins had we shot better free throws … But I was glad to see guys step and knock ’em down. Because you have to. There are things at the end of the game, whether it’s taking care of the ball, knocking down free throws, [doing] some things defensively, that you just have to do to win the game.”
Sherrill, one of the Cavaliers’ captains, fractured his right fibula Nov. 29 and suffered another break in that leg Feb. 5. The injuries kept him out of eight games and limited his effectiveness in many others.
Given his performance against NC State — the 14 points were Sherrill’s high in an ACC game — it’s natural to wonder how the season might have unfolded for UVa had he stayed healthy.
“Of course,” Zeglinski said. “But the bottom line is we still have some games left, and we’ve got to go into Maryland and compete and see what we can do in these last games.”
For UVa to earn the No. 7 seed in the ACC tourney, all of this has to happen this weekend: Virginia must beat Maryland, Virginia Tech must beat Clemson, Georgia Tech must beat Miami, and NC State must beat Florida State.
For UVa to fall to the No. 10 seed, this has to happen: Virginia must lose to Maryland, Georgia Tech must beat Miami, NC State must beat FSU, Clemson must beat Virginia Tech, and BC must beat Wake.