By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
GREENSBORO, N.C. — The team picked to finish 11th in ACC men’s basketball won four of its final five regular-season games. It finished tied for seventh, and it did so despite having its best player, 6-8 forward Mike Scott, for only one conference game.
Someone presumably did something noteworthy for UVa on the floor during the regular season, but the all-ACC teams chosen by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association do not reflect that.
UVa players are absent from the all-ACC first, second and third teams, as well as from the conference’s all-defensive and all-freshman teams. The lone Cavalier recognized Monday was senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan, who with 10 points received the minimum required to be honorable-mention all-ACC.
Not counting Scott, who played in only 10 games, 6-6 freshman Joe Harris (10.6 ppg) is second on the team in scoring this season, behind Farrakhan (13.5). Harris also averages 4.3 rebounds, has made a team-high 64 treys and ranks fourth among ACC players in 3-point percentage (41.6). But he didn’t make the ACC’s all-freshman team, of whose five members N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie received the fewest points in voting.
Leslie, a 6-8 forward, averaged 11.2 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Wolfpack, which lost 69-58 to UVa at John Paul Jones Arena last week. Harris had 19 points — his high in an ACC game — along with 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in the victory. Leslie had 7 points, 4 boards and no assists or steals.
“There could have been some consideration for Joe, just because we had a strong finish, and he was part of that and did a nice job,” second-year coach Tony Bennett said Wednesday afternoon after UVa’s practice at UNC Greensboro’s Fleming Gymnasium.
“And I think Assane [Sene] and Jontel [Evans] could have gotten some consideration for all-defensive team. But that is what it is. And I told these guys, ‘It’s a team thing, and it’s where your career finishes.’ I’m happy that Mu got honorable-mention all-conference. That’s a nice honor for him, certainly … But I thought [Harris] should have gotten on there.”
Harris said: “It’s not something that I really thought about a whole lot. It would have been a great honor and cool to be on it, but there’s a lot of great freshmen in the ACC.”
Three freshmen play regularly for Virginia — Harris, 6-8 forward Akil Mitchell and 6-4 guard KT Harrell — and they’re excited about their first ACC tournament. Like their older teammates, the first-years were also pleased about the Wahoos’ draw.
In the tournament’s opening game, No. 8 seed Virginia (16-14) meets No. 9 seed Miami (18-13) at noon Thursday at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“Oh, yeah,” Mitchell said. “I was excited, especially because of the way they beat us, and the way they were talking before and during the game. It will be exciting to get to play them again.”
The teams met once during the regular season, Feb. 5 in Coral Gables, Fla. If there’s one game UVa would most like to have back, that’s probably it.
“That game stung,” Farrakhan said Wednesday night after the Cavaliers’ shootaround at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“When we watched that in the film room the next day, we were kind of upset about that, and [Thursday] we really want to limit those mistakes that we made in that game. We really did a good job of preparing this week, so we just want to go out there and not make the same mistakes, and ultimately come out with the win.”
With 1:50 left in the second half, Virginia led Miami by seven. The ‘Hoos ended up losing 70-68 in overtime, in large part because they went 9 for 22 from the line at the BankUnited Center. It didn’t help, either, that UVa was called for a foul on a Miami 3-point attempt twice in the final 40 seconds of regulation.
“Obviously, I think we were very fortunate to win that game at our place,” Hurricanes coach Frank Haith said Monday.
The winner of the rematch will advance to meet No. 1 seed North Carolina in the noon quarterfinal Friday.
To earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament, Virginia must win four games in Greensboro. A more realistic destination for the ‘Hoos is the NIT. To get to that tourney, UVa almost certainly needs to win at least once here — and perhaps twice — before heading home to Charlottesville.
“We know we’re playing for our season,” junior guard Sammy Zeglinski said.
No matter what happens in Greensboro, this will be the final ACC tournament for Farrakhan and teammate Will Sherrill. Tomorrow’s game also could be the last of their college careers, a fact not lost on UVa’s seniors.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Farrakhan said, “having it be my last ACC tournament, but I just want to make the best of it for the team and for myself. So I look forward to it [Thursday] … We just want to play as hard as we can and see where the chips fall from there.
“I think we’ve been doing good things on the basketball floor for the past couple of games, and we just want to continue to have that energy and focus.”
In Coral Gables, Miami’s 6-10, 300-pound center, sophomore Reggie Johnson, had 16 points and 8 rebounds. He averages 12.6 and 9.9. The ‘Canes also have two of the ACC’s premier 3-point shooters in senior swingman Adrian Thomas and junior guard Malcolm Grant. Thomas made six treys in the regular-season win over UVa.
“They have an inside-outside attack,” Bennett said, “and you better be able to handle their big kid inside, but they have really good guards, and they’re a team that can really get going. You have to be ready for a lot of things against Miami.”
UVa’s starting center, Sene, averages a modest 4.9 points, but the 7-0, 239-pound junior scored 9 or more in three of the final four regular-season games.
“I think he’s really improved, particularly on the offensive end,” Haith said. “He’s a guy that we’re concerned with.”
In the regular-season finale, Sene totaled 15 points and 5 rebounds to help UVa beat Maryland 74-60 in College Park.
“Any time we can get other guys either scoring in double figures or just being a factor and playing to their strengths, that really helps us,” Bennett said. “We try to be as solid as we can at that defensive end. When other guys [are contributing], whether it’s Sammy hitting shots, or Assane on the glass and getting putback points, those things are just bonuses for us.”
A year ago, Virginia lost its final nine regular-season games but, as the No. 9 seed, upset eighth-seeded Boston College in the ACC tournament’s first round.
The Cavaliers’ quarterfinal opponent was No. 1 seed Duke. With six minutes left, UVa trailed by only two, but the eventual NCAA champion Blue Devils pulled away for a 57-46 victory.
UVa’s veterans have talked to the freshmen about what to expect in Greensboro.
“They said it was just a little bit different environment,” Harris said. “The stakes are different. Obviously it’s postseason play, so everybody’s bringing a different intensity than during the regular season. They amp it just a little bit more.”
Mitchell said: “I know you have to step it up. Coach Bennett has talked a lot about the next level of toughness that everybody brings to the ACC tournament.”